Friday, 13 August 2010

Hunting beer in Falkirk

Falkirk is a wee town in the middle of Scotland, with more going for it than a lot of places. I was passing through and, as I usually do, sizing up the local pubs and trying to guess from the outside whether they were worth a visit.

Although it is called Firkins, there are guaranteed to be no firkins on the premises.
Would you expect a pub called Firkins to sell real ale? Yes? More fool you! More experienced beer-hunters know that pubs called Firkins, The Drayman, The Shive and Spile, etc. never sell real ale despite the cutesy usage of its terminology. It's the type of weird logical disconnect that is a completely normal part of the pastiche pub industry. Pete Brown had an interesting insight into this sort of thing in Man Walks Into A Pub:
An example is a pub in North London which has had a succession of different trendy bar and theme pub concepts inflicted on it over the years, and recently relaunched itself as a 'real ale emporium', styled in glass and tile to look like the Victorian drinking palace it may well once have been. The relaunch coincided with the decision to discontinue selling ale or even bitter, and focus solely on wines, spirits and lager. And yet, approaching the pub, if you were the kind of drinker they were seeking to attract you would pick up the subtle cues that this was a pub pastiche, not meant to be taken at face value. You would not expect it to sell real ales, nor would you be disappointed that it didn't, despite the clear signage outside claiming that it did. It's quite bizarre really. 
The pub that is now Firkins is a bit shabbier that the North London one, and at least the interior is original. It's a pretty unspoilt old man's pub inside, old wood and tiles, and probably did once sell real ale, but not since the 1960s. And when it did, it definitely wasn't called Firkins.

The place across the road proclaims loudly that it's a brewery. Never heard of them before. Let's see what they brew.

Nothing, it turns out. They haven't brewed for a couple of years, but they do still have real ale, says the barman, and reels off a selection of tedious real ales that they currently have on. I make my excuses and leave.

I retreat to the Wheatsheaf. It is a lovely pub with a rural feel. They are selling Houston Killellan Bitter as well as the very similar Deuchars IPA. Remarkably, there is wi-fi, which most pubs of this type still don't offer, and it actually works. The third beer on offer is Broughton Exciseman's 80/–, and is as pale as the other two, but tastes of grain and honey rather than hops. Old mirrors advertise McEwan's Pale India Ale and Wm Younger's India Pale Ale.

On the way back to the station, I pass the Woodside Inn. The old Campbell, Hope & King stained glass window attracts my attention. Inside, the beer is grim — McEwan's Export and Belhaven Best — but the barmaid has a rapport with the regulars and the atmosphere is that of a classic afternoon session. Here, the handsome mirrors advertise George Younger's Pale Ale.


  1. "Inside, the beer is grim — McEwan's Export and Belhaven Best — but the barmaid has a rapport with the regulars and the atmosphere is that of a classic afternoon session."

    Indeed, and emphasises the point that pubs can still work, and still be a valuable social resource, even if they don't sell cask beer.

  2. Hooray for falkirk. Almost.