Friday, 25 March 2011

All change at Glasgow Queen Street

There are a fair few pub opening and closings going on around the George Square area of Glasgow at the moment. None of them are looking terribly promising, but I shall give them all a fair chance.

The saddest impending closure is the Ingram Bar. It’s finally been let after over six months on the market, and according to the license application in the window is going to become a “Mexican” bar-restaurant called Pintos.

Belhaven has seemed intent in running the place into the ground for quite a while, with the beer range reduced to Greene King IPA most of the time. It’s had a varied history — the old incarnation of the Ingram Bar was gutted sometime in the 1980s and the place traded as a Yates’ Wine Lodge for years, then was briefly Droothy Neebors before reverting to the Ingram Bar just a few years ago.

In the summertime hordes of European backpackers arrive at, or leave from, Queen Street, desperate to find what they imagine to be a traditional Scottish pub. If you can’t make a go of just such a pub right across the road from the station, you should probably jack it in. Maybe that's Belhaven's thinking too.

Just across the road, the fake Irish pub is being gutted and will be Droothy when it re-opens, apparently. No idea who’s behind that. Is the name calculated to attract punters using very old guidebooks who are looking for Droothy Neebors on Queen Street? It wouldn’t be the first time a pub has opened with a similar name to a previous establishment a couple of streets away. Shortly after the Bay Horse on Bath St “went on fire” and was demolished, a new Bay Horse opened round the corner in Hope St.

The Camperdown Place is now open. JD Wetherspoon have opened another pub on George Square bang slap next to their existing one, the Counting House. Rumour has it that JDW snapped up the site to stop anyone else getting it. It’s certainly atypical in that it’s a lot smaller than the huge, cavernous buildings they usually take on. One might think this would be quite pleasant but in reality it means the pub gets cramped and stuffy quite quickly. Other than that, well, it’s a Wetherspoons …

The final new venture is Brown’s, on the south side of the square, next to Jamie Oliver’s joint in the former Post Office and due to open on the 8th of April. The format is one of Mitchells’ and Butlers’ numerous chains. M&B have recently upped their game a fair bit with regards to beer (even All Bar One has Sierra Nevada nowadays), but looking at the drinks menu on the Brown’s website I lost count of the pages devoted to champagne, cocktails and wine, not to mention the twelve different kinds of rum — not a word about beer. So it remains to be seen whether the place will be, as I suspect, a dead loss for beer drinkers.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Happy birthday CAMRA

Forty years ago today the Campaign for Real Ale was founded. At the time it seemed a hopeless cause. Big brewers claimed that keg (or "container beer" as it was called then) was the future and, just in case drinkers weren't convinced, ripped the hand pumps and tall fonts out of their pubs. Some areas of the country, like mine, are still suffering the effects of this historic vandalism.

Forty years on and the trend towards bland, ersatz beer has been reversed. Not before time, real ale is finally becoming hip. Despite the efforts of the ad men, a new generation is discovering the joy of proper beer; something they wouldn't be able to do if the CAMRA bashers had succeeded.

The likes of Fullers and Caledonian, to name but two old-established breweries, would have closed years ago. There wouldn't be over 700 hundred breweries, most of them established since CAMRA was founded. There wouldn't be the seedling micropub movement that is just beginning to take root.

CAMRA has survived because it was willing to be unpopular. Members were willing to put in years of volunteer labour. Willing to put up with ridicule and sometimes abuse from the mass media. Though denounced as luddites and beardy-weirdies, the grim determination of these stubborn old buggers inspired a beer revolution.

So get down the pub tonight and raise a glass of real ale. It's thanks to CAMRA that you have the choice.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Cart Noir

Kelburn Brewery from Barrhead near Paisley doesn’t get much attention. Perhaps this is because they don’t bottle and their beer is rarely seen outside Scotland’s central belt. It is, though, very easy to find in Glasgow. They tend to make very balanced, commercial beer to a high standard. I turned up at Blackfriars in Glasgow’s trendy Merchant City last night for the launch of their new beer, a 4.8% porter.

They already have a beer called Cart Blanche, which is a pun on the name of the nearby River Cart, so the natural choice for the new dark beer was to call it Cart Noir.

I love porter and I find it a great shame that more breweries don’t have one in their line-up. I’ve been told that the reason for this is because it’s harder to sell to pubs than pale beer. Nonetheless the crowd in Blackfriars only take a little over an hour to empty the first firkin.

It’s a nice beer that’s easy to drink. The head is pleasantly beige, reminiscent of much stronger stouts, but it lacks density so its light frothiness is a little disappointing. Bitterness comes from hops and roast malts in equal measure. A little sweetness is countered by slight acidity. Roastiness does not predominate — the most distinctive feature is a strong, very pleasant bitter chocolate character.

Five grains are used: pale, chocolate, brown and colour malt and some roasted wheat, while the hops include Northdown and Bramling Cross. Interestingly, Franconian Carafa malt is used to ensure a deep black colour, rather than the usual black malt or roast barley.