Monday, 10 October 2011

All is lost in Alloa

The final part of my trip to Alloa wouldn't be complete with getting a few pints in, something I try to do in any town.

The Cram Bar, just round the corner from the site of George Younger’s Candlerigg Brewery, claims on the signage outside to be Alloa’s oldest pub. The sound of shouting from inside is so offputting, though, that I don’t bother to go in. I do go into the Old Brewery, but there’s nothing in the way of atmosphere or beer to keep me there.

Round the corner in the Thistle Bar, which judging by its name and location must have been Maclay’s brewery tap, or at least where the brewery workers did their drinking, all eyes are glued to the footy on the wall-mounted television. A reversed Deuchars IPA clip and an operational handpump with Theakston Best Bitter don’t look very promising. But there is Williams Draught from the keg, dispensed from a repurposed Fosters font. A sign on the wall announces in blue felt-tip that Williams Lager “brewed in Alloa” is £2.50 a pint “while stocks last”. Interestingly enough I’m not the only one drinking it. There’s also a lot of bottled Coors Light being drunk for some reason. Most of the customers are pensioners. I’m the second youngest in the pub. The only one younger is the shaven-headed lad who might appear threatening if he weren’t perched at the bar eating a bowl of home-made soup. It’s a friendly enough place. Sweetheart Stout and Fraoch in the fridge are reminders of the past and present of Alloa brewing.

Nice table in the Station Bar
The Station Hotel is up for sale. Once across the road from the railway station, its name has been cruelly mocked by fate, which closed the station in the 1960s and opened a new one in the 2000s some distance away. My attention is attracted by the faded George Younger ‘Y’ logo in the window. Logos were more naïve in the 19th and 20th centuries: Y for Younger, T for Tennent, A for Aitken. F for Fosters is part of a proud tradition, I suppose.

Inside, the once swish interior has seen better days. I order a whisky, which is what I do when I don't want to stay long in a bar. The engraved glass in the window depicting a cocktail shaker is a sad reminder of former glory.

Across the road, the exterior of the Primrose Bar looks promising; I envisage a cosy middle-class pub with a few cask ales and perhaps expensive sausage and mash. No, drinking in Alloa is still decidedly proletarian: a quick look in the door reveals shouting men, linoleum, and Tennent’s on the bar.

I don’t stay. This leaves me with a dilemma because I’ve just missed a train in expectation of spending an hour or so here. Wandering around, I come to the realisation that I’ve already been in the sole pub in the town that sells any decent beer. What to do now?


Mansfield Arms in Sauchie
Ah, hold on. There’s Devon Ales in Sauchie, a village on the outskirts of Alloa. It’s only a mile away and I’ve got my bike. I’ve not thought much of their beers when I’ve tasted them at beer festivals, but since I’m here anyway I have nothing to lose by giving them a chance on their home turf.

Sauchie is easily reached and I soon spy the Mansfield Arms where the beers are brewed. It’s a homebrew pub of the type which is fairly uncommon in Scotland and it looks too as if it belongs more in the Peak District than semi-rural Clackmannanshire. Outside, evidence that it was once part of the Alloa Brewery empire: boards proclaiming that it sells Ind Coope Burton Ale, Tetley Bitter and Castlemaine XXXX, the brands Allied was pushing in the late 1980s.

Inside, a long bar, comfy tables and a faux-retro sign anachronistically advertising Archibald Arrol’s 80 Shilling cask-conditioned ale. On the bar, four of the pub’s own beers are on offer, dispensed from the same fonts as the Carlsberg. I try the 70/–. It’s slightly tart, green and young-tasting, with a bit of toffee and a note of penny-tray sweets. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, so it’s neither bad nor interesting. At least it’s cheap at £1.85 a pint. I suspect the Pride 90/– is the same beer with less water in it; it’s winey and sweetish. I like this better as the tartness is more acceptable in a stronger beer.

No gentrification here; in more affluent areas a pub like this would be all flagstones and lamb shanks. Here the friendly staff are handing out sausage rolls to the regulars, and me (cheers). The Mansfield is homely but there’s nothing here to make me want to visit more often.

On the train back to Glasgow the chap opposite me is swigging Carling from the can. It seems appropriate for a town that has lost its entire beery heart.

4 comments:

  1. It's a pity you didn't go into Crams, it's a great wee place .It's a small place with low ceilings hence the noise level ,the punters are friendly and the banter is terrific as is the beer. Maybe you shouldn't have taken the.. 'Nae Numpties Allowed' sign outside so personally

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  3. The only thing good about Alloa is the road out of there lived in Clackmannan just as bad

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