Thursday, 30 August 2012

Last Halt, all change

Most pub closures go ahead without any protest or resistance. Happily, regulars at the Halt Bar in Woodlands have got together to oppose plans by the owners Punch Taverns to turn their pub into a  “mid-market venue with a strong food offering.”

The Halt is something that has become a rarity; a genuine local close to the city centre. Woodlands is densely populated with the kind of people who still go to pubs, and not a few bands have been formed here.

I drank in here years ago as a student when it was the hub (or one of the hubs) of that scene. I hadn’t been back recently because their regular beers are Deuchars and Hobgoblin (although a friend swears that I was there with him a couple of years ago and that I said we should go there more often. I have no recollection of this event at all).

When I heard of the potential threat I made a point of dropping in for a pint, to take some pictures and soak in the atmosphere while I still could. I found a really nice pub, not too quiet, not too busy, a mixed clientele of scenesters, middle-aged couples and old jakeys. The soundtrack was some indie stuff – vinyl, not too loud, and much preferable to the awful dad-rock that the failed Bruadar used to play. In this ambience, even the Hobgoblin was enjoyable; a rather one-dimensional beer with a strong treacle character.

Concern spread after images appeared on the internet of a proposed refurbishment which would, judging by the blurry floor plans, do away with the Edwardian horseshoe bar and replace the area with seating.

When I saw the mock-ups I immediately thought they had clearly been created by someone in Essex with little or no knowledge of Glasgow pubs; that is generally the way things work nowadays after all. The frontage with hanging baskets is a dead giveaway. We don’t do that up here, nice though they are. More disturbing is the lowering of the windows. At the moment the Halt has traditional high windows originally designed to stop children seeing the depraved goings-on inside the pub. Despite this there is plenty of natural light in the pub and it’s a lovely place to have a cheeky pint on a sunny afternoon, if, as Michael Jackson suggested, your lifestyle is leisurely or eclectic enough to allow it.

A “Save the Halt” group has been set up on Facebook and is trying to raise awareness. Campaigners have met with Punch and the initial talks have been positive. But the future of the pub is still in the balance.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Glasgow Beer Week returns

I have hardly blogged recently; this is because most of my spare time has been taken up with helping organise this year’s Glasgow Beer Week.

The week will be taking place from 7th–14th September and it’s too late to go back now: WEST brewery have already brewed the official beer. Here are some photos (credit to Simon):

It’s a pale top-fermenting beer in the style of the Rhineland. WEST have made it before, a couple of years ago, and I quite enjoyed it then. There is no particular connection between Glasgow and Cologne as far as I know (Glasgow is twinned with Nürnberg), but I have spent not a few hours zosching Kölsch in Cologne, so I am quite happy that this style has been chosen.

Because only brewers in the Cologne metropolitan area are allowed to call their beer Kölsch, I will not be referring to it as such. Some people say this restriction is outdated; I think it’s fun and stimulates inventive naming. There are a few German breweries outside Cologne who do brew this style; there they tend to just call it “obergärig” and hope that customers get the message. There was once a product called “Bönnsch” from Bonn, a few kilometres down the river.

Meantime in London, in deference to this, call their version “Kölner”. Other names I haven’t seen, but would like to, are:
  • I can’t believe it’s not Kölsch
  • Kölle (Cologne dialect for Köln)
  • Alaaf (A greeting used at carnival time – Cologne is the centre of the Rhineland carnival, though rival cities Mainz and Düsseldorf will vehemently dispute this)
  • K*lsch
The Un-Kölsch will be tapped at the Beer Week opening party on Friday 7th September. If you happen to be there, do say hello.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Let the music play, down some Fladda Rock

Actually my plan for the weekend was to take a trip to Luss, half-way up the left-hand side of Loch Lomond, where the Loch Lomond Arms Hotel has just re-opened after a £3m refurbishment and the Loch Lomond Brewery has succeeded in getting their beers onto the bar. But then the announcement came: a new Fyne beer was going to be launched at the brewery on Saturday. What to do?

Well, said Adam, you could go to Fyne and stop at Luss on the way back. Then take a local bus to Balloch and once there jump on the train back to Glasgow. The bypass where the bus stops is only two minutes’ walk from the village. So it is. I’d never noticed.

Being Saturday, only the hairiest brewery staff were about
So in the morning I took a trip up to Fyne at Cairndow; it’s a lovely journey and the hour and a half it takes goes by quickly. The trudge along the road from the bus stop is getting familiar now, and I was soon in the swish new brewery tap.

After my last visit I had wondered how they manage to keep five cask ales on the bar; there can’t be that many visitors to the brewery. Peeking through the glass into the “cellar”, I see part of the answer: all the beers are in pins, on spear dispense. Aha. They’ll be fresh at least, and if they get tired it’s not so much to throw away.

First a refreshing pint of Rune to wash the dust from my throat. Rune is a beer I like more every time I try it. The first time, at this year’s festival, I thought it a little one-dimensional and watery – hardly mortal sins in a 3.5% beer. Then just a week or so ago I dropped into the State Bar in Glasgow on a sunny afternoon. Rune was fresh on and in perfect condition. Pale ’n’ hoppy doesn’t get much better than this, I remember thinking. When it’s good, Rune is like drinking from the cold river at dawn on a summer’s morning, if the river were made of beer.

Then on to the Fladda Rock. It is magnificent. There is nothing else like this being brewed in Scotland at the moment. Penny-tray sweeties, canned fruit salad, pineapple, banana, those fruit-scented erasers from the 1980s. A slight mineralliness emphasises the long, clean bitterness. Made with lager malt and Calypso hops it’s the beer world’s equivalent to Toast Hawaii [I have no idea what I meant when I wrote this]. Not oily, not pungent, just nice.

Aretha Franklin and Clarence Carter on the stereo are the perfect accompaniment as I sit in the shady bar, protected from the sun outside. I was quite surprised to look up and discover that two hours had passed and it was already time to head back to the main road to catch the big red bus that goes to Luss.

Jumping off the bus it was just a quick walk along a path and a short crunch across the gravel of the unfinished car park, and I was standing in front of the Loch Lomond Arms.

It was a sunny day and the bar/restaurant was heaving; the people who’d come to check out the new place were joined by those who’d just come out because the sun might not shine again until next year.

I was pleased to see two cask beers from Loch Lomond on alongside the inevitable Belhaven IPA, and yet more in bottles in the fridge … less pleased that my Ale of Leven turned out cloudy, on the warm side, and heavily sparkled.


That isn’t even an apostrophe. 

I am sure the staff and management would have preferred a less hectic first weekend, so they could get into the swing of things, so I won’t judge them too harshly, but they do need to get the beer quality sorted out. And the interior signage on this door (in fairness, most of it is very nice, rendered in Perpetua).

By this time Adam, approaching the village from the other direction, had arrived (you can read his version of events here) and I switched to bottled West Highland Way. This is a beer I can’t quite figure out yet. It’s rather aromatic and on the sweet side. I think I need to drink more of it to decide whether I like it.

The big red bus that goes to Luss
With the time for the bus to Balloch approaching, we finished off our beer and crossed the road to the bus stop. There we waited, and waited, and waited. Ten minutes after the bus was supposed to arrive, we suspected there might be something up. After twenty-five minutes we were resigned to the fact that the bus (the 305 operated by McColl’s) was never going to arrive (and it never did). The only problem was that it was still another forty minutes until the next timetabled service.

Eventually a bus appeared and we scrambled to get on, only to find that it was heading to Helensburgh, not Balloch. As soon as we got off again, it struck us – we could have gone to Helensburgh, where there’s a railway station to get us back home, and at the same time have a chance try out the brand new Wetherspoon pub, the Henry Bell, which is reportedly rather nice. After all, it’s not like we’re going to make a special trip there some other time to visit a Spoons, however nice.

After a walk up to the next bus stop, an ice cream and a chance encounter with Fiona and Euan from Loch Lomond Brewery, we realised that the next Citylink bus back to Glasgow was not long after the next McColl’s service, and more likely to actually turn up, so we made our way back to the A82 and got on the Glasgow-bound bus, the same one I would have got if I’d stayed at Fyne a bit longer; which on reflection is probably what I should have done. But then I wouldn’t have had the story.