Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Clutha

As I write this the emergency services are still searching the Clutha Bar in Glasgow for survivors, painstakingly making the building safe.

Surreal is the only word to describe the idea that a helicopter has crashed through the roof of a pub around twenty minutes’ walk from my home.

I don’t have any more information about the disaster than anyone else who has been following events on Twitter, but I do know the Clutha. It is a well-established, popular pub with an active live music scene.

I’m not a regular by any means; I think I’ve been in maybe twice this year, yet it was on my mental list of pubs to visit more often. Only recently I heard the landlord was planning to expand the range of cask ales. Alas, we all now have more pressing concerns.

Together with its sister establishment, the Victoria, the Clutha is one of those Glasgow pubs that once occupied the ground floor of a three- or four-storey tenement. The upper floors are long since demolished, leaving a flat roof and a beer garden where the back court of the tenement was.

In my student days the Clutha, the Victoria and the Scotia Bar just up the street were a triangle of a vibrant pub scene; a pub crawl involving very little walking, just crossing the road from one pub to the next, on to the third and perhaps back to the first by closing time. I would have said that was its heyday but the Clutha and Scotia are still very popular pubs today, though the Victoria has been converted into an Italianate bistro where you could get some well cooked pasta and a reasonable drop of wine. In those days I remember drinking Maclays Oat Malt Stout in the Clutha.

The Stockwell Triangle, as it was sometimes called, was famous for folk music and radical activism. Artists, musicians and other bohemian types frequented them and the likes of Billy Connolly and Adam McNaughtan played here. One of the dead is poet John McGarrigle, a regular in the Scotia/Clutha/Victoria scene since the 1980s Workers City days.

Looking at the aerial photographs of the crash it looks like the helicopter came down on top of the front snug and the toilets. I sat in the snug the last time I was in, a comfortable area with old photographs on the walls. The stage where a band was playing is on the other side of the pub, to the side of the bar. Bad as it is, it could have been much worse.

On the cordoned-off street just before dusk, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, was being interviewed for the news. A few dozen people were standing there, watching and waiting for something to happen, hoping that maybe some people would still be brought out alive.

It seems quite callous in a way to think of the future of the pub rather than the injured and bereaved, yet we also have staff and licensees who don’t quite know if they will have a job or a business to go back to. At the moment it’s not yet clear whether the building can be saved, and even if it can, it will be many months before the pubs can re-open. I hope that the Glasgow hospitality trade will rally round and support the pub and its staff in the meantime.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Essay question

“US beer tastes of hops. German beer tastes of malt. Belgian beer tastes of yeast. English beer tastes of water.”  Discuss.
(15 marks)

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A calm pint – Glasgow Beer Week day one

Blackfriars on Bell St have to my mind some of the finest cellarmanship in Glasgow – I’m not sure I can recall ever having a flat pint in there. That being so, they eased us into Beer Week by opening up the basement bar early (it usually hosts club nights later in the evening), and sticking two fresh casks on the bar to be poured by gravity.

The pub gets extremely busy on Friday and Saturday nights, so much so that I actually avoid it on weekend evenings. So it was a great relief to be able to sit down with a pint downstairs and talk in a less crushed atmosphere.

I love gravity beer. Often it is done very poorly, leading some people to believe that gravity beer is always flat, including the London barman who once served me a pint lacking any carbonation whatsoever and argued that it was meant to be like that.

Happily, both beers were in great nick and very drinkable. Kelburn Pivo Estivo really shone, seeming hoppier than usual, though I think this may be down to a slight variation in the beer rather than dispense.

It is really weird the way that Glasgow Beer Week has things go around in circles. Three and a half years ago, after the event that inspired Beer Week in the first place, I wrote “I also tried a very good hoppy stout which would put plenty of commercial versions to shame.” That hoppy stout was the beer that later became Williams Bros Profanity Stout, and one of the homebrewers was Craig Middleton, then a brewing student at Heriot-Watt. Craig has, of course, since gone on to set up Cromarty Brewing whose beers are already regarded as some of the finest in Scotland.

What did we have as the other beer on Friday night but a new porter “Ghost Town” from Cromarty? I wouldn’t like to stick my neck out and say it’s the same recipe, but it certainly tasted secular enough to be reminiscent of the earlier beer. For its 5.8% it was surprisingly smooth and it turned into one of those “goodness, is that the time?” evenings – always a sign of a good beer.