Sunday, 20 August 2017

A mouth full of South

When I moved to the south side of Glasgow fifteen years ago, I’d never lived quite so close to such a wide range of pubs before. I could nip out late at night for a sneaky pint and be back home again in twenty minutes. The pints would be at Samuel Dow’s, the last-but-one relic of a pub empire that once owned pubs all over the city, all called Samuel Dow’s (The remaining pub is in Dundas St opposite Queen St Station). At that time Samuel Dow’s sold Harviestoun and Fyne beers in very good condition. I remember one morning a friend came round to help me homebrew. We were very proud to get the mash on and be at Dow’s for opening time.

Alternatively there was the Allison Arms and its magic fridge.

Time went on, Samuel Dow’s got a new licensee, the beer quality declined and eventually it was converted into a branch of Lebowski’s, the group that runs a selection of other dull bars around Glasgow.

Inevitably, it was only once I moved elsewhere that things started getting interesting again. The stretch of Pollokshaws Road between Queen’s Park and Calder Street has been extensively hipsterfied (or gentrified, depending on how you see things) and now offers a wide array of eating and drinking establishments, with more due. There are three coffee shops alone within fifty metres of each other. Ranjit’s Kitchen, Glasgow’s leading vegetarian curry house, stands out in an area endowed with many excellent curry houses. Just off Pollokshaws Road, Locavore, a social enterprise devoted to local food and small-scale farming, is doing so well that it’s moving for the second time to new and bigger premises, a former pub (the Pandora) not far away on Victoria Road. This area has very quickly leapfrogged the over-hyped Finnieston north of the river – possibly because it’s still affordable for the bohemians to live nearby who make the area interesting in the first place.

Kelly’s as was

The latest news is that Koelschip Yard – a bar in the mould of Edinburgh’s Hanging Bat and Salt Horse – is to open in premises that were Kelly’s bar until fairly recently.

The Allison Arms has been more fortunate than Dow’s or Kelly’s: still going strong, having attracted a new and hip clientele, and the beer fridges have expanded to fill almost an entire wall. Well-established cafe Gusto & Relish is still there too (which was already doing beer menus back in 2011).  Of course, Heraghty’s Bar seems set to go on forever, or at least as long as Jack McLean is still to be seen standing outside the front door.

The old Kind Man/Strathie has been refurbished as The Rum Shack which has been developing a reputation for its food, music and rum, though I haven’t been in to check out their beer. In the immediate area only the Regent and the Titwood Bar remain with the old formula of “men and Tennent’s”. It remains to be seen how long they will survive with it.

Further north, still just south of the Clyde, the Laurieston Bar is now the only pub on the block. Of the two other, decidedly dodgy, bars on Bridge Street, the Waterfront (once a handsome pub called Stevenson Holmes & Co., and latterly the Glaswegian) closed and has since been refurbished to become a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, while the Sou’Wester just closed.

Dave Lannigan in Ride’s new railway arch
Just round the corner, though, Glasgow is getting its first railway arch brewery, in the shape of Ride Brewing Co. Owner Dave Lannigan has been talking about this for as long as I’ve known him and it’s finally open for business. This is very good news, because while I haven’t had much of Dave’s beer it’s always been impressive: elegant, extremely well balanced and drinkable.

It’s a tiny outfit still, with 200L fermenters, but as Dave has been brewing on glorifed homebrew kit until now, even that is a big expansion. One advantage of being so small, of course, is that you don’t need many outlets for your beer. The Old Toll Bar in Kinning Park – which has just put in its second handpump – Marchtown, and the new Wee Beer Shop mentioned above will be selling Ride beer.

Of Ride’s first commercial beers, Gorbals Calypso is a 7.4% Vermont-style IPA, a style which Glasgow nanobrewers have taken to their hearts. The keg version is quite full-bodied and tropical. In the cask it’s quite different: more highly attenuated, drier, and the citrus and pithy bitterness come through more. Charon is an American-style “robust porter” with Chinook hops, very roasty and bitter.

Both were on tap at a pop-up back on the Bungo booze trail – the Wee Beer Shop. It isn’t a shop yet, as owner Niall Kennedy has only just got the keys. As yet there are no shop fittings or even a sign, but that doesn’t stop you having a pop-up these days: all you need is for the electricity to be working and to know some brewers.

Besides Ride there was a new beer from Up Front – Yojo, a fruited gose with kalamansi. This is exactly the sort of beer I would instinctively say shouldn’t be allowed, but Jake at Up Front has pulled off another cracker: the bitter citrus fruit is subdued and merges sublimely with acidity and salt. Just to confound my prejudices further, this beer is kettle-soured.

Niall explained that his focus will be mostly but not exclusively on Scottish beers, with a range perhaps slightly less esoteric than Koelschip Yard across the road will offer.

Less than a year ago Marchtown wine and beer bar/shop launched itself with a similar pop-up just a few steps down the road. I called in on the way to Wee Beer and every table was packed. If Wee Beer can have the same success I imagine Niall will be very happy.

Friday, 11 August 2017

From the ashes

Like many other drinkers I was shocked and saddened when Glasgow beer business Hippo Beers suddenly went into liquidation. The group which ran a beer shop and just over a year ago opened its own bar, the Hippo Taproom, closed its doors and appointed liquidators at the end of July.

I’m particularly sad because I’ve seen the business start up right from the beginning and can imagine how much work the founders Derek and Alec put into it. When the Hippo shop on Queen Margaret Drive finally opened I was the first customer through the door (I wanted them to be able to say there were customers waiting outside).

One of the earliest events I remember was a brewing demonstration in the shop with the homebrewers who went on to form Out Of Town. That particular beer had to be dumped due to someone’s insistence on using far too much rye. The boys were back at Hippo Taproom a couple of years later to launch their brewery. Chris Lewis of Dead End Brew Machine also credits Hippo with giving him the impetus to go commercial.

I do not know the reasons for the liquidation but some people are speculating that there just wasn’t enough trade. Compared to other specialist stores Hippo was a bit out of the way, and not near any convenient public transport. Although the inhabitants of the surrounding area are precisely the demographic likely to buy its wares, perhaps a beer shop also needs to attract custom from elsewhere. The Taproom was rarely busy but put an extraordinary effort into organising special events and – unlike some beer bars – offered several well-kept cask ales. Perhaps its location, among the Saturday night drinking barns of Sauchiehall St, didn’t do it any favours either; though it made a pleasant pub crawl from there to the State Bar round the corner (and sometimes back again).

The liquidation came at a particularly inconvenient time, as the team were in the middle of organising their festival, the Great Scottish Beer Celebration, which had previously taken place at the Barras and this year was planned for the Art School. Happily, brewers and other beer retailers have come to the rescue and organised an ad hoc consortium to allow the festival to continue. “I was basically asked ‘do you fancy helping get the thing moving again’ … it’s been very much a collective since the beginning,” one of the organisers told me.

It will be on the same dates in the same venue, but under the name Beer Makes Glasgow (a take on the city‘s own PR slogan “People Make Glasgow”). Ticket holders for GSBC should contact or just turn up for the same session originally booked. Tickets can be obtained from Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Drumchapel Food Bank.