Last Updated : 10/11/07
Ever heard of Ratebeer? No? Well, basically it’s an American online beer scooping website where members log the beers they’ve tried and give them “ratings” out of a possible 5 points (for those who know about wine this may sound very Robert Parker-esque) which are combined to give “best of” listings. This all sounds okay until you begin to look at the UK roll call which gives “best beer of the UK” to Fullers, closely followed by other examples of UK brewers which most discerning drinkers wouldn’t touch with the proverbial barge pole; the reason for these amazingly bollocks results is manifested in the dispense of said beers and then who actually drank them, which boils down to Americans drinking exported UK bottled beers rather than the “real McCoy” in cask form… saying this, Ratebeer is actually very useful in checking beer details from places you don’t know that much about and it also has a thriving community forum.
The European members had decided to hold a meeting in Glasgow over the bank holiday weekend in August and immediately my interest was fired as the only non-UK person to reach 10,000 beers was due to be in attendance; I wanted to meet Per Samuelsson from Stockholm in order to discuss beer drinking in general, as he was obviously an enthusiastic beer scooper and world traveller, as well as gleaning any extra information about Santiago and Buenos Aires as he’d recently visited both cities in a scooping frenzy.
My main problems were how to get to Glasgow for a reasonable price and within my tight schedule; as I couldn’t have any time off before the weekend owing to having used up all my holidays, I’d have to be there early on Saturday morning in order to scoop the new West brewpub and to have enough time for a quick whizz around the city’s other pubs before meeting up with the Ratebeer crowd in the cellar bar of the Blackfriars in the Merchant City, a pub which I knew well.
A quick check of the rail option told me that I could go by train from Shrub Hill at 05:44 (enjoy!) and arrive Glasgow at 11:27 with a couple of changes for around £40 return, but suddenly a gem of an idea popped into my aircraft-obsessed head – I could fly from Birmingham with FlyBE and scoop a hellfire plane type in the process! Five minutes later and the move was planned; Birmingham to Glasgow on an Embraer 145 and back, although the times were slightly inconvenient at 07:05 out and 13:20 back Sunday which meant I’d be having a very early morning on Saturday and consequently I’d not have time to do anything on the Sunday, but on the positive side this desperate move allowed me to scoop all the pubs I wished to and still get to the tasting session at a reasonable time… £70 return was the price and, despite this being higher than I’d generally pay for a much longer trip, the lure of an Embraer 145 was just too much, and so the plane it was!
For those readers who aren’t saddo plane cranks, an Embraer ERJ145 is a 50-seat regional jet which FlyBE are currently replacing by more efficient aircraft, and therefore just had to be scratched in! I’d been after one for a number of years but had always baulked at paying the inflated prices of the national airlines who used them, but seeing lines of British Airways examples at Birmingham time and time again (the very same planes were now in FlyBE livery after their takeover of BA’s regional business) had driven me to desperation and I’d even elected to wait an extra 2 hours in Paris on our way back from Buenos Aires the previous year to get one – which, predictably, was replaced by an equally hellfire Fokker 100! This made me all the more determined to scoop one of the little beasties and so it’s for that reason you find me driving up the M42 at 05:00 in the morning yet again…
Saturday 25th August 2007.
A pointy little beast.
The 45-minute drive up to Birmingham airport was soon accomplished and I was pleased to see the rows of ERJ145’s in their usual position, although now BA’s regional routes had been sold to FlyBE most of them seemed to have been repainted in FlyBE livery which the pointy little whoppers just didn’t wear as smartly… ah well, I reflected, as long as I had one it could be any colour it liked! The weather was a lot colder than I’d anticipated so I was pleased when a bus arrived almost immediately to whisk me off to the terminal which, this being the bank holiday weekend, was utterly wedged with normals sporting a variety of “Ing-er-land”, Chav and Tracksuit clothing whilst pushing suitcases which could feasibly contain the entire contents of their house – and possibly next door’s too for good measure. My flight wasn’t on the departures board but I soon realised why; it was departing from the “posh” terminal just along the way from where the big airlines flew!
This was another winner and also a blessed relief from the mayhem of Terminal 1; once I’d found T2 calm reigned and the queues for check-in were non-existent meaning I managed to walk straight up to an empty desk and check-in immediately. I was allocated a seat to myself (confirming the plane was an ERJ as they have the rare 2+1 seating arrangement) and so, feeling suitably pleased with myself, swaggered up the stairs to security which was negotiated with no difficulty (maybe business-class passengers are less likely to commit Jihad?) and I was soon reviving myself with the offerings of the various espresso establishments in the departures lounge which was a million miles from terminal 1 in relation to the magnitude of noise, chavs and pure bank holiday bedlam.
The flight was called on-time and we joined a bus to the plane; this always makes me a touch apprehensive as I like to see the aircraft on-stand (dunno why, it’s just one of those foibles I have!) but after a trundle around the block we pulled up alongside an ERJ in the area beneath the car park and I was impressed by it’s small stature and extreme pointiness – this was a winner, alright! The number was quickly scribed into the orange book, a surreptitious photo was taken, and we were aboard! The plane might have looked small from the outside but that was nothing to how it felt inside with barely enough room to stand upright in the aisle, but the seats were decently sized and comfy (a legacy of the aircraft’s former British Airways business-class use) and so I settled down into the leather seat and waited for departure.
Drookit in the dreich.
We were delayed by “bank holiday traffic” and the usual early morning departures rush but eventually we were hurtling down the runway with an impressive turn of speed and then up we went, much faster and steeper than the larger aircraft I was used to, although the 50-minute flight was over far too soon as we descended into a typically dreich Glasgow morning. I’d done a fair bit of research for this trip and had decided that an SPT Roundabout ticket would be perfect as I’d have unlimited train and subway travel all day which would undoubtedly pay for itself as I had visits to West, Clockwork and the Bon Accord planned. I located the SPT ticket kiosk (it’s just as you come through arrivals) and bought a ticket there; I asked about validity on the buses to Paisley and was told “show it to the driver, some of them’ll let you on!” – that’s the first time I’ve ever been advised to try and “f” anything by a ticket office!
Outside I jotted down the details of the “fast” bus to the city centre which I’d be using on Sunday morning - £3.95 one-way seemed a touch excessive, but at least I’d save a couple of quid if I managed to blag the bus to Paisley Gilmour Street station! This soon arrived and first impressions weren’t hopeful; the driver hunched in his seat with an air of general animosity towards everything around him and a fierce look on his face, but as I flashed my ticket at him and launched into my hastily pre-planned blag-speech he simply waved me past with a hunch of the shoulder – that had been a lot easier than I’d thought it would be and I was on, result!
After a short trundle through depressing grey council estates in the drizzle, which reminded me of the Petrzalka estate in Bratislava (which recently boasted the highest suicide rate in Europe), we arrived at the equally depressing semi-underground Paisley bus station that seemed to be a temple to concrete and the 1960’s. I knew that trains ran to Glasgow every ten minutes or so (Paisley Gilmour Street is one of the busiest stations in Scotland, apparently) so casually sauntered up to the platform and caught the next service into town. On board I got stuck into the rolls I’d brought with me and read a paper which lay next to my seat; if you’re ever in need of a good laugh, just read the letters page in a Catholic paper where you’ll be regaled with tales such as “Why do I feel guilty about my sin?” and “My vicar makes me feel guilty”… just see how many times you can count the word guilty, it’s superb entertainment…
Subterranean English Electric.
Once in town I eventually found Central station’s low-level platforms (they’re not well signposted) and clattered down the steps to the strangely oppressive platform below where I waited for the next train eastwards. I grinned to myself as I remembered doing tractors on the overnights through here in the early 90’s and how surreal it had been thundering through an underground system behind a clag-belching diesel engine… although that sort of thing didn’t happen anymore as there were no real engines left! As I stood there, however, I began to notice a strange noise that sounded suspiciously similar to a “proper” train – no, there were none left, how could it be? Louder came the noise and, despite convincing myself that it couldn’t possibly be a real train, I was now getting twitchy; it certainly sounded like one to me…
I crossed the platform to peer into the darkness of the tunnel to see what the source of this sound was and suddenly I could feel it, too; a throbbing, pulsating feeling in the air to go with the increasing engine sound… suddenly, from around the corner, came three lights close together and immediately I knew what it must be – a tractor on a works train! As I fumbled with my new phone, desperately trying to switch it to video, I heard something else in the sound, something that sounded like a whistle… now those of you who aren’t rail cranks can skip the next bit safe in the knowledge you won’t miss anything beer-related, but those who are will know exactly what was coming!
I gave up on my phone and watched open-mouthed as the large-logo nose rushed into the platform and then, just as I saw the “40445” number on the side and realised what this actually was, an enormous wall of sound came from the monster which left the normal passengers holding their ears and the platform shaking as if in the grip of an earthquake! With her power handle right back, 40145 thrashed away from the station and left me rooted to the spot, wondering if I’d seen a ghost of times past - but this was soon gone as I saw a fellow beer (and train) crank staring at me amazed from a window… “What the fuck are you doing at Glasgow low level?” came the text minutes after!
Peace returned to Central low level, but the smell of diesel exhaust and the buzz of such immense thrash would remain with me for the rest of the day! My train soon arrived and on I got for the anticlimactic trundle along to Bridgeton where I ambled down the street towards the looming carpet factory, wondering why I’d never seen this monumental Victorian fantasy before, even on a photo? I arrived a few minutes before the advertised 10:00 opening time and busied myself with a taking phots of the admittedly impressive façade which, as Rick Pickup had told me, resembled the Doge’s palace in Venice although the brewpub was situated in the slightly less architecturally inspiring former boiler house of the factory.
Nice kit, beer’s shit.
The off and on drizzle of the morning had relented to give a grey sky packed with hurrying clouds which suggested commuters in London – all in a rush, all going the same way – and I decided to take advantage in this lull in the drizzle to have a look at the People’s Palace close by. Ten minutes later, with the rain scurrying across the Clyde, I legged it back to West – to find the gate still shut tight and the only sign of life inside was preparation for opening… cheers then, I’d come here first as their website had promised 10:00 opening, and nowhere had it said anything about restrictive hours in rain showers! I sheltered under a convenient tree from the blustery rain, noticing the remains of Glasgow Green rail station right next to the brewpub (closed for years by the looks of things, but still an attractive building) and waited for something to happen…
The rain eased and the gate remained firmly closed and so, consulting my sodden map, I decided on a wander over to what was labelled as a “suspension bridge” over the Clyde. The map was as good as it’s word so I spent ten minutes wandering around the bridge and it’s environs until another pack of clouds loomed over the horizon, forcing me back to the brewpub – which was now open! In I went and immediately noticed the huge copper kit in the front window; this was some serious brewplant, I pondered, but why the hell was it this big? Surely they couldn’t sell that much beer in here – in the city centre maybe, but out here? I made my way to the bar…
A huge chalkboard above the bar blared out the day’s brews with five available, although two were weiss and thus immediately flagged! My watch read 10:45, the big clock above the bar read 10:55, so let the scooping commence… “Sorry, we can’t serve beer until 11:00” apologised the barman, gesturing towards the oversized timepiece, “want a coffee instead?” An espresso was thus procured for the reasonable fee of a quid (to combat the tiredness I knew I’d be feeling later on) and I watched the huge clock clunk it’s way inexorably towards 11:00… a few minutes later the barman returned and asked what I wanted to drink; let the scooping commence – properly, this time!
I ordered half of Helles plus another of Dunkel and perched at the huge bar to sample them. Having been impressed by the shininess and size of the brewplant and the general ambience of the bar I was expecting some good things, particularly as malt from Weyermann of Bamberg seemed to be used… well, what can I say apart from VERY BORING! Both beers were particularly uninteresting examples of the brewer’s art although whether by design or coincidence I didn’t know – until I tried the “Bamberger” beer! This was allegedly brewed with a proportion of rauchmalz from Weyermann and, having a particular fondness for the kippery smokiness such beers have, I was drooling at the prospect of a UK-brewed example.
A road full of green.
They say they used some smoked malt – and who am I to disagree – but all I can say is that I could barely taste a whiff of smoke, or much else to be honest. Bitterly disappointed by the beers at West it was time to leave and so I stomped down the steps, hearing a strange brass band sound as I did so, and then strolled back up Binnie Place to the main road still wondering what a brass band – with penny whistles too, by the sounds of things – could be doing out in the east of Glasgow?
As I rounded the corner onto London Road, wondering why the volume of the band nose was still increasing, I suddenly got my answer – the whole road was taken up by a marching Irish (or Scottish-Irish) pipe band which had just rounded the corner from Tobago Street and was approaching at a fair rate of knots with all pipes, drums and whistles blaring… I stood amazed at this spectacle for a few seconds before realising I’d never get past this throng of green to Bridgeton station and so, with a smile on my face at the day turning out very surreally thus far, swung around and headed for the city centre – on foot!
A ten-minute trudge later I climbed the stairs to Central station and headed for the first train to Mount Florida. If you’ve not been to Clockwork then you may be wondering about my surreal choice of destination but I assure you there are no mountains around and it bears little resemblance to any pictures of Florida I’ve seen! Another ten minutes passed and I was off down the steep ramp towards the Military Road – yet another weird name – alongside the high-rise flats and incredibly crap-looking bar towards what is Glasgow’s best brewpub (although it never had a lot of competition with the likes of Miller’s Thumb and McLachlans…)
Scooping begins in earnest.
Once through the door I swiftly ordered my two scoops – time being against me owing to the extended wait for West to open – Dark Star Festival (5%) and Clockwork Kitchen Sink (4.2%), and stood at my usual place by the bar to consume them whilst perusing the bottled beer selection. This seemed to have shrunk since my last visit and I couldn’t see any Cantillon although, with my schedule being so tight, I’d not have time for such indulgence and accordingly stuck to my UK winners. The Festival was reddy brown, treacly and mellow whilst the Clockwork beer was full of lovely hedgerowy, blackberryish hops which I like to think I recognise as Bramling Cross but am probably miles off the mark… no fruit beers were available to delay me any longer and so, wishing I had more time to enjoy the atmosphere and beers in one of my favourite Glasgow pubs, I was off towards the station for yet another train.
This one took me back into the centre where I checked into my incredibly cheap hotel right in the heart of the Merchant City – and very conveniently close to the Blackfriars! The Merchant Lodge hotel seemed too good to be true with it’s £40 B&B price and ensuite rooms yet first impressions were very good; it was an attractive stone building in a quiet street with a superb spiral stone staircase leading up to the rooms, although the lack of a lift might have concerned me more had I been on the top floor and not the second! My superfluous luggage sorted, I was back out of the hotel within ten minutes and heading for Buchanan Street subway station – by way of Aulds bakery where I indulged in a couple of Macaroni pies (a Glaswegian delicacy and a great favourite of mine for many years) for sustenance and old times’ sake!
A quick subway ride brought me to Kelvinbridge - this is different than Kelvinhall as I found out on my first visit, beware! - from where I took a quick look in Tennant’s bar (no scoops and wedged as rugby was on the TV) then the Aragon (nothing of interest) before trudging down the hill to my real target, the Three Judges, where I hoped to at least find some decent Scottish micro beer… the range inside gave credence to my belief that the pub isn’t as good as it used to be for winners although the place itself is certainly a lot better looked after these days and hasn’t really changed in character since my first visit many years ago. One winner was on the bar, Hadrian Byker Gem (4.3%), which isn’t that common a brewery these days and so I sat and supped the decent hoppy brew and planned my next move.
With time of the essence I drained my glass and took the Subway clockwise to St George’s Cross station in the Northwest of the city where I planned to walk to the Bon Accord… well that was the plan, but even after studying my A-to-Z intensely I couldn’t work out where the hell I was! Ten minutes later, after a few false starts, I finally discovered my target street cunningly disguised as an M8 sliproad and so trudged off along it in the mood for some winners – which, hopefully, the Bon Accord would provide me with!
Back in the centre.
After ten minutes of plodding past sandstone tenement buildings – and seeing a half-finished bottle of Buckie abandoned on a bench, pure quality! - I arrived at the pub and saw there were two scoops available although one would be on later at the Blackfriars so I restricted myself to the Caledonian Rebus (4.4%) which allegedly had a secret ingredient (ginger, apparently)… it tasted like a good slug of caramel and rum essence had been sloshed into the cask and made for a particularly unattractive beer, even by Caley’s modern standards, so much so I considered having the Kelburn Pivo Estivo as a palate cleanser but decided otherwise due to the time! I hate having such tight time constraints but knew that it was necessary if I were to check out all the scoop-worthy pubs in the centre and so off I went into the grey afternoon on a mission…
The strangely named State Bar was my next call and I must say I really like this place with it’s island bar, wood panelling and friendly atmosphere; it’s everything you could want from a pub, plus it often has winners available! One was on hand for my delectation, Stewart Pentland IPA (4.1%), so I sat by the window and supped my beers whilst watching Sauchiehall street shoppers laden with bags shuffle past. The beer was golden, fairly syrupy/sweet yet had a good grassy hop finish which balanced the maltiness well… and it was about 1000% better than the Rebus!
Time to go and this time my target was an old local of mine when I’d worked in the city during the late 1990’s. The Pot Still on Hope Street is a classic pub, which just happens to sell around 300 whiskies of all types and forms from simple blends to long-extinct single cask drams, and it was here that I scooped most of my distilleries and learnt the differences between the regions at first hand via my spot at the bar. In those days the beer range was the execrable McEwans 80 Bob and the superb Orkney Dark Island, a beer which goes remarkably well with whisky, but these days the beers on offer are more interesting and the last time we’d visited, the previous spring, we’d scooped a couple of beers.
No winners this time, unfortunately, so I decided to indulge in a wee dram. I soon located an old bottle of Gordon & McPhail’s Glenury Royal 1976 which was retrieved from the high shelf by the barmaid and from which a scoop was duly poured; I supped it appreciatively whilst chatting to two tourists who had found this place by accident (or so they say…) and we agreed that there couldn’t be many better whisky pubs in the whole of Scotland, if not the world. Sadly “Big Kenny” the landlord wasn’t around but had he been I might have been forced to stop for another dram which would have put a big dent in my schedule as, according to my plan, I was supposed to be in the Blackfriars Ratebeer tasting by now!
I had to forcibly remove myself from the bar to stop myself asking for another scoop and so after a quick look in the Toby Jug by Central station (no scoops) and the Horseshoe bar (couldn’t get through the door it was so packed) I finally set course for the Merchant City where I hoped to scoop both some UK and rare foreign brews and also meet some more of the Ratebeer community who were holding a tasting in the Blackfriar’s cellar bar courtesy of Tom, the cellarman, who had also promised to have some decent cask ales on the bar too… sounded like a good deal to me!
In the cellar.
I’ve always liked the Blackfriars’ strange mix of alternativeness and busy city pub and so was pleased to see that nothing had changed save the cask ales becoming rarer – Brewdog Punk IPA (6%), Fyne Inishail (3.6%) and Kelburn Pivo Estivo (%) were all on tap along with a few other unrequired but only slightly less worthy brews so I decided to begin with the Fyne; if it was as bad as usual I could at least wash it down with the Brewdog! The beer came bright and pale (in my previous experience of Fyne beers they had been hazy and amber) and tasted… amazing! A fresh piny citrus blast assailed my tongue along with citrus, malt, bitterness to give a well-brewed beer and certainly nothing like I’ve come to expect from Fyne!
I enquired as to the whereabouts of the Ratebeer meting and was indicated towards some steps which led down into the pub’s cellar. There I found not some damp fungus-covered cell but a well-lit seating area complete with bar which was already covered with empty bottles! The meeting was in full swing and I quickly located Per, the only person from outside the UK to scoop over 10,000 beers, and was soon involved in a wide-ranging conversation about all aspects of beer and brewing aided by the contents of two bottled he gave to me – Närke Slättöl (4.5%) and Närke Bästa Rököl (5.7%) - both of which were excellent and certainly I’d have guessed them American had I tasted them blindfolded!
I shan’t bore you with the full happenings of the evening so let’s just say that I drank lots of beer, met lots of Ratebeerians from all over Europe (and even some from across the pond) and had a great time debating my controversial views on many subjects with them! At 21:00 we cleared up the bar and moved upstairs for a few beers in the pub as the cellar was required for a band/disco that evening which we were all invited to free of charge; most sociable! After a couple of pints of Pivo Estivo and a good rant at a young lad who wasn’t old enough to remember Thatcher despite thinking she was the best prime minister ever – he was soon put right! – the few remaining survivors went downstairs in the hope of finding the promised cask of bright Kelburn waiting for us.
Unfortunately, Tom had vanished with the cask still untapped in the cellar; despite my offering to tap it we weren’t able to do so and, as the talk turned to Tequila, I decided that was my signal to leave and returned to my hotel – to find my window looked out over a nightclub around whose door a considerable crowd was gathered! I was so tired, however, that even the mayhem below didn’t stop me getting a good night’s sleep… after all, an early start followed by a day’s drinking is far more effective than any set of earplugs in my opinion!
The next morning was spent with a wander around the city centre in the glorious sunshine, testing out my new phone’s camera, before taking the bus to Glasgow airport for my flight home. Everything went well and my flight was on time (although the previous one still hadn’t left when I arrived) and was, as I’d hoped, another Embraer ERJ145 that rounded a short but extremely productive trip off perfectly… next stop South America!
Happily Glasgow hasn’t changed much (apart from the West brewpub opening) since my last visit so I won’t bother repeating the list of pubs here; just check the last report for that! I still really enjoy a pub-crawl of the city as it offers some cracking pubs and, more importantly, some great brews even if winners are a little thin on the ground sometimes (still, I scooped 11 which isn’t bad!); if you’ve not done Glasgow yet it’s time you did, although don’t expect to score a whole bucketload of winners (sometimes it does happen, but more often you’ll get a handful) and watch out for the neds – non educated delinquents, the Glaswegian equivalent of Chavs!
What I will say is that I’d not bother flying to Glasgow again unless time was as short as it’s not that cheap and, with a bit more time to spare, the train would have been a far better option: and much less expensive too, although when the new rail link to the airport opens in a year or so it will be a lot easier (and cheaper, hopefully) to reach the centre. The frequent airport link buses have changed to Arriva and are consequently more expensive these days at £3.95 single, although they are now more frequent and run 24 hours a day, although it’s still the cheapest move to blag the bus to Paisley Gilmour Street (bus 60, stand 2, every 10 minutes and it’s supposed to be £1.60) and then take the train into the centre with a “Roundabout” which then allows unlimited local train travel in addition to the Subway, allowing access to all the city’s pubs easily – including Clockwork and West.
Staying around there.
There are loads of hotels in Glasgow and it’s possible to find some excellent deals if you search around a bit – try for a good general overview of the situation there. Last time we got a good deal at the Quality Inn at Central Station, but this time I went for a lucky dip with the Merchant’s Lodge in the Merchant City which turned out to be a perfectly acceptable and convenient place with a good breakfast and very attractive spiral stone staircase although, beware, there’s no lift which means you may get sick of the spiral staircase before too long… although for a mere £40 single, ensuite, this place is a bit of a bargain and I’d not hesitate to stay there again.
See here for the revised beer gen from my last trip.
Beer and Pub of the weekend.
I’m a big fan of Glasgow’s varied and hospitable pubs and so it’s difficult for me to choose the best ones for any list as I like so many of them! However, needs must and so here’s the best three on this occasion although be aware that the list would almost certainly be different the next time as I base it on my experience during the trip and not my accumulated fondness for the pub!
1. State Bar – A great little pub with an island bar and improving range of cask ales.
2. Pot Still – Has a decent range of cask ales to go with the amazing swathe of malt on the shelves.
3. Three Judges – Not as good beer-wise as it was in it’s heyday, but it's still a cracking pub.
Some excellent brews were scooped during the Saturday – with the notable exception of West’s efforts – and so a choice of three isn’t as easy as it sometimes is when a couple of beers stand out from the crowd. A quick check of my scores reveals the following rundown;
1. Närke Slättöl (4.5%) – A truly excellent hoppy, grassy, citrussy brew in the style of an American pale ale yet brewed with such a deft touch as to make it supremely drinkable. Excellent – and Swedish! (thanks, Per!)
2. Clockwork Kitchen Sink – I thought I’d had the best they could offer years ago, but this luscious monster full of brambly hops and tannic bitterness got me told… an amazingly complex brew.
3. Fyne Inishail (3.6%) – An amazing turnaround from Fyne; a lovely citrussy, bitter, fresh blast of hops which makes this session beer a truly excellent and refreshing brew.
|West brewpub, Glasgow||West's very posh plant||The State bar||The Blackfriars||A bottle of Buckie - and no, this wasn't set up, I really found it like this !!!|
© Gazza 10/11/07 V1.0.