Archive for December, 2010

Cask and Barrel

As stated, there were several pubs close to where we stayed, so after cooking Haggis for the boys I braved the wintery conditions and went on an evening stroll.

The Barony bar is on Broughton Street, not too crowded on an early Saturday evening. The beer range included several Caledonian ales plus Black Sheep. I had a pint of Stewar Edinburgh No 3, a recreation of a classic mild.

A lovely deep copper color. A mlty beer , some spices, too – gingerbread, caramel and vanilla. Some roasted grain, too. Not over-the-top sweet, but the bitterness is certainly well hidden.

A hundred yards down the street is the Cask and Barrel, which promotes itself more actively as a real ale pub. There are about a dozen ales on tap, most of the Scottish.

Their Broughton Street is the house beer. As expected it is a very malty, sweet beer. Some hop bitterness on the tongue, a bit harsh, maybe. Not too accomplished.

The Orkney Best was a fairly standard bitter, but there was a hint of barnyard or stable in there. Appropriate in a saison, not in a british cask ale.

Smithies was next door to the pub I had visited on the previousl evening, so it was the last stop on my way back to the hotel.It was rather empty, but the clientelle seemed rowdy enough. One of them was being helped into a taxi as I arrived. I had a pint of Houston Peters Well.

Malt, a little yeast, rather lightweight. Lacks the bitter edge to make it really refresing of quaffable.


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We stayed at Hot-el-apartments Canon Court, close to the Botanical gardens. Our two bedroom apartment was very comfortable for four, and it is convenient to be able to cook, have a fridge for drinks and breakfast and a TV with dvd player. There are several buses into central Edinburgh, but it is only fifteen or twenty minutes walk.

There are four real ale pubs in the area, two are two minutes away, the other two less than ten minutes. There is even an off licence with an incredible range of German beers if you want some alternatives to the Scottish maltiness. I’ll get back to that.

I wonder why it’s taken me thirty years to get back to Edinburgh. It’s a beautiful city. The dark stone dominates, and it certainly has its share of churches. But the fresh snow softens the edges, and the sound of coral practices drift out of the doors.

I need to spend a week here. Museums, churches, pubs and breweries. Trying to comprehend the language. I once struggled my way through Trainspotting. The book, not the movie. That’s a challenge.

Many pubs are off limits to teenagers, others are packed with Christmas shoppers. I manage to pop into a few, but there are plenty more to try on a repeat visit.

As usual, the maps on ratebeer are good research tools, but I’d also like to recommend a guide book. Bob Steele wrote a very good guide to London pus a few years ago. Fresh this year is Edinburgh Pub Walks, which covers the city and its surroundings in a very comprehensive way, you’d probably need a month to get through all of them. I’ve said it before – CAMRA needs to wake up and do some more marketing of their publications – review copies to bloggers would be a wise place to start.

During a  lunchtime hour I visited two pubs, both recommended both for the beer range and for their beautiful interiors.

Tiles, has, well, tiles. An island bar, with everything from floor to ceiling covered with glazed tiles. Classy.

The beer is Houston Jock Frost. An hones British bitter, malty with a hint of yeast, subtle bitter finish. Nothing remotely seasonal about the flavour, but I suppose you ahve to do something to make your pump clip stand out.

The Abbotsford is close by, on a pedestrianized street. It has a classic island bar, lots of brass and mahogany. Tiles here, too, but in the ceiling. Polite service, a broad range of beers. Even hefeweisssen from the West brewery in Glasgow on tap. This is not overloaded with Christmas ornaments or tinned music. Just friendly chatter and laughs from people taking a break from their Christmas shopping.

I try a stout – Thick Black from Devon Ales. It is a very rich beer, for once the name describes the contents. Smoke, roasted grain, burned bread crust, pumpernickel. A bit of a sour edge drags it down a little, I am not convinced it is intended.

A stout at the Abbotsford

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I should have inserted a sound file here. This song was played loud and clear over and over again from the carrousel in front of the Scott memorial last week. At the same time the BBC presented the whole thing as a natural disaster. We are talking about an inch or so of snow per day, something I thought most countries in the Northern hemisphere could cope with.

The idea was to take my eldest and two of his mates away for the weekend. The ferries to Denmark and Germany were full, so I checked for cheap plane tickets, and Edinburgh turned up as an alternative. Less than two hours flight, even if it involved a few hours by train to Torp airport south of Oslo. The accommodation seemed to be good value for money, too.

We arrived fairly late on a Friday evening. There was a petrol station across the road offering snacks, the  £75 per night apartment had two bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen and it was warm and cozy. And my package from myBrewerytap.com was waiting. Two bottles broken, but the rest in fine shape.

It was not yet midnight GMT, so I decided to try the pub conveniently located just a hundred yards away, McLachlan’s.

It was by no means crowded, but the locals were rather friendly. I got the ususal comments about photographing my beer, so I was told to take a photo of Scott behind the bar instead.

Two cask ales on tap, bot from the local Stewart brewery.

Thrre Wise Men is their seasonal. A full malty beer, it has prunes and other dark fruit. Some hops in the finish, too, but too much on the sweet side for me.

Their Pentland IPA was mote like it. Nothing like an American IPA, but a proper well hopped bitter. It has some herbal notes, dryness in the finish, yet a smooth and highly drinkable session beer.

The others tried to drag me into the conversation, but it had been a long day, and you know the feeling when you arrive late at a party and the others have been drinking steadily for hours. I made my excuses.

McLachlans front

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Zum Uerige sign

Zum Uerige was the fourth and final of the breweries I had planned to visit in Düsseldorf. Sure, there are others, but I did not want to be too late for my flight. There was another obstacle, namely the Christmas market spread over much of the old town. I did not see any stalls selling beer, but they were doing a brisk trade in mulled wine and cider. Handicrafts and sweets, too, sausages and chickens.

The brewery/restaurant is similar to the Füchschen in that it is a labyrinth of rooms. Some for eating, some for drinking. Some for sitting down, some for standing up. Some for smoking, some for live music. You find a place to stand or sit, then catch the eye of a waiter. He brings you a continuing supply of Alt glasses. If you sit at a table, he marks your beer mat, if you stand up, he uses chalk marks on the walls.

The place is packed with families and groups of friends, it is very charming. Brass reliefs, proverbs in dialect on the walls, lots of old polished wood. I would not mind spending a whole evening here.

The beer?

Wood, smoke, prunes and pepper, according to my notes.

Time to find a taxi.

In hindsight, I should have had a meal at one of the beer places. Because the over-priced chicken and rice dish I had at the airport was hardly edible.

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The next stop, the third brewpub in an hour, is jus a few meters down the street. Several rooms in a quite bright and airy place. Lots of small details when you look closer – wood, tiles, etched glass.The wooden barrels meet you by the entrance, the waiters shuttle back and forth with their trays. This line of work seems to be reserved for adult males in Düsseldorf. Polite and efficient, I wouldn’t guess how many small glasses are served on a busy Sunday like this.

All tables seem to be booked, so I stand shoulder to shoulder with some locals and enjoy a few glasses. The beer?  The house Alt is the standard here, too. Very complex. Oak, vanilla, peaches, pepper. In a way it reminds me of more daring British bitters.


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Back home

So I’ll get back to reports from Scotland. As soon as I’ve finished the Düsseldorf pub series.

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I had it all lined up. First my series of Düsseldorf Kneipen, then reports from this weekend in Edinburgh. Not a pub crawl weekend, mind you, as I am here with one of my offspring and two of his mates. I have managed to fit in a few pints, however, there are nice pubs in the neighbourhood. More about that later,when I upload the photos.

That might take some time. Our flight home to Oslo last night was cancelled, along assorted other Ryanair departures. All of us then filled the arrival hall, waiting for a long time for our luggage. There was swearing in Norwegian, crying in Catalan and desperate phone calls in English and German to try to get alternative tickets. As Heathrow and Gatwick were closed as well, the options were limited. The Eurostar is full until 24 December.

With some help on the home front, we have new tickets for this evening.  And our hotel had a room for the night. I even found an off licence full of German and Scottish beers. We are wery lucky compared to those who have to camp at the English airports.

But do you really need to shut down countries in Northern Europe because of an inch or two of snow?

To be continued……

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