Sunday, 15 December 2013

Inverness, Highlands

We're back in Scotland! But this is no hour over the border jaunt, this is hardcore. This is hours on end through the beautiful Cairngorms. This is the highlands.
The PGA European Tour Race to Doubi finished recently, which got me thinking about my summer of working on golf jobs, including a couple of tour events. One of these was the Scottish Open in Inverness. Further thinking prompted me that I'd done all the legwork for an Inverness episode of Beer Branches, but never got around to writing it up. 
So here we are, Inverness: Capital of the Highlands.

Inverness is bit of a tourist hot spot. You've got Loch Ness just down the road, some fascinating history and some beautiful architecture. Sadly, Inverness Station does not fall into this last category having had the original buildings replaced in the 1960s. To be honest it could almost be a non descript office block.

Nipping inside is a different story, and there's plenty to interest a rail geek.

This plaque is on the concourse and commemorates the completion of a continuous railway link between London and Inverness in 1858. There's also a commerative bell.

Heading to end of the platform (where the cool kids go) you get a good view of the rest of the triangle.

Look at that. Engine sheds, a lever frame, the Caledonian Sleeper, a Blue Circle Cement silo. If you look just under the silo you'll see some Tesco shipping containers. These are delivered by rail into Inverness to have their contents onward shipped by road to various Highland branches.
'Parliamentary Trains' have a had a bit of press recently, and Inverness station sees fairly strange move around the triangle to make up one of these services.

Mmmmm, infrastructure.

Looking back towards the concourse.

There are a few pubs nearer the station than our first stop, but it's not often you get to visit the capital of the Highlands, so it's off to the Blackfriars.

Those of you with good eyes will be able to read the handy information board. For the rest, the pub has been a coffee house and a temperance bar in previous years. In recent years the Blackfriars has been given Cask Marque status and is a Good Beer Guide regular.

On the bar there's a fine selection of beers from Scotland and England. There's also a few ciders and a fair few whiskies. Beer mats are available for putting on top of pint glasses. The staff and locals were friendly and the pub seems to be a popular music venue. Food is also served.

Our second stop is a bit further out of town, but worth the walk. 

The Castle Tavern is more than a clever name, overlooking as it does the tourist hot spot that is Inverness Castle. The pub has a nice little front beer garden. Inside is small and bustling on a Sunday evening, with a another nice friendly atmosphere to enjoy. The pub does good food, so expect it to be busy.

At the front door, good old Johnnie Walker stands sentinel, proudly supporting the blackboard displaying the real ale selection. We like a blackboard. As you can see, there are six on offer, the Scapa Special being my personal favourite.

I particularly enjoyed this display of erstwhile Inverness pubs. Train!

Granted, Inverness isn't exactly a day trip for most. But, if you're in the area it's a nice city with some great pubs.


Find out more:

Friday, 6 September 2013

Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

Ahh, the old university town. Funny to think that when I was here as a student a few years ago I wasn't a fan of ale, instead drawn like a moth to light to the cheapest pint of lager I could find. How times change. In fairness, the pub we're visiting today wasn't there when I was but that's no excuse. Sheffield is a great city for the beer drinker, but we'll cover that later.
For now, the station.

Sheffield has had some serious redevelopment money thrown at it of late, and some of it has been spent on the approach to the station. A nice vista of stone, metal and water welcome you into the city, with fountains aplenty providing the soundtrack. The station building is a grand Victorian structure, and the last of five built in the city, formerly being called Sheffield Midland. It's now the only one. Last in, last out.

Inside the mighty glass ceiling gives the station a light and airy atmosphere. The concourse is well laid out with a mighty departures board. The BBC set up a snooker table here for the World Snooker Championships a few years ago.

On a Sunday, the sidings between platforms are stacked up with units not required for the reduced service. Look at all those weeds.

At the southern end of the station you can see the small depot, used for light maintenance of DMUs. The McDonalds is on the other side of the boundary fence.

As you might have seen in the news before, Sheffield is an area prone to flooding. This big log on one of the platforms is testament to the rain this country can deliver.

Enough trainery, lets get out of here and find a pub. 

As it happens, we don't have to go far. The Sheffield Tap opened on Platform 1B in 2009 having started life as a first class buffet way back in 1904, but spending the 35 years up to reopening as a store room. Access is via Platform 1B or Sheaf Square.

At the Sheaf Square entrance is a plaque presented to the Sheffield Tap by the National Railway Heritage Awards in recognition of the excellent restoration job. 

As you walk through the entrance, you start to see why the pub picked up this award. The first few steps see smartly panelled walls adorned with railwayana, including this rather smart Great Western Railway locomotive nameplate. Thornbridge Hall is a local manor house and now home to the Thornbridge Brewery, famous for their rather nice Jaipur among others.

It's when you come into the bar that the majesty of place really hits you. Tiled walls, high ceilings and an ornate rear bar really give the place a feel of a time when first class rail travel was the place to be seen. There's 12 hand pumps on that bar (including regular Thornbridge), and plenty of keg too. The fridges of bottles need to be seen to be believed.
I ordered a pint of Mojo Crystal Pale by the Tapped Brewing Co. and sat down. It was at this point my good friend Ross said to me "you know they brew that here?". I very much did not know that, and Ross showed me to the room adjoining the bar.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any better...

Now that is a lounge area. And what's that to the left?

Oh it's just a 4 Brewers Barrel brew plant turning out 16 x 9 gallon casks of beer per run. You'll excuse the ghost train, it's hard to photograph something that's pretty much entirely reflective. It does highlight the Tap's prime railway location though.
The beer brewed here finds it's way around Yorkshire and as far as the Euston Tap on Euston Station. For more on this check out the Tapped Brew Co. website at the bottom of this post.

A trip to Sheffield is essential for any beer fan. The Kelham Island Brewery is a renowned name in the beer world. Their pubs, The Fat Cat and the Kelham Island Tavern must be two of finest traditional British pubs going, receiving numerous awards from CAMRA and other organisations. The Kelham Island Tavern is the only pub to receive CAMRA's National Pub of the Year two years running, winning in 2008 and 2009.

Enough gushing from me, get to Sheffield and see for yourself. You won't regret it. Just be careful not to kick the table and spill beer everywhere, eh Mrs BB?


Find out more:

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

It's holiday time!

For some years now, Mrs BB has been pestering me to go to Chatsworth (don't worry, she doesn't read this), so finding a nearby town with a railway station was a no brainer.
Matlock Bath is a classic Victorian resort town, with a surprising amount of fish and chip shops for a town nearly 100 miles away from the coast.
Whilst a certain amount of this Victorian splendour has been retained along the banks of the Derwent, the same can't be said of Matlock Bath's railway station.

The nice buildings still stand on the one platform left, but don't serve a railway purpose. In fact there's little to suggest there were ever any more than one platform as the former up platform has become a footpath leading to the Heights of Abraham cable cars (good fun). This is accessible via the foot crossing at the southern end of the platform.

There's an approximately hourly branch shuttle Monday to Saturday, originating from either Derby or Nottingham depending on the time of day, and terminating at Matlock. At the time of writing, Nottingham is in the middle of a monster re-signalling scheme so things are obviously subject to change. Sunday sees a reduced service in operation.

As you come out of the station and cross the River Derwent, you'll instantly see the two pubs we'll be visiting.
First up, the Midland.

Now I know what you're thinking, pubs in tourist centric areas sometimes leave the beer drinker a little disappointed. Well rest assured, the Midland will satisfy your lust for ale as well as feed you and the family. The riverside beer garden is great on a sunny day.

Inside, there's the feel of a 'proper' pub. I'm not really sure what that is, but Mrs BB agreed. The walls have framed railwayana in the form of old timetables and publicity literature from the age of the Midland Railway. The staff are friendly and know the beer well, which is reflected in the quality.

On the bar for my visit were beers from Shepherd Neame, Salamander, Robinsons and local brewery Peak Ales. 
I'd heard a lot of noise about the Robinsons Trooper, so I went with that to start. It's brewed in partnership with Iron Maiden, hence the pump clip. At 4.8% it's a good quality premium beer, with nicely balanced citrus and malt flavours. Something I'd certainly recommend. 
I finished with a Peak Ales Swift Nick, a nice 3.8% bitter which would be great for a session.

Coming out of the Midland and crossing the road we find our second pub, the County and Station. As with the Midland the County and Station caters for tourists, but again there's something for the beer drinker.

Being the thoughtful type, I suggested to Mrs BB that we only stopped for a swift one, so I had a pint of Cumberland Ale from Jennings in the Lake District, who also brew the rather nice Sneck Lifter. The Cumberland Ale was in good condition and nice and refreshing after a day treating Mrs BB to a preserved railway. Also on the bar was Mastons Pedigree.

There's plenty to do in the Peak District, and some fine pubs to visit.


Find out more:

Saturday, 20 July 2013

North Berwick, East Lothian

The circus is in town! Not just any circus either, a circus of events contractors that I proudly count myself amongst. Perhaps as part of a troupe of clowns.
The 142nd Open Championships is taking place at Muirfield, so with a protracted stay in North Berwick on the cards, what else could I do but check out a few of the local pubs in this delightful seaside town.
But first, a little look at the station.

North Berwick is a compact little thing, but this hasn't always been the case. Early in 1980s the grand Victorian buildings were demolished and the surrounding goods yard and infrastructure redeveloped. 

The station is the terminus of a single track branch line from Drem, where the line leaves the East Coast Mainline. The line was electrified in the 1990s and has enjoyed several years of increasing passenger use.

First ScotRail have the responsibility for managing the station, and seem to be doing a good job. I think little touches like those in the photo above go a long way at stations, particularly in touristy areas.

The majority of trains into North Berwick originate in Edinburgh and stop at all stations along the way. Services run hourly during the week, Saturday evenings and Sunday and half hourly Saturday daytime and peak weekday times. The journey from Edinburgh takes about half an hour and links in with seasonal park and ride facilities at North Berwick.

In this age of smart phones I won't bore you with directions, but our journey starts at the Golfers Rest on the High Street. It's only appropriate.

The Golfers Rest seems to be a good locals pub in an area often overrun with tourists. As the name alludes to, a fair few people from the nearby links courses find there way in after a bash.
The pub has several TVs showing sport. On my various visits I watched Andy Murray playing at Wimbledon and the first test of the Ashes.

Beer wise the Golfers Rest serves Deuchars IPA and London Pride. Whilst not particularly exotic both beers were well kept and nicely served, deserved of the Cask Marque plaque the pub has at the front door.

Our second and final stop is the nautically themed Ship Inn on the pleasingly named Quality Street.

Cleverly situated behind a tree to make photographing the place difficult, the Ship is on the road leading to the harbour and beaches. Couple this with it being next to the chippy and you can see why the pub is often busy.

The interior is nicely decorated, with various charts, nautical paraphernalia and old photos about the place.

There's an ever changing selection of beers on the three hand pumps, most of which being from Scotland. The big chalk boards let you know what's on and what's coming soon. And what's that on the wall? A thirds paddle! Win.

None of the beers last long once they get on. The Juniper Tree from Williams Brothers was one of my personal favourites of the many sampled. The picture above also shows the vast collection of whisky available. Did you know the Scottish spelling is whisky and the Irish spelling is whiskey? I didn't.

As well as the good range of beers on the bar, there's also an extensive range of bottled beers with their own handy menu featuring tasting notes and prices. The food menu also does a bit of beer and food matching.

North Berwick is a great little seaside town, even if you're not visiting pubs, playing golf or building a golf tournament.


Find out more:

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Earl's Court, London

As I've mentioned, the glamorous world of events contracting can drag a fellow all around the country, and on this occasion the digs were in tourist-centric Earl's Court. Leaving the van safely on site and travelling on the London Underground, the stage was set for another classic Beer Branches adventure. So sharpen up your elbows, stare at your feet and above all remember...

It's no exaggeration to say that the London Underground is the circulatory system that keeps London going.  Chances are you've seen one of the many news articles or documentaries regarding January 2013 being the 150th anniversary of the first trains running between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan Railway. Maybe you've even seen some of the special services that ran to commemorate the occasion. If you did, consider me jealous.

Earl's Court is a busy station serving both the District and Piccadilly lines and carries it's fair share of passengers on a normal weekday, before you even consider events at Earl's Court exhibition centre. In 2011, the station saw annual entry and exit of just shy of 21 million people. Think on that.
The history of the station and the line is documented in plenty of better sources than this blog, including at the London Transport Museum, so I'll concentrate more on my experience.

My first impression as I hopped off the train was the light and airy feel of the station. Mention of the Underground usually conjures up images of a maze of tunnels leading to a hot, stuffy platform full of Metro wielding commuters trying to push you on to the tracks so they can get to their favourite door, but Earl's Court is different. This is in no small part due to the train shed style overall glass roof that lets the sun stream in. The roof underwent restoration from November 2007 to December 2008 and in 2009, the Railway Heritage Awards recognised the quality of the work with a certificate of merit. The station is also Grade II listed.

The spacious nature continues into the ticket hall. Granted this was at a quieter time of day, but even in busier times there's plenty of room to weave.
The staff were also friendly, and more than willing to help people whose wheely suitcases get stuck in the ticket barriers as they pass through.

As you leave the station, one of the first things you'll see will be a pub. 

The Taylor Walker owned Courtfield is a proper Victorian style pub, complete with high ceilings, chandeliers and mouldings. A former hotel, the pub offers the usual food deals you'd expect in a tourist orientated part of London. You can't walk down Earl's Court Road without noticing that every pub is offering fish and chips.
Anyway, the Courtfield, whilst certainly appealing to tourists after the authentic British pub experience, also has plenty to offer the local. On a sunny evening, the pub spills out onto the street with a mix of tourists, locals and commuters giving the place a nice atmosphere.

Six hand pumps provide plenty of choice and the Woodforde's Wherry, St Austell Tribute and Marston's EPA slipped down a treat. The Adnams Broadside is usually a must for me, but on a warm evening something lighter seemed in order. 
The staff knew their onions in the Courtfield, and were on hand to offer friendly advice to anyone unsure of what to go for.

Turning left out of the Courtfield and heading a few steps down the Earl's Court Road is our next stop, the Blackbird. The Blackbird is one of Fuller's Ale and Pie houses, something I've only ever encountered in the big smoke. 

The building was actually a branch of Midland Bank and was converted into a pub as recently as 1994.  The interior, whilst not original has certainly been tastefully done and there isn't really anything to suggest there has ever been anything but a pub there.

Whilst not having the full range of Fuller's beer on, those on offer were in great condition. Not to mention available in handles! The 3.6% Gales Seafarers Ale is always worth trying if you see it on the bar and the Summer Ale, 3.9% is light and refreshing on a warm London evening.
I felt sorry for the tourists as the sun was detracting from the authentic British June experience.
As with all the pubs in the area, food is available. You won't be surprised to see fish and chips advertised.

Following Earl's Court Road further south you'll come to the junction with the Old Brompton Road. A right turn here and a few hundred yards on the left, you'll find the Pembroke.

A pub since 1866 and originally named the Coleherne, the building has had a turbulent past. A gay pub since it opened, the Colherne has witnessed social unrest, serial killers, and a number of famous customers. That's almost politics though, and that's not why we're here.
In 2008, the refurbished Colherne opened as the gastro pub you see in the picture, the Pembroke. 

As the appallingly digitally edited photo shows, the Pembroke had three ales on. On the left we have Kohinoor, a 4.5% IPA brewed for the Queen's jubilee. As well as being a good quality IPA with the hoppyness and bitterness you'd expect, there's also some interesting flavour from a number of different ingredients including cardamom and coriander. This is only available in May and June, so keep a sharp lookout.
Next up we have the 4.2% Hound Dog golden ale from the Growler Brewery. From what I can make out, Growler was originally Nethergate. Following a change of ownership rebranding is happening and beer styles seem to be expanding, as well as retaining the old favourites. If you know more, please get in touch. 
At the far right is Twisted Wheel from Greene King. Brewed to celebrate the the 50th anniversary of the eponymous mod club in Manchester, the beer has a curious ginger flavour too it. Worth trying to tick it off the list, but I'm not sure I could go more than one.

What is should of mentioned earlier is that the Pembroke offers beers in that finest of mediums, the thirds paddle! Make sure you make a good mental note of the order they go on in, as it's pretty easy to get mixed up. I imagine.

So that was an evening spent in Earl's Court. We had some laughs, killed some time and tried some nice beers. 
The most important thing to remember though, is to...


Find out more: