Fireside seat

Winter in Scotland, and one of the finest and simplest pleasures, sitting not just in the pub, but getting the comfy, cushion-strewn sofa right by the old stove, cosy, comfortable, ah, perfect…

a session in Teuchters 02

Waiting on chum and his dogs to arrive (the hounds, of course, after several minutes of demanding attention from me settled down happily in front of the warm stove for the rest of the afternoon), and leafing through a fascinating book while sipping a very fine ale by the fire on a chill winter’s day. The simple pleasures….

a session in Teuchters 03

A good session

Chum and I wandered down to Portobello the other week (Edinburgh’s seafront area), rather grey and stormy day as we walked along the promenade, as you can see:

stormy weather 01

stormy weather 06

This howling, freezing wind, rain and grey mist and clouds, the crashing waves and blowing sand didn’t stop a few hardy souls from trying to fly kites on the beach though!

stormy weather 03

We ducked out of the weather and into the Espy, a very nice pub and bistro right on the promenade by the beach at Porty (very child and also dog friendly place too, if you’re looking for one) and settled into the dry, welcoming warmth of the pub, finding a pair of nice, old leather Queen Anne chairs to relax back into, ale in hand, for a relaxing natter. And then the barman told us that there was someone from Innes and Gunn, the very fine independent Scottish brewer, set up in the back with samples of their wares and we should check it out. And naturally we did and had a nice talk with the brewery rep who talked us through some of their different ales, from ones we had seen and tried before to some new ones and some export only ones (they sell a lot abroad – Canada and Sweden are two of their biggest markets now).

There was an interesting stout finished in Irish whisky barrels which gave it an interesting taste (also it was, pleasantly, not as heavy and thick as some stouts can be – some feel like drinking a liquidised black pudding – this was a touch lighter, with a reddish tinge to it) and a Canadian one made with a touch of maple leaf syrup (it could only be more Canadian if you had a hockey stick projecting from the neck of the bottle). I’ve had honey ales before, some are good, some simply way too sweet, but this had a nice balance, the sweetness not too strong, just a nice touch.

a good evening's session 01

When the brewery chap left we were talking away to the bar manager and some others, he showed us some interesting import ales he had gotten in himself, then decided we may as well all try samples of those as we had the Innes & Gunn beers, naturally we agreed (be rude not to) and a much longer than planned for but rather pleasant evening ensued… I noticed one of his imported beers was from the American brewery Flying Dog and the label for it, Raging Bitch, was drawn by the great Ralph Steadman, no less. Nice beer and cool art, not bad!

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Brew Dog

Over on the Blog O’Beer we’ve got a multi-person review up where Darren, Ed, Tim and I all jointly review some of the bloody excellent ales that come from the independent Scotttish brewer Brew Dog (who were in the recent Scottish episode of the James May and Oz Clarke Drink to Britain series), who have not only been brewing some brilliant beers (like Rip Tide, Trashy Blonde and Paradox Smokehead) they do them in a style that is refreshingly hip, young and modern, getting away from the old, grey-bearded image of real ale (but sticking to the making damned good beer part of it).

Strathaven Ales Craigmill Brewery Aleberry Damson beer

Strathaven Ales Craigmill Brewery Aleberry Damson beer
Originally uploaded by byronv2

A nice visit to the outskirts of Strahaven to the Craigmill Brewery, a 17th century mill building by the River Avon, where after buying some bottles of various ales to take home I was invited downstairs where I got to taste their brand new Aleberry Damson Beer, made with locally grown fruit. Its not even made it as far as the local pubs yet so only a few folks have had the pleasure of this rather lovely ale, which I’ve just posted a review of on the Blog o’ Beer.

Beer and guest blogging

I’ve been posting a handful of reviews onto the new Blog o’Beer (BoB) along with Darren (or Ariel as most in the SF&F community know him) and Ed Ashby, who have been seriously piling into the reviews with great gusto (or perhaps they are just piss artists, but if so they are piss artists with some flair). I’ve just added a new one on a local beer from the Clyde Valley, Old Mortality from the Craigmill Brewery, and this week has also seen our first guest blog from acclaimed fantasty novelist Tim Lebbon, who very kindly wrote us up a report on a local beer festival down in the lovely West Country.

Old Nag Ale

Peggy the horse, long a regular at the Alexandra Hotel bar in Jarrow, Tyneside, has lost her access to her local watering hole. The twelve year old mare usually accompanies her owner Peter Dolan to the pub, where Peggy enjoyed a pint of beer and a packet of crisps (I wonder what flavour?), but now she has to wait outside – no, not because she likes a ciggie, but because the bar has recently been refitted and the owners decided that they didn’t really fancy having a horse clip-clopping through it. I suppose it says a lot that they let her up to now, we have trouble in a number of bars if my mate tries to take his dog in with him. Wonder what they’d say if we turned up on our trusty steeds instead? What do you say, chaps, let’s form the world’s First Ale Cavalry squadron! (via the BBC)

Meet BoB: The Blog o’ Beer

My friends and fellow real ale guzzlers Darren (better known to most SF folks as Ariel) and Ed and I have been planning a blog where we could post on one of our passions – proper beer, real ale as it is normally called. We’ve been planning it for ages and Ed and Darren got it up and running a few weeks ago. Since I have finally, albeit rather slowly and haltingly, returned to the personal world of blogging (as distinct from my work blogging for Forbidden Planet which has continued) this week I thought it was about time I started putting in some of my Tasting Notes as well and just posted my first couple up, starting off with a couple of Scottish ales, one from Bellhaven and one from my own doorstep, Edinburgh’s Innis & Gunn, who actually use old oak casks to mature the beer, an unusual process for ales, more something you’d expect in a single malt really, but it gives them a distinctive colour and aroma. Anyway, Darren and Ed have several pieces up on the Blog o’ Beer -or BoB as it is also known – and I’ve now added my first couple of tasting reviews.

Drink and the poet

A very beautiful and sunny day off for me today. The spring sunshine bathed Edinburgh in a warm glow, flowers burst into bloom in Princes Street Gardens and women are wearing more revealing tops. Ah yes, spring is in the air. In this spirit I decided to leave aside the cares of the modern world for one day and embarked upon an ancient Celtic tradition, a pagan ritual the Celtic people have followed faithfully since long before the Romans came to Caledonia. A life-affirming celebration of the end of the long, dark winter and the rebirth of the Earth goddess in the form of spring. Yes, in other words I had my first outdoor beer of the year 🙂

Don’t mock – for those of us who live in the ancient lands of Scotland the first outdoor drinking session of the spring is a very important ritual, which must be solemnly observed on the first reasonably warm and sunny afternoon. The ritual demands several local ales to be imbibed and for small delicacies to be served to honour the Goddess (crisps will do). Dear chums, I hold my Celtic heritage very dear and sacred to my heart and so I did my best to carry out this ancient ceremony to the best of my ability, onerous though that burden may be.Suitably enough for someone who works in the book trade this al-fresco imbibing took place outside of Milne’s Bar in Rose Street. For those who don’t know Edinburgh, Milne’s was the home away from home for a large number of Scottish poets in the post-war period. A composite portrait of our drunken bards in this historic tavern hangs in the National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. One of the pluses about living in Edinburgh is that even the pubs are historic landmarks to be visited. So you can go pub crawling and still call it a tour, wonderful. Never trust a poet who doesn’t indulge. Come to think of it, never buy a pair of used roller blades from one either, especialyl if he’s been drinking.