Sunday, 14 November 2010

A day in the life of Glasgow Beer

Saturday morning finds the beer monkey at a loose end. I could stay in and catch up with the Saturday supplements, floating about the flat doing nothing and achieving even less. Or, maybe today, I could do something just a wee bit different.

The Three Judges - Partick Cross

I've been involved in #glasgowbeer on Twitter for a bit now and as an informal social network for keeping up to date and making aware of what's on in some of the city's pubs to other like minded beer drinkers, it's a pretty useful resource. But, exactly what sort of choice in terms of pubs and pints is there for the discerning drinker? That's when I found a purpose to my Saturday -  not just to dip my toe but to plunge myself foot first into the world of Glasgow Beer and conduct an ale audit and take a not too scientific snapshot of what's available in The Dear Green Place on any given Saturday.

So today, my quest was to visit some of the well regarded pubs and discover just how varied and diverse the choice was for beer drinkers  in Glasgow.

I would start in the west of the city and head east into the town centre sampling, hopefully, tasty, fine beers in some lovely pubs.

The Judges beer board

My first stop on my beer tour was into the pub that I consider as my local and as local pubs go I can't ask for much more. The Three Judges at Partick Cross is a mecca for many beer drinkers. This traditional tenement corner pub attracts a friendly clientele not only from the West End but also further afield. There are 8 beer pumps and these are served by knowledgeable and interested bar staff, particularly Ronnie and Angela. Their beer insight and cellar skills ensure the condition and temperature of the beers served are consistently spot on.  In his spare time Ronnie doubles up as the walking beer encyclopedia.  As you can see from the board above, the Judges generally serve up beers from Scottish micro breweries as well as beers from the North of England, particularly Northumbria and Yorkshire.

My first beer of the day was Fyne Ales Avalanche, an outstanding thirst quenching golden ale with a clean floral taste. It was so nice that I was tempted to end my quest there and then, stay put here and have a couple more but in the interests of non-scientific 'research', I had to plough on.

A brisk fifteen minutes walk passing notable West End landmarks such as the Kelvin Hall and Kelvingrove Art Gallery takes me to my second port of call.

The Bon Accord

The Bon Accord can probably easily lay claim to be the 'Daddy' of Glasgow beer pubs. It is revered by many beer enthusiasts and the history of Real Ale in Glasgow owes a lot to the contribution this pub has made in championing ale in the past 30 odd years. Indeed, the walls of the pub are testament to the excellence of the Bon. Dozens of award certificates hang on the walls including various Scottish Licence Trade News awards for Best Beer Bar, Best Poured Pint, Malt Whisky Bar of the Year among others. It is also this year's Glasgow Camra Pub of the Year. So, the Bon Accord knows clearly what it is doing and does it very well.

A nice selection of beers at the Bon

Today it seems I have landed lucky as the Bon has just begun it's Celtic Beer Festival. The Festival, which is sponsored by Brewdog, features beers from Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man.

Brewdog's influence on the festival is heavy - Three of the beers on the board (see above) are from Brewdog and I opted for a pint of Brewdog Edge, a 3.2% lovely mild. For a low abv beer, this packed a rich, roasted coffee/chocolate punch. It was really a rather special mild.

As it had just gone midday I hummed and hawwed about pushing the trawler out and indulging in a half of 9% Brewdog Hardcore IPA. Temptation and curiosity got the better of me and before I could say 'Fraserburgh Upstarts', I had in my hand a half pint of the reddish/brown brew. I've never had it from the pump before and was looking forward to tasting it but if I'm to be honest, it wasn't as nice as the bottle version. The initial pleasant hoppiness is overpowered by the toffee caramel malt and is a little over sweet. However, at £1.50 a half pint it was worth the experience.

Incidently, for those wanting a Brewdog bargain, pop into Tesco's and pick up some bottles of their Finest range American Double IPA. If it smells like Hardcore, tastes like Hardcore then the chances are it is Hardcore. It is Hardcore with another label and currently available, 3 bottles for £4. Though pretty difficult to pick up in Scotland it is easily available in English stores.

So two pubs down and not only have the choice of beers been good, I've also stumbled upon what looks like a nice little beer festival. The festival at the Bon Accord ends on the 28th November and Brewers such as Fyne Ales, St. Austell, Deeside, Highland, Skinners, Arran,  Harvieston, Bushy's from the Isle of Man and, of course, Brewdog will be available.

The State Bar

I leave the Bon and take the short walk into town. I pass a Wetherspoons but I decide to keep walking. I've intentionally avoided going into Wetherspoons today. This isn't due to any prejudice against the pub chain. Indeed, I think that the quality and range of their beer offerings has improved greatly in the past year or so. I've had superbly conditioned and well maintained beers such as Thornbridge Jaipur and Kipling as well as Brewdog's 5 a.m. Saint, Punk IPA and Trashy Blonde from the pub chain in the last month and they have all been on top form. I avoided Wetherspoons today simply because it is the tail end of the latest 'spoons beer fest and I figure that their pubs will still be stocking and serving a selection of the festival menu.

A warm welcome from the State Bar

Just off Sauchihall Street is the State Bar and has perhaps one of the nicest, most ornate pub interiors in the city. It has a stunning oval bar surrounded by sumptious dark wood floors and panelling with stained and leaded interior frosted glass and original mirrors adorning the walls.

Lux Interior

It really is a gorgeous pub that leans towards selling mostly Scottish beers and you can usually guarantee a choice of Edinburgh Beers and Central/West Scotland beers usually from brewers such as Caledonian, Houston and Harvieston. Today is no different. As well as the brewers mentioned, Brewdog's Trashy Blonde is also available. I opt for a pint of Houston Killellan. I had some of this recently when I met Houston Head Brewer, Carl Wengel at a Meet the Brewer night. It was really nice then and it doesn't disappoint today. It has citrus hop aromas and a refreshing zesty fruit taste ending in a dry, satisfying and very moreish finish.

The bar at the State

Heading out of the State and heading along Sauchiehall Street, I successfully dodge harassed mothers dragging behind them bored offspring, prog rock student buskers too young to have beards that length and fundamentalist Christians dispensing leaflets offering salvation and a happy ever afterlife. I seek and find redemption in one of the few Mitchells and Butlers pubs in Glasgow it's cool to like, The Drum and Monkey.

Mitchells and Butlers - The Drum and Monkey

This city centre pub, operating under the Nicholsons wing of Mitchells and Butlers has stayed fairly true to its original interior. The former bank building has it's original high ceiling and ornately painted cornicing and pilllars and is a rather nice location to have a pint in. During the week it is home to the 5 o'clock city suits desperate for a beer and some banter before buggering off home to the suburban bliss of Bearsden, Battlefield and Bothwell.

On a Saturday lunchtime, however, it's a bit more sedate experience as shoppers seek culinary respite and a few beers before recommencing their shopping.

Like other M and B pubs their emphasis is on a food based business model but their five handpumps can usually be relied on to deliver well conditioned and well served beer.

The Drum interior

The beer menu is fairly Yin and Yang today with the Yays of Brewdog Punk IPA, Thornbridge Jaipur and Harvieston Bitter and Twisted being balanced by the Yikes of Caledonian Deuchars and 80 Shilling.

I ordered a Jaipur and asked for the sparkler to be removed. Beer tastes better without a sparkler, I said and the barman agreed. Sparkler duly removed I can now enjoy my Thornbridge. The Jaipur was exactly as it should be. Fresh grapefruit and a superb lingering dry, bitter finish. I had with the beer a portion of pork scratchings that were so crispy, so crunchy and such a danger to your teeth they could have been sponsored by Glasgow Dental Hospital. They were lovely though and great with the Jaipur.

Last stop - Blackfriars

Out of the Drum and Monkey and on to my final destination. The last pub on my Glasgow beer tour. Off to the eastern edge of the city centre and into the Merchant City area, I find Blackfriars Pub.

Blackfriars' beer board

This eclectic little pub offers up comedy, jazz and boom boom techno nights as well as cask ale and a great range of European and American Craft bottles. The bottles include cracking U.S. brews from the likes of Left Hand, Great Divide, Odell, Victory and Big Sky. The European range is just as impressive with the likes of Orval, Chimay, Cantillon and La Chouffe being available in the mouth watering beer fridge.

Three Wise Beer Monkeys

My last beer of the day was to be a lovely example of an American Extra Pale Ale. Odell's St Lupulin is a clean, crisp and refreshing beer whose lemon citrussy taste went excellently well with the beer battered haddock and chips that I bought to accompany the beer. I reckon I deserved it after all the walking and 'research' I had done in the name of beer.

A nice selection of bottled beers

So where is Glasgow on the UK beer index of nice pubs offering a diverse and tasty selection of bottled, cask but not yet keg beer? The 5 pubs I visited today had 36 pumps serving 20 Scottish Beers and 16 English/Welsh beers. There was a great selection and variety of bottled beers available too but, alas, Glasgow doesn't yet come close to having any pubs comparable to the likes of The Jolly Butcher, The Rake, The Cask or the Sheffield and Euston Taps but what it does have is some traditional yet relaxed, welcoming and pleasant pubs offering a regional, national and international variety of cask and bottle beers that can appeal to and satisfy the most eclectic tastes and discerning palates.

I'll drink to that!


  1. You were going to do something different, so you went to all the pubs you usually go to?? ;)

    Banter aside, good round up. The State doesn't get the recognition it deserves; it's usually a solid offering and if I'm not wrong the cheapest pint of real ale in town outside a Spoons.

  2. I hadn't done the five on the bounce for a while, Barm. I'm usually only in one of them then home so it was good to get a more complete picture of what some of Glasgow's better pubs were offering on any given Saturday. There's a lot of good beer out there and a fairly wide choice too. It was good fun and highly recommended. But remember, as the sign in Blackfriars says

    'Mind and drink responsibly - they don't serve beer in jail and Bubba is not your friend'.