Friday, 21 October 2011
The Wetherspoons beer festival was in full swing and, being on holiday for a week, it seemed like a good idea when Mr Guest Beer Guide, Al suggested that we should hook up in Glasgow city centre and head to a few of their pubs to sample for ourselves some of the fifty beers on their festival line up.
The plan was simple. Meet up in the Crystal Palace then head to the Counting House before making our way to the Society Rooms and finally on to Hengler's Circus on Sauchiehall St. Hopefully en route we would enjoy a few tasty beverages.
However, on past experience, I've always found Wetherspoons beer festivals a bit like their pubs - inconsistent and fairly hit and miss but hope springs eternal that our luck would be in and we would be dealt a favourable beer hand tonight.
First stop, the Crystal Palace just down from Glasgow Central train station. Despite it huge glass frontage it is, like many Wetherspoons in Glasgow, too dark and dull with the brown carpet and beige walls drawing out any natural light. It's not an attractive place to have a drink and I tend not to linger too long when I'm in.
Tonight was no different.
On offer were Wharfebank's Treacle Toffee Stout, Caledonian's Cossack's Imperial Russian Stout, Bell's Kalamazoo Black Silk and Belhaven's St. Andrew's. I had been told to avoid the Wharfebank and I'm not a fan of Belhaven or Caledonian so it had to be the Kalamazoo by Bell's Brewery. It's one of the five U.S. craft breweries participating in the festival. The U.S. beers aren't imported from the States. Instead, they are cuckoo brewed at British breweries. In this case, one of the Bell's brewers travelled to England's oldest brewery Marston's and used their kit to make it.*
It is a 4% oatmeal porter that I found quite grainy, wet and fairly hollow. There was a slight smokiness to it but not much in way of rich, dark chocolate and fruit that I was expecting. Mr Al had a half of the 6% Caledonian and it's fair to say that he wasn't particularly impressed with his either.
First pub done. Time to move on.
Price of a pint - £2.15
But not to the next 'spoons. Mr Al's twitter feed had informed him that Blackfriars pub has just put on a cask of Swanney Brewery's Highland Best. So we swiftly diverted to this cracking little pub in the Merchant City. Blackfriars is a great wee pub steeped in history. According to the Oxford Compendium of Beer, it dates from the 9th century when it used to act as a staging post for King's Farquhar and Hamish before they headed to Patrick's Market at the Bridge Gate for hog roast and pigeon pie. It was downstairs in Blackfriars where the monks first made a new beer to satisfy the thirst of the porters who worked at Patrick's Market. They called it electric soup porter. The whole of Glasgow was a forest at this time.*
I'm glad we made the diversion to Blackfriars as the Orkney Best was on top form. It was refreshing with aromatic pear drops set against some stiff maltiness. It is a beautifully balanced session beer.
Beer finished, we headed to the Counting House at George Square. It's another dark, old Wetherspoons that could benefit from a few more lightbulbs. There was a lot of pumpclips but most of them were showing as 'coming soon' which is probably the two words you don't want to hear when you are out for a beer. Never mind 'coming soon', we wanted the good beer now.
It was just as well then that Thornbridge's Brother Rabbit was on and available. It's a 4% golden ale hopped with amarillo and cascade. We both wanted a pint of it. Unfortunately, we had to wait a while as it's not normally the most efficient pub in the world for quick service. It also didn't help that the guy in front was constantly changing his mind. After he was served, we still had to wait a bit longer as he then asked for his change to be made up entirely of one and two pence pieces. As Theresa May might say, "And, I'm not making this up". It's true. It did happen.
We finally got our Brother Rabbit and it was worth the wait. It was in tip top condition with an oh so subtle fruit taste of light grapefruit and peach with a super smooth mouthfeel that was refreshing and cleansing. It was a slurper of a pint with some stubborn malt and a lingering bitter tingle that rounded off the beer very nicely.
Price of a pint - £2.20
Onwards to our next stop, The Society Rooms or as it's known in Glasgow, The Jaipur Social Club. According to the Oxford Compendium of Beer, this pub stands on the site of where the first hops in Scotland were grown. The peat hops were then added to the Scotch Ale and exported to Jaipur in India. To commemorate this momentous happening, Thornbridge's Jaipur is on sale all day, every day for less than two Scottish pounds. This has gone down a storm with the 'Post Meridian Ale Moths', that strange species of older men that tend to be found lingering round the bar of most Wetherspoons most afternoons. Incidentally, the Society Rooms is officially the darkest pub in Glasgow having won the award every year since records began. *
The ubiquitous Jaipur was on but as it was not part of the festival, we went for some Rooster's Last Stand. It's rumoured to be Roosters' final ever beer as they are packing up and moving on. I've been known to quite like some of their beers but I didn't think that the Last Stand was up to their usual standards. There was a lot going on in it, usually at the same time. Mr Al, on the other hand, thought it was rather lovely. But what does he know? He supports Motherwell.
Price of a pint - £1.75
Home straight now as we head to Glasgow's most improved Wetherspoons, Hengler's Circus. According to the Oxford Compendium of Beer, Hengler's Circus was a Russian juggling and acrobatic troupe who first toured Scotland in the 1760's. They brought with them a beer called Imperial Stout which was big in their homeland at that time. They used to sell this Imperial Stout at the interval of their show along with the strawberry Mivvi's and choc ices. A certain Mr Arthur Guinness happened to be at their show one night and bought a couple of bottles to take home. The rest, as they say, is history.*
Anyway, back to the future. I opted for a couple of half pints at the Hengler's. One was Woodforde's Kett's Rebellion, the other a crafty U.S. number, Odell's 90 Shilling made by Caledonian.
I'd like to tell you that both were lovely and were the high point of the evening. I'd like to tell you that, but it would be a big fat WMD of a lie. Both were not nice. The Woodforde's was a 'hide behind the plant pot' beer. Watery, oversweet and not pleasant.
The Odell beer was, alas, 90% Caledonian and only 10% Odell. It was a foul malt bomb of candied apples and burnt sugar. It was in nice condition. Which is a bit like complimenting a tramp for having nice shoes.
Price of a pint - £1.55
Why the big swings in prices in pubs in the same chain no more than 15 minutes apart?
Mission accomplished but it wasn't quite the success that we had both been hoping for. As we headed out of Hengler's Circus, we sought a final beer of the night. We could only think of one place to head next. The Bon Accord. We had heard that they had some Fyne Ales' Cherry Stout on. But that's for another blog.
*This blog may contain historical inaccuracies.