“Bonnie Scotland"

All was well with the world when I left the Gaslight on
the night of my birthday: three pints of delicious
Gaslight brews warmly settling in my belly, Mets’
pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in only
two days, and, after mass the next morning, nothing
pressing to do all day. Happily anticipating a nightcap of
my own home brewed oaked imperial stout for a
nightcap, possibly with a classic old flick on the tube, I
entered the house to find my wife seated at the
computer looking at “United.com”. This could mean only
one thing: a little globe trotting was being planned for
the upcoming President’s weekend.

Guardedly, I asked the question “What are you looking
at?” I wasn’t too surprised to learn that I was to be one
of the trotters and I steeled myself for the destination.

Hating the preparation for a trip and flying in general, I
was somewhat relieved to find out it was Scotland. I
hadn’t been there in almost thirty years and anticipating
some great brews, I actually started looking forward
eagerly to the brief getaway. (But still put off packing a
bag until an hour before leaving for the airport).
But then, a sudden horror crossed my mind! I had
recently decided to eschew the drinking of beer for Lent,
and Ash Wednesday was only two days before our
scheduled departure. How could I POSSIBLY travel in
Bonnie Scotland beer less?

I had given up only beer, so Scotch whisky was a
distinct possibility, but I LIKE beer. I don’t particularly
like Scotch. I mulled over this disturbing dilemma and
came up with a couple of reasonable justifications for
granting myself a dispensation for the duration of the
trip. One, with all those Presbyterians in Scotland, my
catholic God would probably be more worried about
getting them back into the fold than about me having a
pint or twenty. And two, if it’s true that God loves us
and wants us to be happy, and nothing makes me
happier than trying new beers, He probably wouldn’t
care if my Lenten abstinence went on hold for a few
days.

So it was off to Glasgow on the overnight flight, and
after catching a couple of hours sleep at the hotel we
walked around to see a few sights and scout out a few
pubs. Being a piper, I was ever on the alert for the skirl
of the pipes and hearing some around the corner, went
to check them out. Like no other pipe band I’ve ever
seen, these guys reminded me of Mel Gibson in
Braveheart. Long beards, long, wild hair, and the bass
drummer, who was carrying his drum as if it were a
snare, jumping around bare-chested in February. But
they were pretty good and I tossed a pound into the
hat being passed around.

The piping whetted my appetite for some chow and
Scottish suds, so a brief train ride brought us to the
Clockwork Brewery where we had dinner and I had a
sampler of Clockwork brews: a lager @ 4.8% and the
only non cask conditioned beer offered, a red alt @
4.4%, an amber ale @ 3.8% and the strongest,
Hopscotch Ale @ 5.1%. A guest pint of Deuchar’s IPA @
5% was also tried. With these very low alcohol numbers
and the non-gaseous character of cask conditioned real
ale my introduction to Scottish brews demonstrated
that these were beers you could drink all night. So I did!

On the way back to our hotel we stopped at Sloan’s
Tavern, billing itself as Glasgow’s oldest pub, for pints
of Kelburn Brewery’s Red Smiddy and Goldihops. I was
reminded from thirty years ago that barmaids look
somewhat askance when you lay your pounds on the
bar and stand there holding your change until you reach
out your hand to accept it. But I soon got used to this
practice and come to think of it, a good idea for a future
“Beer My Way” article might be “Paying for Your Beer”.

Back at the hotel, still off kilter from jet lag and two
hour mid morning naps, I found myself wide awake and
having had the foresight to stock our mini fridge with
Hatherwood Premium Bitter, Marston’s Pedigree Pale Ale
and Shepherd Neame Spitfire Ale, I sampled a few more
British beers while watching John Wayne in “Fort
Apache”. The Duke is popular everywhere.

After a Scottish breakfast of haggis, black pudding and
what passes for bacon in Scotland (thank God for the
great fresh fruit and cheese table) we walked to Queen
Street Station for the hour ride to Edinburgh. As in
every place in Europe, the trains are clean, comfortable,
frequent and on time. Our hotel in Edinburgh was
located right on the Royal Mile, so named because it’s
about one mile (strange they don’t call it the Royal
Kilometer) on the main drag between Edinburgh Castle,
the original home of Scottish kings, and Holyrood
Palace, where the queen stays while visiting Scotland
every spring.

We checked in and quickly boarded another train for
Stirling, the town described as “the brooch that clasps
the highlands to the lowlands”. The exhaustive trek up
to Stirling Castle generated a need for a stop at #2
Baker Street Pub for a refreshing pint of Orkney Raven
Ale at only 3.8%. This was a perfect example of a
Scottish pub in February, with folks quietly enjoying
their pints and reading their papers, but I guess this all
changes during the tourist season. I was disappointed
to hear the bartender say to his assistant-in-training “It’
s not this quiet in summertime when busloads of
Americans come in to visit the castle”.

I quickly turned around my Marine Corps ring and hid
my American flag lapel pin before ordering another pint
(not really), but wondered how much of that lad’s
income is generated by those busloads. Actually, he was
the lone exception to the unbelievable friendliness and
hospitality of all the Scots we encountered in three
days. If you ask for directions, for example, many folks
will LEAD you to your destination.

Back at the hotel we asked the concierge for a typically
Scottish place to have decent pub grub and good beer
for dinner. He directed us to the World’s End, about
two blocks away, a very cozy little place where we were
told “there might be a bit of a wait”. However, the wait
didn’t last long enough for me to finish my pint of
Belhaven IPA, before we were led to a table near a
window that looked as though it were four hundred
years old, which it probably was.

The steak and ale pie, washed down with pints of
Belhaven World’s End Ale and St. Andrews Ale, is highly
recommended. The World’s End is a must for anyone
looking for casual dining and great beer in an authentic
pub on the Royal Mile.

An after dinner walk around “Auld Reekie” brought us to
the Brewdog Pub which provided an alternative to the
low gravity real ales to which I had now become
accustomed. A flight of house brews, all on tap, included
Hardcore IPA @ 9.2%, Jackhammer Ale @7.2%,
Libertine Black Ale @7.2% and Leichenstein Pale Ale @5.
2%. The barmaid, Dani, from Manitoba, who worked a
summer job in Wildwood, NJ (small world), informed us
that all Brewdog employees must attend Beer School to
learn all the ins and outs of the product they were
serving. (Why wasn’t that school available when I was a
student?) She also gave me a gratis taste of Paradox
Isle of Arran Imperial Stout at a giant 18%.

Two other big beers were available although I opted not
to partake. The Tactical Nuclear Penguin @32% and Sink
the Bismarck at an incredible 41% would have sunk ME.
Even huge beer aficionado
Vince Capano, who never met
a big beer he didn’t like, wouldn’t have been able to add
those brews to his session beer roster.

The Brewdog is also renowned for having brewed the
extremely limited (only twelve bottles produced) End of
History Ale @55%. But even if it were still available poor
Vince, a vegetarian, wouldn’t have been able to try it,
since for some reason the bottles were stuffed into the
preserved bodies of dead squirrels. Possibly the wild
pipe band I saw in Glasgow might be into something like
that but I went for an Innis and Gunn Rum Barrel for a
bedtime brew.

An extensive tour of Edinburgh Castle conveniently
ended at the Ensign Ewart Pub, closest pub to the
castle entrance. A pint of Flying Scotsman Best Bitter
(LOVE that name) @4% was the perfect refresher for
touring the kilt making place next door. Later, we had a
lovely dinner of fish and chips in Deacon Brodie’s
Tavern, part of the Nicholson chain of historic British
pubs. The fish and chips were nicely complemented by
the excellent Nicholson’s Pale Ale and Peterson’s Porter,
both delicious session beers with nary a dead squirrel in
sight.

Strolling around the Royal Mile after dinner and passing
the many little pubs was another thirst inducer, so a
stop at the Mitre Pub provided me with “pint pots”, (not
the usual Nonick glass) of Moorhouse Pride of Pendle Ale
and Orkney Dark Island.

I needed a brew for the usual nightcap at the hotel so I
stopped in a store and discovered a beer with a name
that would never get by the censors at ATF in the U.S.,
Sheepshagger Ale. What’s next? Bestiality Bitter? Vince
would love this one, not because he’s into animals or
because it’s a big beer (only 4.5%) but because in 2009
it was voted Beer of the Year by the Scottish Vegetarian
Society and continues to be “vegetarian approved”,
bottled version only. Makes me wonder what goes on in
the brewing of the draught version. Dead squirrels,
maybe?

The next morning it was time to return home and start
seeking out more places in which to find hand pumped,
cellar temperature, low gravity beers. I could hardly wait
to begin the quest. But……..Oh No! Going home meant
the four day Lenten dispensation was coming to an end!
Oh well, Easter Sunday is only three weeks away!


Cheers!

Dan
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