Sunday, January 6, 2008

Drinking in the UK, Part Two

Not enough credit can be given to breakfast and specifically to the UK emphasis on breakfast, especially to a Yank planning on drinking. With the pitiful showing of the US dollar against the pound, travel in the UK is brutally expensive. Having essentially wiped out my savings to take this vacation, I found the bed & breakfast to be the one economic bright spot. Fortified by a "full Scottish (or English) breakfast", I rarely needed a real lunch and was generally well-grounded for an afternoon and evening of beer. At my b&b in Glasgow, a "full Scottish breakfast" consisted of eggs, bacon (not streaky bacon), sausage, freshly cooked mushrooms and tomatoes, odd little "hash browns", juice and tea. (It's apparently the one meal of the day not requiring chips, which is another positive note.) And the Scots have apparently avoided the vile addition of canned baked beans to the plate, yet another reason to applaud them.

On my first morning, well-stuffed with breakfast, I made several false starts along the Byres Road looking for the subway into central Glasgow. Known to locals as the Clockwork Orange, this tiny rail line runs on two concentric ovals between downtown and the westside, providing a cheap and quick service. They're not keen on photographs, though, or at least that seemed to be the gist of the warning I heard over the PA. I should have told them I was in the business and not bent on terrorism; much more interested in the displays of real-time arrivals than blowing things up.

After puttering around for a few hours along Buchanan Street with all its shops and shoppers (kilt and all the basics, starting at £500, thank you very much), I met my trusty native guide at the Central Rail Station (where I had to pay 20P for a pee). In short order we were around the corner at the Horseshoe Bar, billed as possessing the longest bar in the UK, and dating back to 1870. I had my first mild, Moorhouse Black Cat. As a Yank, milds have been the most mysterious of British styles for me and I've yet to meet anyone, including the native guide, who could offer a precise definition of the term. I found my pint quite delicious, by Peter proclaimed the beers "too warm". And then, in true Peter Alexander fashion, we were out the door and off to another pub.

Next on the list was the Pot Still, for a pint of Mordue (damn notes written after the fact fail to mention which, but probably a bitter). I'd been intrigued by the Good Beer Guide reference to the Pot Still's list of whiskies, but we discovered the supply badly depleted. Probably just as well, so that I stuck to ale. Peter and the bartender launched into a discussion about our next destination, a new brewpub, and how best to get there by bus. After about 10 minutes of this, Peter turned to me and grinned, "You probably didn't get any of that, did you?" and, indeed, I was lost entirely as the Glaswegian rolled over me.

We did manage to catch a bus well over to the other side of the city, near Glasgow Green, as seen here. Peter was relying on his instincts, and soon found West Brewing, located in new construction attached to a gorgeous Victorian carpet factory. The pub itself looked like every American brewpub I'd ever visited, complete with exposed ducting and chilly ambiance (some of which can be observed in this previously- unreleased video below). The beers, intended as faithful versions of German styles, were adequate at best. More to the point, they simply weren't Real Ales, which was all I was craving. I had something called a festbier, which was a boring amber lager. Peter tried a couple of other beers and, as I recall, proclaimed the weissbier as reasonable. Still, no point in hanging about here, is there? Off we go then, back to central Glasgow.

Next stop on the tour was my first Wetherspoons, the Counting House, a huge pub in a converted bank just off George Square. At the time, I had no idea what "Wetherspoons" meant, or the sort of emotions the name could generate in the hearts of real ale lovers. We stood up at the bar for some well-served beers, and I had my first Timothy Taylor's Landlord, which the brewery calls a Pale Ale. It was delicious, I remember that. The pub was cavernous and loud, as we were somewhere around the end of the workday. From there, we shuffled off to the State Bar, also listed in the GBG, which was something of a disappointment. Somewhat shabby and dark, but the beer (Kelburn Goldihops?) was in good shape. In search of dinner, we stumbled across the street to another Wetherspoons, which had none of the character or charm of the Counting House. The "special" was a burger and a pint at a reasonable price, with the catch being a limited offering for the pint. Mine was a fairly ghastly Green King Abbot, washed down later with a much more satisfying Caledonia Champions Ale, which was a seasonal offering.

After which, I tottered off to my bed, and Peter off to his mum's for the night.

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