"Beer in Colorado" is dedicated to that divine elixir born of the marriage of water, malt, hops, and yeast as interpreted
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attends beer festivals, tries interesting beers from around the world, and spreads the good word of beer. Prost!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Newlyweds in the Old World: Glasgow

To read about the previous leg of our honeymoon, Northern Ireland, click here.


After Belfast, Nicole’s and my journey took us on a ferry ride across the North Channel from Larne, Northern Ireland to Troon, Scotland.  Catching a train from that seaside village, we continued on to our next major destination: Glasgow.

Our first stop after exiting Glasgow Central and checking into the hotel was The Meat Bar, an underground BBQ joint with ribs and pulled pork to rival any in Kansas City or Memphis.  Aside from the succulent, juice-dripping, carnivorous feast, The Meat Bar was our first encounter with Williams Bros. Brewing Co.  While their golden ale, Birds & Bees, isn’t much to crow about (it’s good, not mind-blowing, and quite simple), it was the first of many, many beers we enjoyed from this avant-garde, Dogfish Head-esque brewery.  I’ll discuss them further in our next post on Edinburgh. 
A pint of Dark Moor, a dram of BenRiach

We finished our night at The Pot Still, an old-school whisky bar (Scots don’t put the “e” in “whiskey” and they don’t call the whisky distilled in their land “Scotch,” either; they simply call it “whisky”) sporting so many shelves of that golden-brown liquor that it necessitated the use of a library-style rolling ladder to reach all the wares.  We sipped a dram of 12-year-aged BenRiach, a pint of cask ale, and called it good for the evening. 

The next morning we wandered the Glasgow Green, took artsy-fartsy photos of local bridges, and checked out the botanic gardens in an effort to waste some time before WEST Brewery—the brewery with a “Glaswegian heart.  German Head”—opened its doors.

Sitting on the edge of the Glasgow Green in the resplendent Templeton Building, a construction of intricate architecture modeled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice (if you ask me, the arching windows, Arabesque brickwork, and pointed, casbah-like parapet is more Turkish in design but, then again, what the hell do I know about architecture?), WEST can never complain for lack of curb appeal.  In addition to the opulence, there’s also a small biergarten out front (good) but, unfortunately, it’s carpeted with AstroTurf (tacky).  The interior is less extravagant than the exterior but, with a heaping dose of old wood floors, copper kettles, and wainscoting, WEST isn’t hurting in the sophisticated column.  Except for that AstroTurf.  

The Templeton Building
The beers at WEST are comparable to those at Prost Brewing: traditional German beers replicated outside of Deutschland’s borders.  The Reinheitsgebot-embracing brewery does indeed make a mean Märzen and a hell of a Helles but, as a beer traveler, I was a smidge disappointed in WEST and not because of any fault on part of the brewery.  I came to Scotland to taste Scotland.  I’ll go to Germany when I want to taste Germany.  I realize I’m being totally unfair and hypocritical because, in Denver, we have breweries whose offerings are decidedly non-American, not of the local flavor (e.g. the English-inspired Hogshead Brewery, the Belgian-esque River North Brewery, and the aforementioned slinger of German suds, Prost) but Denverites like them nonetheless.  In the end, WEST is a nice place.  A stellar place, really.  The beer is expertly crafted and the taproom is stunningly beautiful.  But it’s not even a little bit Scottish.

The next brewery of the day, Drygate Brewery, is in as iconic a location as WEST but for immensely different reasons.  Imagine, if you will, the Coors brewery, sitting like the monolith it is on the outskirts of downtown Golden.  It’s huge.  It’s (inter)nationally known.  It runs the show.  Now, imagine a group of renegade brewmeisters opening a craft brewery right next door to Coors, closer even than Barrels & Bottles Brewery.  Imagine it abutting up to Coors’ property, overlooking the loading docks, close enough to be mistaken for an addition to the larger brewery, close enough for David to chuck rocks at Goliath.  Substitute Coors for Tennent’s—Scotland’s primary macrobrew—and that harassing little brewery next door is Drygate.

Just beyond Drygate's front entrance is Tennent's property
Drygate simultaneously emits the ambiance of a decrepit factory and a chic gallery.  On one hand, the soggy, seemingly-crumbly brick wall is visible but, at the same time, protected and encased by a grid of windows that frame the dilapidated façade as if it were a piece of modern art.  The ceiling is nothing but concrete and HVAC but the tap handles are set against a shiny copper backsplash, glinting enticingly as customers peruses their choices.  Drygate’s propensity for metal mesh as a design element lends to the space an element of Industrial Revolution but the bright, white brew room behind floor-to-ceiling glass belies the ostensible rough edges and reveals Drygate’s true, modern heart.  In so many words, the taproom at Drygate is pretty badass.

The beer’s worthwhile, too.  I’m usually not one for fruit beer (well, sometimes I am; my ill-advised faux-machismo often forces me to deny my proclivity for fruity ales) but their apple ale, Outaspace, is phenomenal!  It tastes enough like apple to be an apple beer but not so much that it’s basically just hard apple juice.  It’s well-balanced and worth a try.  Their Gladeye IPA is good, too, but not much different from a typical American IPA and the Bearface Euro lager, in addition to having wonderfully absurd label artwork, is a crisp and clean beer perfect for sunny days (of which Glasgow sees few).  Also, they have a "hamburger" made completely of mac n' cheese that's then topped with pulled pork.  Uh, how is that not a thing in America?  Get crackin' on that, chefs.

In addition to breweries, Nicole and I also stopped by numerous beer bars.  Munro’s is a decent one; they’ve an impressive line-up of cask ales and the environment is comfortable like a pastoral pub (especially the “country gentleman” nook with over-stuffed armchairs, distressed wood tables, red brick walls, a tight-knit rug, and cast-iron stove).  The car tire chandelier is a bit unconventional as is the assortment of random seating options (wood stools, metal stools, leather stools, swivel stools…etc.) which stray from the old-fashioned aura but the warm, wood paneling and stone walls maintain a classic pub atmosphere.

Nicole and I never made it to Aberdeenshire to visit inarguably Scotland’s most famous (to Americans, at least) craft brewery, BrewDog, but the trip up north wasn’t necessary since, in 2011, BrewDog: Glasgow opened.  Eschewing tradition (as BrewDog is known to do), the bar isn’t decorated in the usual pub trimmings e.g. dim lighting, tin ceilings, overly ornate woodcarvings…etc.  Instead, BrewDog: Glasgow appears much like the average American brewery taproom (save for the absence of actual brewing equipment).  Its puffy, leather, coffeeshop-esque couches, modern metal-and-wood bar stools, and collection of empty craft beer bottles from around the world (lots from Colorado plus Brewdog’s own very special, very famous squirrel-encased bottle) provide a fresh twist but, since Glasgow is an ancient city and because one can’t and shouldn’t entirely strip a historic building of its Old World charm, the mosaic floor and original brick walls remain, connecting the innovative spirit of BrewDog with its country’s storied past.  The bartender was exceptional, too, and certainly willing to chat us up about craft beer.  Once he ascertained just how passionate we were about suds he offered us a few free samples which we greedily imbibed.
The End of History (empty)

The third beer bar we sought out was the best.  The best of Glasgow.  The best of the trip.  Quite possibly, the best I’ve been to.  The selection isn’t massive, there’s just enough, but the beer menu’s only part of the attraction.  The main attraction at this bar, Inn Deep, is its setting.

Describing Inn Deep is like describing an M.C. Escher drawing; too many ups and downs and configurations that don’t make any sense.  You’d do well to simply look at the pictures but, for the sake of a challenge, I’ll attempt to put it down in words.  First, imagine a fairly major city street spanning a narrow river.  The bridge is supported by a green arch and there are buildings at street level on either side.  The river itself is wedged between gray stone retention walls, there is no natural bank.  A bike path rides alongside the water and a concrete stairway leads from the street to the path.  Next to the bike path are two long, narrow, semi-circular tunnels burrowing under a side street and a grand, spired, brownstone building.  In one tunnel there’s an open-fronted beer garden/grotto, in the other there’s the actual bar plus additional seating outside on the bike path.  It’s hidden from view, somewhere below street level and above water level.  When you walk into Inn Deep, you feel like you’re entering an underground punk rock concert venue or the headquarters of a secret society; except for the taps pouring local craft beer, of course.

Those two tunnels in the wall? That's Inn Deep.
Inn Deep from the other side

Nicole and a young kilted man at Inn Deep
General musings on Glasgow
·         It’s a happening town.  The West End is generally considered the hippest part of Glasgow but the eastside, where Drygate and WEST (ironically) sit, is equally as cool as far as I’m concerned.  It has a misty, hilly, San Francisco or Seattle vibe to it.
·         Taking a break from the urban hustle, Nicole and I took a day trip to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, our sole venture into the Scottish Highlands.  There, we attempted to summit The Cobbler, a 2,900’ peak outside the village of Arrochar.  While we’d been lucky in terms of weather up to that point, Scotland decided to show its true colors on our hike, misting us with a constant drizzle and blinding us with a hanging fog.  Soaked to the bone and constantly losing the trail, we had to call it quits before we made it to the top. 

Looking back from the trailhead to The Cobbler
Still, we came close and, from what little we saw, I’m impressed with the mountains of Scotland.  They can’t hold a candle to the Rockies’ overall elevation and they’re cursed with a less amiable climate but the peaks are still ruggedly awe-inspiring, craggy, and often reminiscent of Colorado save for the intense greenery and ethereal, draping haze.  Truly, hiking The Cobbler was entering a mystic wonderland.  It’s hardly any wonder Scottish folklore is filled with faeries and hobgoblins and trolls; it’s easy to imagine such fantastical creatures when walking through such fantastical landscapes.
·         The national flower and symbol of Scotland is the thistle.  The thistle!  With prickly leaves surrounding a stalk topped with a medieval mace head of stiff thorns and a tiny patch of purple flowers, the thistle is possibly the ugliest national symbol in existence.  Not only is it the orneriest plant known to humankind, it’s also not unique to Scotland.  Hell, take the Clear Creek bike path to Golden and you’ll see a forest-worth of thistle.  In the United States, we don’t call the thistle a flower (let alone one worthy of being the anthropomorphized mascot of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games which were about to be hosted in Glasgow at the time of our visit), we call it a weed.  Then again, having one’s country represented by a tough little thorn bush has its charms; it certainly plays into the stereotype that the Scots themselves are, like the thistle, rugged survivors.  Plus, the story of how the thistle became Scotland’s symbol is an interesting, if mythologized, account (read about it here).     

Musings on Glasgow’s beer scene
·         Less prevalent in Ireland but the norm in Scotland, when ordering a drink at the pub, the bartender would ask, “what size?”  There are choices?  Indeed, in addition to buying an entire pint, one could imbibe a one-thirds pint, a half pint, or a two-thirds pint.  I love this practice!  I have a promiscuous palate and I want to try everything but I can’t keep downing whole pints—that kills the liver as well as the wallet.  Presented with different size options, I was able to drink entire taplists without getting wasted.  Yet, it was enough liquid to assess and truly indulge in my beer; that’s not so easy when given the paltry pour of an American taster glass.

German Pale Ale (actually a Kӧlsch-style ale)
Why don’t American bars do this?  It probably has something to do with gratuities: America has a tipping culture, Scotland does not.  Your Scottish bartender doesn’t expect any more money than the cost of the beer.  In the United States, it behooves bartenders to serve large format drinks as they incur a higher bar tab thus entailing a generous tip.  If you’re not expecting a tip, however, you don’t care if the patrons drink £5 or £500 worth of booze, the money you take home at the end of the night is always the same.  Then again, this set-up isn’t necessarily beneficial to the business itself which would rather customers spend more money, not less.  Something tells me, though, most Scottish drinking establishments don’t have a problem with people drinking too little.
Beers in the grotto at Inn Deep

·         Cask ales: I can’t get enough of ‘em.  Warm and flat, you have to be a true beer geek to re-train your brain and appreciate a beer that’s so contradictory to the ultra-fizzy, icy cold image of beer with which the macrobreweries have been brainwashing the public.  I love the look of a hand pump, the hiss it makes when it’s pulled back, the cascading beer, and the enhanced aroma and flavor.  When I’m visiting U.S. breweries and beer bars, I almost always order their cask ale (if it’s even available) because they’re rare; they’re a treat for the American beer geek.  Not so much in Scotland.  CAMRA’s been effective in the U.K. and most of the places in which Nicole and I drank had at least half of their selection on cask.  So, I drank cask ale.  A lot of cask ale.  Too much cask ale.  Even now, several weeks after leaving Scotland, I’ve been forgoing cask.  I’m tired of the cellar temperatures and I’m tired of the lack of bubbles.  Right now, I want to drink American-style.  I’ve had too much of a good thing.  In time, I’m sure I’ll find my way back to cask but, in the meantime, I’m enjoying my cold and effervescent brews.

Copper kettles at WEST     
Favorite beers from Glasgow
·         The aforementioned Outaspace from Drygate.
·         Dark Moor from The Kelburn Brewing Company. This dark and smoky cask ale was the perfect accompaniment to our dram of whisky at The Pot Still.
·         Black Ball Stout from William Bros., a strong, solid, roasty beer perfect for a cloudy Glaswegian afternoon.  Enjoyed at Inn Deep.
·         Punchline from Magic Rock Brewing.  A chipotle porter that’s actually from England, not Scotland.  This was the first beer of our honeymoon I felt went outside style guidelines.  Up until this point, everything I had was of high quality but pretty straightforward and, to the adventurous palate, sometimes boring.  Finally, something brewed outside the box!  Enjoyed at Inn Deep.

Stay tuned for the next leg of our honeymoon: Edinburgh.



Glasgow was one of my favorite parts of the honeymoon.  We didn’t rent a car during any part of the trip because we didn’t want to drive on the opposite side of the road.  Besides, I think walking is the best way to see a city; when you’re walking, you see things you wouldn’t from a car.  One of my personal highlights from the trip happened as we walked through Kelvingrove Park near the University of Glasgow.  We’d just finished dinner at The Bothy Restaurant and were walking toward the Inn Deep when we rounded a corner and came across bagpipers and drummers from the university’s band.  They formed a circle in the middle of the path as they practiced their piping skills and it was amazing to hear them play and to receive an impromptu concert with instruments so deeply rooted in the local culture.  Click here for video.

Never Forget
Two of my favorite meals of the trip were in Glasgow.  The first was at Piper’s Tryst, part of the National Piping Center.  After several meals of fish and chips, we were ready for something different.  One of the specials at the Tryst was chicken pot pie filled with peas, mushrooms, potatoes, and gravy—it was fantastic!  The restaurant also had on display a memorial portrait of Roddy, the tam o’ shanter-wearing guinea pig.  It was an odd commemoration but cute; I can’t help but smile when I imagine my own guinea pigs in a tam.

The second exceptional meal was at The Bothy Restaurant in the West End.  The restaurant itself is hidden away from the main road and down an alley.  It looks like an old cottage and feels like one in the inside, too.  I enjoyed the haddock and chips while Chris indulged in the Bothy Burger, a mix of steak and haggis.  Chris, more so than myself, likes to experiment with the local fare.  I figured I might as well give it a try since Chris already ordered it.  It was pretty tasty but I don’t think I’ll add haggis to my weekly meal rotation here at home.  I also noticed the desert menu featured banoffee pie.  Banoffee pie is an English dessert made with bananas, toffee, and cream (bananas + toffee = banoffee).  It didn’t disappoint.

When we were planning our trip to Scotland, I expected to see a lot of people strolling through the park with either Westies or Scottie dogs as both breeds of terriers originated in Scotland.  I’m a dog person and, more specifically, a Westie person.  I got my first Westie when I was in high school and, when I moved from a condo to an actual house, I got another from the Westie Rescue.  I even named him White Rascal after Avery Brewing’s witbier.  My parents have one named Peyton, named for the Broncos' quarterback (or, as Chris would say, the Colt’s quarterback).  Clearly, I love this breed.  Well, I was quite disappointed when I only saw one—maybe two—little white dogs on our trip.  I did, however, spend time playing with a schnauzer puppy at BrewDog.  Also, Scotland has an organization called Dugs n’ Pubs which directs pet owners to dog-friendly places in Scotland and the rest of the U.K.  Check out their website if only to pick up on the local slang.


Hiking the trail to The Cobbler
Hiking the trail to The Cobbler
If nothing else, Tennent's has a nicely painted brick wall surrounding it. Just a bit to the left is Drygate.
Glasgow was amping up to host the Commonwealth Games which is just like the Olympics except only with countries that are or were a part of the British Empire (unless said country was very naughty and happened to revolt against The Crown).
The Templeton Building

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