In Scotland, frequently small-town, country pubs have something of a dispiritingly small beer range. Dispiriting for beer bloggers, that is – the reason they stock keg lager and smoothflow Best is that’s what their regulars want. The fleeting visits of highfalutin’ out of towners don’t merit the inclusion of a dedicated imperial stout tap. And, let’s face it, why should they? Sometimes, though, you stumble across a real find – a rural pub that caters for a wider range of the British drinking public. You end up miles from anywhere, amazed that the Pig & Pheasant could support Sierra Nevada on draught. These unexpected discoveries are one of the most joyful of drinking pleasures.
Of course, there are places that are tucked away like this, yet have made a name for themselves. Hidden in plain sight, remote boozers that have a beer range to rival the latest East London Craft Tap. Small village pubs with twenty cask fonts. End-of-track seaside bistro bars with incredible bottle selections. Word gets out, spreading through the socially connected beer scene like Twitchers phoning each other about the latest wind-blown arrival. No need to consult a frayed pub guide when you have a smartphone. Check those blogs, find out the places to go. There are plenty of gems these days, but none stay hidden for long.
Take the Anderson. Halfway along the main street of Fortrose – a tiny town a handful of miles north of Inverness – as soon as you tell any beer fan in the know you’re heading up there, they recommend it. “Oh, you’ve got to go to the Anderson,” they say “That place is amazing. You’ll not have seen anything like it!”. The same beer fans being no stranger to hyperbole, you smile and nod, but still decide to check it out, anyway. The alternatives around there necessitate a visit, at the very least. And then, you stumble through the small door, noting the Mikkeller plaque, and groggily take in what could be the best pub in Scotland.
The last time I had Brooklyn’s There Will be Black was at the brewery itself, in Williamsburg, NY. Now, here it is again, on draught in a small Scottish seaside town four hours north of Edinburgh. A 7.5% Black IPA (although Brooklyn don’t call it that), on tap, in Fortrose. Also on, cask and keg offerings to tempt any drinker – they do, also, stock Belhaven Best, but a handwritten sign square in the centre of the bar states their position on other, more common beers; ‘if we don’t have what you drink, drink what we have’. As I was standing at the bar, a newcomer arrived and was gently moved away from his requested Tennent’s to Oranjeboom lager.
Run by the bustling, velvet-clad Jim, the Anderson is supremely personable. The staff are hugely friendly and patient, whilst Jim shuffles about, firing off quips and thumping people on the shoulders. The regular bar has a monumental selection of bottled Belgian beers, framing the entire bar, and the cask and keg taps are advertised on dangling chalkboards, sectioned into beer styles. The whisky bar has a similarly vast range of choices, written on a giant blackboard above the serving area – the two bars being joined by an access corridor, which on my visit had a pie and chips perched on a beer crate. Each time I passed, it had reduced in size (I didn’t take any chips, although they were mightily tempting).
To find a pub as friendly and well-stocked in a town as out of the way as Fortrose is wonderful. That’s not me being patronising, it’s me reacting to a drinking lifetime of settling for whatever’s the best option. In the Anderson, that beery decision can take some time indeed.