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Beer sellers: Scottish Real Ale Shop, Callander

The Lade Inn and , Kilmahog, Callander, Scotland

A couple of decades ago, a Scottish Real Ale Shop would have sounded like a preposterous joke. Though Scotland boasted notable historic brewing centres such as Alloa and Edinburgh, in the post-war period Scottish brewers moved further and faster with consolidation and the development of pasteurised national keg brands than their colleagues south of the border. On the formation of CAMRA in 1971, only two significant Scottish independent cask beer brewers were still in operation, and the country was regarded as a real ale desert for some time thereafter.

Vintage Belhaven clips at the Scottish Real Ale Shop

The change, when it came, was dramatic. A mushrooming of micros has pushed the country’s craft brewery count to around 50. Consumer demand has been fed by a growing domestic interest in fine Scottish food and drink, one strand of a growing cultural distinctiveness boosted by devolution in 1999. And some breweries have done very well by playing to Scotland’s romantic international cachet and the Scottish diaspora in the tourist and export markets.

Against this background, the opening of the Scottish Real Ale Shop at Kilmahog, in the Trossachs near Callander, in 2007 was a particularly smart move.  There’s not a little irony in the fact that this shop window of Scotland’s beer renaissance is on the site of a former temperance tea room. The handsome whitewashed building sits on the A821 just beyond its junction with the A84 between Stirling and Loch Earn, where the road crosses a lovely burn, the Garbh Uisge (“rough water” in Gaelic). It was built in 1935 as the Wayside Tea Rooms and Guest House for two teetotal sisters who ran it until 1965, after which – to their horror – it became licensed and known as the Lade Inn.

When Frank Park took over the pub in 2005, a recently installed microbrewery in an outhouse was producing beers developed with Douglas Ross of the nearby Bridge of Allan brewery, now Traditional Scottish Ales. But the brewery proved a headache and Frank closed it shortly afterwards, contracting the beers to TSA. Considering a new use for the outhouse, he and his son-in-law Fred Wilde settled on the idea of a beer shop. Fred has since gone on to repeat the trick for another region with a burgeoning beer scene, opening the award winning West Country Ales in Cheddar, Somerset.

Interior of Scottish Real Ale Shop

Over 130 beers from over 30 different breweries are stocked in the relatively small but pleasantly appointed space. Besides good ranges from relatively well distributed producers like Arran, Belhaven, Broughton and Williams Brothers, there are generous showings from Fyne and Traditional Scottish Ales, and bottles from a small breweries in far-flung parts of the country: Cairngorm in Aviemore, Colonsay in the Western Isles, Isle of Skye, An Teallach in Wester Ross. Lovers of strong special beers will be delighted by Traquair House and Jacobite ales, Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh, Innis & Gunn special issues such as the lovely Canada Day, and Orkney Dark Island Reserve.

The Lade Inn's own brands, brewed by Traditional Scottish Ales nearby.

If truth be told the shop’s name is something of a misnomer as only a minority of the beers satisfy the definition of Real Ale in a Bottle: bottle conditioned beers are still rare in Scotland and most of the beers on sale here are filtered. Exceptions come from Black Isle, Islay, Tryst and the tiny Moulin brewery near Pitlochry. The Lade Inn beers are on sale of course, including in minikegs, and there are a few ciders, glasses and T-shirts. Tastings are provided most weekends and the Trossachs Beer Festival, held across the pub and shop in late August and early September, recently celebrated its fifth year.

Giant wall sign at Scottish Real Ale Shop, in case passing tourists are in any doubt.

It’s a stunning setting in which to explore fine ales. Across the bridge the conifers of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park clothe the lower slopes of Ben Ledi (879m), while further along the road the spectacular lochside of Loch Venacher reaches into the heart of the Trossachs. Back to town along the A84, red kites hover over the Callander Crags that tower forbiddingly above this handsome Victorian resort. In 2002 the area’s natural beauty was recognised when it became part of Scotland’s first national park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

Yet it’s surprisingly accessible. Callander is one of the park’s gateway towns with a reasonable bus service from Stirling: I got here this way on my first visit, completing my journey with an easy 20 minute walk on the walking and cycling route that follows a disused railway alongside the burn. My next visit was in a car with an empty boot – it’s only about an hour’s drive from Glasgow and not much longer from Edinburgh.

A wee tasting never went amiss.

The setting lures customers from across the Central Belt and beyond. “We have regulars from Washington DC who have a summer cottage here,” says Frank, “and we’ve sent beer to most European countries, Japan and Australia, mainly to people who know the beers from visiting Scotland.

“The variety of Scottish ales is tremendous,” he continues. “And over the past few years we’ve seen great improvements in quality and consistency: we have very few customer issues with our stock. I believe we’ll see more and more small breweries springing up over the next few years, particularly those targeting the local customer with local ales.” The real ale desert seems a distant memory.

Fact file

Address: Lade Inn, Kilmahog, Callander FK17 8DN
Phone: +44 (0)1877 330152
Web: www.theladeinn.com/microbrewery
Hours: 1200-1800 (1230-1830 Sundays) or by special arrangement at other times within licensing hours
Drink in? Selected lines also sold in neighbouring pub
Mail order: via website

Manager’s favourites: Lade Inn LadeBack (the bestselling beer in both shop and pub) and a wide range of other beers.

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All from Scotland

1 comment to Beer sellers: Scottish Real Ale Shop, Callander

  • What a great looking little shop in an equally fine location. Definitely one to remember for those Scottish cottage holidays. Cheers Phil

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