REVIEW: Super Caley Goes Ballistic ...

Caledonian Brewery (!), Edinburgh

The Time: February 19, 7pm

Booking Name: Mumbai Me A Pony sorted out the whole damn thing.

The Pub Aforehand: There was the opportunity for a quick pint in Thomson’s Bar on Morrison Street for early birds ... but while it seemed a nice enough place, it was absolutely stowed with suits, it being Friday night and all.

In Attendance: Trampy, The Tramp, The Duke, The Bulldosa, Jalfrezi, Rabbie Shankar, Lime Pickle, Ravi Peshwari, Rumpole Of The Balti – plus three Edinburgh greenhorns. (And The Gheezer turned up … eventually.)

Decor: Initially, fairly industrial. Laterally, awesome.

Expectations: As this was a secret mission, no-one really knew what to expect – except for Trampy and The Tramp, who were quietly confident it would all come off OK.

The Experience:

Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? That was the premise of TATTGOC’s paradigm-smashing February outing, in which Glasgow’s premier team of curry-consuming mavericks saddled up and rode grimly east. Their target? Edinburgh, Scotland’s shining capital, seat of our national parliament and superficially purty tourist trap. For one month only, this would become Trampy And The Tramp’s Capital Of Curry (TATTCOC). The squad’s mission? Classified. If any member of the team were to be caught or killed, Trampy and The Tramp would disavow any knowledge of their actions.

Like most black ops, the planning was the hard bit. Not with the actual venue itself, as The Tramp’s trusted consort Mumbai Me A Pony organised the whole thing with a minimum of fuss. The real trick was herding the membership of bohemians, radicals, malcontents and nonconformists towards Haymarket station for 6.30pm on a Friday night. Most of the regular chapter turned out, with the sad exceptions of Rogan Josh Homme (unavoidable work commitments) and Sir Spicy Lover (still in the first flush of fatherhood – always a risk when your lovin’ is so spicy). As well as Lime Pickle, three other Edinburgh residents had been gifted the opportunity to add their charcoal sobriquets to the TATTGOC roll of honour: All Tomorrow’s Bhajis, The Poppadominator and My Parpy Dhalentine (Martyn, Edd and Murray to give them their dull civilian names).

Remarkably, despite being unaware of their final destination, the whole crew turned up pretty much on the dot. Curry Club’s elder statesman Rabbie Shankar was running a little late, and time-poor iconoclast The Gheezer was nowhere to be seen, but otherwise there was the full complement of rough-hewn champions. As the darkling eventide caressed our heroes with a feathery hail, The Tramp bellowed brusque marching orders and strode off into the night, beating a determined path toward Gorgie.

What, no pre-curry pub? You’ll have had your Tennent’s? If there was any dissent in the ranks, it had 15 minutes or so to fester, as the march initially appeared to be heading all the way back to Glasgow. But when The Tramp trundled through the gates of Caledonian Brewery on Slateford Road, any grumbling turned to grunts of astonishment. Surely the squad wouldn’t be allowed into an actual brewery? But the team were welcomed like visiting royalty at the security gate – what sorcery was this? Thanks to the remarkable efforts of Mumbai Me A Pony, the rugged currynauts were getting a special tour of the hallowed facility, the birthplace of Caledonian 80/- and Deuchar’s IPA. Such access was an honour beyond regular members of the public. It might just have been the stormy night, but for a second it looked as if a single tear of happiness described a celestial arc down Jalfrezi’s shining cheek.

Welcomed – and sort of calmed down – by the avuncular John, the gobsmacked squad were gently eased into the evening by hearing some of the history of the brewery. The short version? The place has burned down loads o' times, but that hasnae stopped them from making beer. The team were also given a quick ABC in the natural alchemy of brewing. (For an intriguing article about the artisanal brewing scene in the Good Ol' Uncle US Of Stateside, check this out.) When prompted to name the four key ingredients in the brewing process, the TATTCOC hive mind correctly identified water, malt, hops and yeast. Then, after the arrival of Rabbie Shankar, the dirty dozen suited up in fluoro vests and surprisingly stylish baseball cap-style hardhats to continue their pilgrimage. In a working brewery, John explained, gravity did much of the work. The process began on the top floor of the building, and the heavenly product slowly descended to the basement in stages.

The crew toured the malting room and were encouraged to finger hops (apparently some rubes try and smoke the stuff). They stared intently into massive copper tuns and listened attentively as John, a master of his craft, preached the Caledonian way. They gawped at a massive chimney, kept their distance from an ancient well and filled their nostrils with yeasty goodness over stainless steel tanks seething with foamy fermentation. Down, down, down they proceeded through the historic building, until they reached the last stage of the process: the packaging production line.

“Now,” said John. “Does anyone fancy a pint?”

And with that magical invitation, the brewmaster opened an ordinary-looking door that led, Willy Wonka-style, from the absolutely functional factory floor into a discombobulatingly cosy pub. Shucking off their safety gear, the excitable crew crowded round the bar, marvelling at the wide range of bottled and draught products. “Now,” continued John. “Would anyone like to try their hand at pouring a pint?” Pedal-steel maestro Ravi Peshwari was first, so determined to get at the pump that he was still wearing his fluoro safety vest when he enthusiastically gripped it. Lightly guided in compression technique by the ever-patient John, before long Ravi was clutching a creamy pint of the rugby-themed ale Over The Bar, one of Caley’s monthly special brews. Like fish, it apparently tastes all the better if you've yanked it yourself. For his part, Ravi looked genuinely contented.

Other currynauts jostled to try their hand at pulling and The Duke, a former barkeep, seemed particularly at ease coaxing the ambrosial liquid from the pumps, apparently able to pour the perfect pint while staring directly at the camera, a rare skill indeed. Before long, all 12 members of our dirty, bemused dozen had awesome pints clutched in their mitts, and a general air of relaxed bonhomie settled over the crowd, punctuated by the odd near-hysterical laugh: were they really in a secret bunker pub housed beneath a brewery? In terms of possible post-apocalyptic scenarios, this one seemed perhaps the most agreeable. Soon after, The Gheezer breathlessly arrived, and what a sight it must have been: the massed ranks of TATTCOC, casually leaning around their own heavenly howff. Does it get any better?

As it turned out: yes, it does. Just as most of the squad were setting aboot their second pint of the evening, an attractive young woman entered to announce that dinner was ready: a tantalising curry buffet, complete with pakora and tandoori starters, rice and naan. Before long, the massed Curry Club – and honourary member John – were seated, viking-style, along a bench, tucking into the excellent scran. Further questioning revealed that the food had come from nearby restaurant The Verandah and was of such high quality that a standalone visit to that establishment might be on the cards for a future TATTCOC excursion. While everyone was contentedly chowing down, Trampy received a picture message from Sir Spicy Lover – a snap of his young Curry Cub perusing a Shish Mahal menu. You’re never too young to start.

There was obviously more to the evening – an impromptu pool game inspired by Carlito’s Way on the way out, a few post-curry drinks in agreeable local Diggers, a tediously prolonged train journey back to Glasgow – but instead of cataloguing the aftermath let’s linger on the joyful experience. Is it possible to truly isolate a memory, capture it in amber? Clear your head, close your eyes and focus – really imagine yourself in the scene. You are sitting in your own private pub some way underground, cut off from civilisation but surrounded by friends. You feel almost narcotically relaxed. There is an empty plate before you, but you have already visited the buffet twice so feel truly sated. This is your happy place. You are in your happy place. Just one problem. That pint of IPA is down to its last inch. What happens when you finish the IPA? Does this all end? Will draining the draff bring it all crashing down, callously depositing you back in reality? It’s on its last legs, almost done. Then what happens? WHAT HAPPENS?

“Another pint?” says John.

... and all is well.

Range Of Drinks: Caledonian products, but that meant Deuchar’s IPA, Caledonian 80/- and their rugby-themed February beer Over The Bar, all on draught. There was also a Heineken tap and all sorts of other bottles …

Highlights: Hmmm … let me think … what about: THE WHOLE FRICKIN’ EXPERIENCE?

Lowlights: For those travelling back to Glasgow, the 11.33pm from Haymarket turned into the 11.55pm. And was super-crowded and took ages. (Also a bit gassy.)

The Verdict: A mindblowing experience!

The Damage: That’s classified, but the tip was £33.50. Bargain.

A big ol' manly, slightly sweaty TATTGOC thank-you hug to Caledonian Brewery and Mumbai Me A Pony for taking such great care of the Curry Club


The Tramp said...

Happy days indeed. Top notch write up Trampy. What an amazing night it was - look at the pure, child-like joy and amazement on everyones faces. It really was like entering Willy Wonka's Booze Factory. Again, hats off to Mumbai Me A Pony for organising such a top notch event - Curry Club salutes you!

Sir Spicy said...

Fuck me. That's as close as Curry Club gets to hosting a Roman orgy. What a night. And in Edinburgh too. Who'd have thought?! X

phelan said...

Great job, magnificent write-up. Of all the curries I have missed I think this one upsets me the most. Boo hoo.

The Tramp said...

And it was in partial celebration of your birthday the day before too. Rest assured that we all had a great time celebrating on your behalf (although I'm sure you were having an awesome time doing something awesome in Japan.)

Lime Pickle said...

It was a splendid night. Best yin yet. More on a Friday night please.