SCOTLAND’S best pub has been revealed as a small family-run hostelry on the quayside of a harbour on the southernmost tip of the country.
The Steam Packet Inn, at Isle of Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway, now goes forward to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) National Pub of the Year competition after winning the Scotland and Northern Ireland regional category.
The UK-wide competition judges pubs on their atmosphere, decor, welcome, service, value for money, customer mix – and, most importantly, the quality of the beer.
Alastair Scoular, who runs The Steam Packet Inn with his wife Donna, said he believes it was a combination of “sheer hard work” and the range of beers which won the accolade for his pub.
He said: “We’ve been selling real ale for years now and we also buy from a lot from the micro breweries, which are really taking off in Scotland.
“We try to keep a broad spectrum and have six real ale pumps – which for a pub in the middle of nowhere is a lot.
“This includes Belhaven IPA, Timothy Taylor and beers from micro breweries such as Scottish Borders Brewery in Jedburgh, the Kelburn Brewing Company from Glasgow, and Fyne Ales from Argyll on the west coast.
“Our real ale casks have to be looked after and temperature controlled. They contain no chemicals or gas and being a “live” product are much more difficult to look after than keg beer, which can last for weeks.
“People are willing to travel for its flavour and taste and we’ve built up a critical mass of customers. It gets them away from drinking supermarket lager at home in front of the telly.”
However, Mr Scoular, who took over the seven-bedroom pub, hotel and restaurant 15 years ago from his parents John and Sarah, said his establishment had been shortlisted not only for its beer but also its attention to detail.
He said: “People who are interested in drinking beer may have a partner who wants a glass of wine instead. We have seven types of wine by the glass as well as a menu featuring fresh seafood like sole, squid and local lobster from the boats landing on the same day it is served.”
Roger Protz, editor of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide said: “There are around 4,700 pubs in the guide so being the best in Scotland is fantastic for The Steam Packet Inn.
“Our best pubs, which really have to be outstanding, are chosen by teams of inspectors who make anonymous visits on a number of separate occasions to check out what is on offer, from the welcome they get when they walk through the door, as well as the beer.
“From past experience, we’ve noted pubs which make it as winners in the guide, such as the Kelham Island in Sheffield, which was the champion pub of Britain, got visitors from France, Germany and further afield and saw its sales go through the roof.” Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “I’d like to congratulate The Steam Packet Inn. This is a real badge of honour for Isle of Whithorn and will hopefully attract even more visitors to Dumfries and Galloway.
“A stop in a pub or a bar is a popular choice for many visitors to Scotland.
“As we move towards the Year of Food and Drink, our pubs and bars will play a crucial role in helping create an appetite for Scotland’s natural produce and provide a fantastic platform to showcase our renowned hospitality.”
A total of 16 regional finalists will compete for the National Pub of the Year title.