Thursday, December 12, 2013

Dark Arts

Dark Horse from Scottish Borders Brewery
It's Christmas. It's time for another dark beer review.

So, to the Borders badlands, a pure medieval Mad Max country where they lowered the drinking age to 12 cause of all the early deaths cause of all the fighting.  

It's a balancy thing, drinking and reviewing a Borders beer. For one, a bad review could prove fatal. Then there's the fact I'm supporting the local arms trade: breweries in this no man's land are notorious for trading their hand-crafted pale ale for plastic explosives and guns. The whole thing has as much ethics as blood diamonds, only with beer. 

Well there was no trace of iron or shrapnel or anything like that in this bloody Dark Horse from Scottish Borders Brewery. I did get hit in the face by an aroma of sweet chocolate though, packed with malty tones and sweet caramel, and pushing towards a hint of grass that minded me of a farm. Probably the one where they store their hops and malts alongside their RPGs and Kalashnikovs.

This Dark Horse poured silkily to a dark, ruby brown with a decent amount of carbonation. And behind its rich, dark appearance, the chocolate, caramel and hint of grass carried though, but brought with them a fragrance of orange peel and a pleasant hoppy bitterness that lingered but didn't dominate.

This is a solid, well-balanced winter pint, with lots going on. Unlike revenge, don't serve cold.

Would hoppily have again.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Four star review of Profanity Stout

View from the Flod, with the ghosts of beer past and present.
I ****ing love Williams Bros of Alloa. For me, they're the stars of the Scottish brewing world. All four of them.

I can mind, ****ing years ago, when I was a barman at the Flodigarry Hotel in Skye, the night one of their guys turned up with a vanload of Fraoch Heather Ale. It was a new thing, kind of, and I think the Williams boy was just touring the islands, punting it to hotels and bars as he went on his wonderful west coast odyssey.

We only took three cases, for starters. Or maybe that's the most we could take. Anyway, they were gone a few hours later, mostly cause my friend Gus MacQueen, a ****ing wild Skye man, took a dangerous liking to the ****ing heather ale.

In the almost 20 years since, Williams have ballooned and Heather Ale sells globally, but I've not seen any of my friends the MacQueen brothers for a decade or so. Time, the auld enemy. Doesn't stand still for no ****.

[I will get to the ****ing beer review, just show a bit of ****ing respect, for ****'s sake. Or, if you've really no patience, just click here.] 

Flodigarry in Staffin was where I learnt to drink whisky, where I learnt how blindingly ****ing stupid it is to try to match Skye folk pint for pint, nip for nip, and where charging 15p for dashes of coke or lemonade is morally ****ing wrong, and it makes you a ****.

Anyway, that time when the Heather Ale hit, the MacQueens and me - a post-work half-bottle in - took a midnight stomp up the Quiraing to catch the sunrise. We climbed up through the low cloud and watched the sun rise through this sea of coloured cloud; the velvet peaks of the Trotternish ridge rising through the red and yellow, orange and purple. We scree-ran down from this magnificence and back to their croft for a ****ing awesome breakfast. 

Sadly, the Flod isn't what it used to be. Last time I was there, the worn, wooden benches and tatty cushions had been replaced by metal garden chairs. Gone was the wild, wilderness pub I once loved, turned into a ****ing soulless bistro. Haven't been back since.

But I'd like to think the ****wit owner's seen the light or ****ed off, that the bar is once again a proper bar, that this proper bar still remembers its auld links to Williams Bros, and that my friends the MacQueens Bros are in there, dropping whisky bombs into pints of draught Double Joker IPA or necking bottles of the ****ing magical Profanity Stout. 

I like pretty much all of Williams Bros beer, but for me, the darker and stronger the better. And they don't come much darker or stronger than Profanity Stout.

With the cap off, the smell of sweet hops and coffee rolled off the roasted malt aroma, and it poured like black coffee. On the taste, you get coffee and plums, a velvety bitterness that's balanced finely with the sweet malts.

A splendid, splendid drink. Gets four stars. Would hoppily have again.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Some beers from the United States of Scotland

Blackwoods Bastard.
Scottish people in America are bigger than Scottish people in Scotland. The only short Scottish people in America are the scrawny wiry ones who pull buses with their testicles if they lose at arm wrestling, usually to tall Scottish people who get buses to move just by staring at them menacingly. It's the water.

So it's unsurprising that Heavy and Scotch Ale in the US look that wee bit bigger Stateside. Just look at this list of Scotch Ales from Paste magazine.

These are session ales for monsters, with the weakest at a pathetic 6.6%. A breakfast beer then. Nice to see Orkney, Innis & Gunn and Traquair featuring ... Also imported from this side of the ocean was a Scottish Belgium McChouffe.

And if you were in any doubt about the dark, heavy character and marketing of these beers, just look at the names: the words bastard, claymore, Pipers, Commando, splitter, skull are all there. Bastard twice. And there's no shortage of weapons, either. Bloke on the winning bottle looks a pleasant sort of bloke, though you widnae slag off his homebrew, would you?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Golden Hopportunity

Hebridean Gold by Isle of Skye Brewing Company
They’re a savvy lot, yon ­­boys on The Herald business desk. Always got an ear for a good story and a sound investment. They were eager to back my next project, confident it would repeat the (relative) success of my you-buy-I-review initiative.

Investing a single bottle of beer they'll see their initial outlay double in quantity and quality within 12 months. Taking full advantage of my 200% growth guarantee, The Herald’s business angels will receive two bottles of my own mighty homebrew within the next financial year.

Anyway, enough about that single bottle of beer and onto something boasting much more promise. Isle of Skye’s Hebridean Gold has won umpteen commendations at various beer bashes and features in Aldi's Scottish Winter Beer festival, which really does offer some fantastic ales by the way.

Hebridean Gold was, however, a disappointing beer. Although possessing a promising malty, fragrant aroma, tastewise it left me wanting. Behind the hops I got a hint of a flavour that put me in mind of juniper and ethanol, and I didn't like the way it dominated the other more subtle goings-on. 

Overall, I felt this was a beer unsure of itself, that it was a bit thin and that there was something missing, which is a pity, cause here's what the marketing says:

A unique ale, brewed with porridge oats to produce a beer of exceptional smoothness with a deep and creamy head. It has both a light hop aroma and a good "bite" of bitterness.

Hmmmm ... think I'm clearly going to have to try it again. Anyone looking for a good investment opportunity?

Monday, November 04, 2013

Spirited Away

Spooky Ale
Hallowe'en. It's a funny old thing. It's like beer. No, really. Both were invented in Scotland. Aye, they were. Then neglected. Then adopted and improved in North America, and exported back.

And, like beer, once we're done pouring Hallowe'en through the filter of tradition, it'll be the best in the world. Aye, it will.
But we're not there yet. Case in point: Hallowe'en beer. I bet US and Canadian brewers have done some outstanding Hallowe'en ales. Bet they had ones made of pumpkin and candy and naughty wee trick-or-treaters.

And I'm sure a few British breweries did some perfectly fine, seasonal brews for All Hallow's Eve. Like Bridge of Allan's Allanwater Brewhouse which put on beers such as Dracula's Draught, Black Bat, Bat Blood Cider and a pumpkiny Ale'oween. Good names them.

Well, I missed these, but I did find this Spooky Ale, by Shepherd Neame, when I was out getting the messages.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the label. It's why I bought it, though if we're doing the seasonal critique thing, it's more Jack the Ripper than Tam o' Shanter. Had a nice wee ditty on the neck I liked:

Double, double, boil and bubble
Hops brown & barley stubble.   

Nice wee reference to The Scottish Play. 

Anyhow, the aroma off the bottle was very promising. It smelled: drinkable - a crisp, malty smell. And it poured beautifully too. Maybe a wee bit over-energetic on the bubbles, but, you know, we were both keen to get cosy with each other. Lovely dark red meaty colour to it. Mmmm.

But my first taste was a disappointment. Ever kiss someone you were really, really, really into and they weren't that good at kissing? Well, it was like that.

Tastewise - we're talking beer not snogging now - you get a dry, biscuity flavour off the malts, and the initial prickly mouthfeel gave way to a soft, marshmallow texture. But there was also a sourness on the swallow that was off-kilter with the malty sweetness. Almost like the bitterness came in too early. 

Sure, the flavours were all fine in themselves, but I found Spooky Ale thin and off-balance. Uninspiring. Lacked body. I suppose if you want a seasonal Hallowe'en ale you want something unusual in it. A bit of spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, oomph. Get some of those fruity, harvesty, pungent, autumnal tastes, you know?

To be fair, however, the second one out the fridge went down a treat.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Glasgow Beer Week - starts today!

Glasgow In A Can, by Simon Varwell
Hey, guess what! Today is the start of Glasgow Beer Week. That’s right, the city that invented heavy engineering and alcohol is spending a whole week celebrating yon malts, hops, yeast, sugar and water thing. Sure, those boffins at Lonely Planet might reckon Scotland will be the place to be NEXT YEAR, but you really need to get over to Glasgow THE NOW.

Workers throughout the city are being encouraged to take extended, boozy lunch breaks. Pop-up bars will be, err, popping up in shopping malls, high schools and old cemeteries. Dour bar staff will be replaced by attractive, friendly ones. The city council is planning to turn the Chambers into a craft beer hall AND will also be subsidising taxi fares for mild and heavy drinkers. Meanwhile, FirstBus, SPT and yon other transport providers are putting on additional services to cater for the extra drunkards, with plans afoot for a special freedom of the city beer pass that’ll get you onto any bus going anywhere (cause rest assured the polis will be putting on extra patrols to check the roadworthiness of your car). Best of all, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has declared a bloody hangover amnesty!

Other slightly less cool Glasgow Beer Week events include a vegan beer and food testing at the BrewDog pub opposite the Kelvingrove Galleries, and a Michael Jackson appreciation at West Brewery. Wee bit suspect that one but who doesn’t like moonwalking and squealing sh’moan when half-cut?  There's also a meet-the-cask do at the wonderful Blackfriars, as well as a (tbc) live homebrew event. (Bet you I’m bloody working that day. Hmmmm .... )

Supermarket Aldi is even in on the act and is stocking up on quality craft beers just so we don't run out. Yaldi!

The whole thing climaxes messily with the SIBA beer thanksgiving prize event in the southside next weekend, where they’ll be casting judgement on the best beers of 2013. Looking forward to the fallout from that one. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Drinking up is hard to do

I do love you, so very much.
See that bottle over there on the right? That's the last bottle of my first batch of homebrew. The last one. I'm feeling a wee bit broken-hearted.

This bottle marks the end of my first brew, and, you know, we've had a bit of a thing going these past few weeks. You always remember your first brew, they say, and it's true.

Should I drink it now, just be done with it? End the whole affair? Or should I leave it, let things linger, maybe drink it in a month, or two, see how those extra few weeks help? What happens if they don't though? What happens if it sours things?

It started simple enough, just me and a tin. Then the fermenting barrel got involved - that complicated things I tell you. The yeast helped, I 'spose. Forgetting the sugar didn't. Like birthday flowers a day late, adding a sugar solution certainly helped mend things, but it wasn't quite enough. The damage was done. The cracks were there. I thought we were over.

But we persevered. We gave each other a bit of space for a few weeks. That time spent conditioning was like a salve for us.

Three weeks and we tried again. There was, sure, a spark, but something was missing. We limped on. Tried again a week later, and wow. Beer that wasn't disgusting. Beer that was, you know, drinkable. That respected you in the morning. Beer that, err, went down on you. 

Things got bubbly, exciting. I thought, you know, it might have been love. That this was the one. Sure, the "sugar" thing came up – the occasional bottle seemed a wee bit flat or insipid or sour – but it's nothing we couldn't work through ... Only, we've run out of time. This bottle here is the last one. My last one. And now I have to decide.

I know I have to move on. I know there are plenty more brews in the sea, but, well, drinking up is hard to do.

Glasgow's about to get very crafty

Pollokshaws Burgh Hall.
Weekend after next is a special one. Not my birthday nor a brew day; it's the Scottish Craft Beer Festival in Glasgow.

It promises to be quite an occasion, with a good selection of beers and brewers on tap. A few exceptions, but it's got a good geographical spread, from the Northern Isles to the east coast to the Borders.

And just cause craft beer is all hip at the moment, don't be expecting no swanky craft beer pub for this do though. The event takes place in the elegant, but old, Pollokshaws Burgh Hall. That's right, Pollokshaws ... in the south side. On the other side of the river. I'll need some sort of map and fare to get there ...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Brewed, The Mad and The Snugly

Evil Twin Brewery's The Cowboy fits snugly in your hand.
Everyone knows a cowboy's favourite drink is whisky. Everyone. It can be rye whiskey, Irish whiskey or Scotch. Doesn't matter. Everyone knows this. Everyone ... Err, hello Evil Twin Brewing?

OK, so everyone except Evil Twin Brewing knows that a cowboy's favourite drink is whisky. Evil Twin reckons a cowboy's favourite drink is beer, their beer in fact. That's a big claim, but Evil Twin have some big beer ideas, and their The Cowboy concoction has big beery presence like The Man With No Name.

The Cowboy poured amber golden and frothy, and was opaque like a mad yeehah wine gum. It's aroma was a delicious smokey heaven, complex and distinctive, containing tangerine, leather and a sourness I couldn't place. Maybe some desert cactus that only gives off its smell after those late rains in springtime.  

On the taste, those flavours were amplified, but ever-changing, so that each gulp was different to the last, and also difficult to pin down. Yes, the smokiness retained throughout, however (and we're talking how your clothes smell after a night yakking round a campfire, not the smokey smell of sausages, haddock or nicotine worshippers), and there was a mild hoppiness too, that tended towards tropical rather than citrus and balanced well with the heavy malty pilsner goings-on.

A bottle of The Cowboy comes in at around a tenner for a litre or so (possibly 75cl) so it ain't cheap, but I doubt you've ever had a beer like it. Worth a shot at the very least - it's one punch-packing, cheroot-smoking brew, and I'd hoppily have it again.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Call of Duty: Black Hops

Did you ever play Dungeon Master on Atari or Amiga, with its crappy graphics, naff sound, but awesome gameplay and characters like Gothmog, Sonya, Linflas and Wuuf? Remember how you felt when the dungeon's gate opened for the first time and it was just you on the edge of 14 levels of darkness and days of gamer angst? That's exactly where I am right now.

Apologies to FTL Games & Nintendo.
I'm about to start home-brewing. I've spent much of the past year prattling on about hops and malts, citrus and caramel, it's time I got to grips with the process of packing these flavours into a glass bottle. It's like I'm in the Hall of Champions about to choose my four adventurers. 

After months of negotiations, and even agreeing to move house, I have managed to secure a small cube of cupboard space just the right size for a 40-pint fermentation barrel. But winning agreement from my end-of-level bosslady was just the first stage; I also had to choose whether to go for a kit, and if so, which one.

First part was as easy as decking Dhalsim in Street Fighter: Noobs start with a kit. And seeing as I was too busy playing games in my teens and twenties to brew my own beer, solving that puzzle was easy. So I moved promptly on to: which kit.

Oh dear, there are many.

Fortunately, I have a crack.

It's the home-brew haven on Dumbarton Road. Inn House Brewery is like a real-world PokeMart. But instead of PokeBalls, potions or antidotes, it's stacked floor to ceiling with tins, tubs, barrels, flasks, bottles, and packets of yeast and hops. (For those of you sick of my shoddy videogaming metaphors, it's like an old-fashioned ironmongers, but beer and wine stuff instead of tools, screws and fuses.) 

And thankfully the vendor's more like Beedle than the Happy Mask Salesman (one hopes).  After a series of dumb questions that really did play out like a scene from Zelda, I think I'm going to accept the Cooper's Starter Kit quest. That I can swap their starter lager for a Brewmaster IPA is like an in-game special bonus. And you know what, if I muck it up and brew a bad batch I can always respawn.

(Fans of Xenon 2, and Assault on Precinct 13, this song's for you. Cx)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Are you having a Laf?

Laf steam beer by Royal Deeside
Laf steam beer by Deeside Brewery
Remember a few weeks ago, when it was blistering hot, when a part of you was thinking, it's almost too hot, when it was blue skies and wispy clouds, when every cool pint was heaven (more so than usual), when you fantasized about rain, when the office was unbearable (more so than usual) and work impossible, when it was open season for umpteen Taps Aff Young Teams and all you wanted was to get out the city and down to the beach. Remember?

Well, I was on holiday in the Hebrides with my top off drinking a cold beer on one of the world's most beautiful beaches. There wasn't a cloud in sight. With the exception of my family, there wasn't a soul in sight.

Along with buckets and spades, we were wise enough to have brought a couple of bottles of Laf on our yomp across the machair. Laf's a delicious steam beer from those stylish brewers at Deeside Brewery (you can tell they're stylish because of their use of serif and san-serif fonts on the labelling). 

You hear a lot about perfect temperatures of beer. Extra cold, 14 degrees, half-hour out the fridge, slightly chilled, cellar cool, room temperature, and so on. Following extensive research, I can reveal the perfect temperature for a beer is when said beer has been kept for an amount of time in a plastic bucket filled with sea water, kept in the shade of rocks and half-buried in the sand. The sea water must be no hotter than 14 degrees though; none of your beer-curdling Med here. Condensation on the glass is a vital component, too.

Ours poured beautifully, amber golden with a floral, zesty head that gave promise to a deeply refreshing drink. Tastewise, there was a subtle yet robust wooden or earthy background flavour, which I took to be the characteristics of the steam-brewing process. And, in the glaring sun, its prominent crisp, light hoppy taste was an absolute godsend. Deeply refreshing.     

A nomination for Beer of the Year? Definitely.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Number munching

78's set list was brought to you by the Letter J
There's a pub in Glasgow called The 78. You'd like it. It's got a fire, dark wooden tables, long sociable benches and a clutch of quality ales on tap. It's also one of the few havens for hungry vegans.

I went there on Wednesday for pints and again today for food. 

On tap they had the Williams lager, which is better than most, and the wonderful Joker, one of the finest IPAs kicking about on draft. Also on offer was Cock o' the Walk and the delicious Seven Giraffes. 

But on Wednesdays the 78 also hosts an open mic night. Like any of these nights, it's a complete mixed bag but the chilled, friendly atmosphere of 78 keeps it cool. List of performers was dominated by the letter J weirdly. Next week, if you're a Kevin, Kriss or Katrina you need to get along there. 

The impromptu end-of-the-night singalong was the standout performance of the night though. Couple of guitars, beat box, singers and a mighty tambourine made for a pleasant alternative to 'can you start drinking up please'. Hopefully this'll be more than a one-off. 

Today we went along for lunch. Had a quesadillas, which was nice enough though not as good as the ones my brother in law does. My wife had the burger. It was pretty tasty and she wrote about it here

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Super Trooper

The bottle was EMPTY! OK?
Iron Maiden clawed their way back into the headlines with the launch of their mighty Trooper beer a couple of months back. I got round to trying it just the other night.

It's a fine British beer, produced by Cheshire brewery Robinsons, with a strong malty taste benefiting from fruity hops and caramel edge. Dark golden in colour, it's enough to keep the crafties happy without turning off the bitter fans. Very drinkable. 

Anyway, best bit about this beer is the labelling. The front takes its inspiration from the artwork off the band's Trooper single released some THIRTY years ago. I'd show you the picture of Eddie and his Union flag but my image is much better. 

And here's what the blurb on the back said:

Onward, Onward
Rode The 600...

The Charge Of The Light Brigade, which inspired the Iron Maiden song The Trooper, took place at the Battle Of Balaclava (1854) during the Crimean War when 600 British cavalry courageously charged the massed Russian artillery. This gallant but foolhardy assault resulted in a massive loss of live and came about due to a misunderstanding of an order given by the commanding officer, Lord Raglan.

Trooper is a premium British beer inspired by Iron Maiden and handcrafted at Robinsons brewery. Being a real ale enthusiast, vocalist Bruce Dickinson has developed a beer which has true depth of character. Malt flavours and citric notes from a unique blend of Bobec, Goldings and Cascade hops dominate this deep golden ale with a subtle hint of lemon.

So, you get a nice wee history lesson while you drink beer. I want more of this. Much more. Brian Cox could do a cider, mix his tasting notes with a wee blurb about subatomic particles. Mervyn King, now he's got a bit of spare time, could do budget beer, with a small treatise on economics. JK Rowling could entertain her over-18 fanbase and pen 100 micro-fictions for the back of her bottles.

I'm going to come back to this. In the meantime, here's a short Trooper promo:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Houston, come in Houston

I'm way behind on my reviews.

I haven't done the one for the US tinned beer I had up Ben A'an with two of my best mates after an afternoon of climbing. 

I haven't done the Traquihairymairy one I had when I was pished with my brother and his woman. 

I haven't done the shitey cheapo Tesco wans I had the night we played the Game of Thrones game. 

And I haven't done the Profanity Stout one I had outside Stravaigin with my mate Fulton who's leaving newspapers to emigrate to Ireland to become a novelist.

But I have done one for Houston Crystal.

First, the preamble.

Got some really fucking grim news today. But not, in the grand scale of things, that grim. I'm not dying. My family aren't dying. My friends are dying. But still, it was bad news.

So, Houston Crystal.

Houston pale ale is made and sold on or near the premises of the Fox and the Hounds pub in Houston. The beer's good, and I'm sure the pub is tiptop, but they have one of the worst brewery websites I've clicked upon in quite a while. And it's had a recent makeover, too.

Still, the beer's good, and that's what really counts, no?

It poured amber, rich and inviting, with a bold fast heavy head that lasted for about 30 seconds. The mad wee bubbles were pure radge and kept their ferocious assault going until about the halfway line. I got a bit hypnotised by them for a moment.  

Nose, I got a tang of yeast and a summery fresh aroma. Then on the taste a zesty malt flavour with a hoppy presence and a bitter finish that was rounded on the palette as it went down. Wafts of flowers/spices but neither in your face nor too light. Sweet burnt toffee coming through off the crystal malts. 

It was a good beer. Well balanced in all. A beer you could drink pints of. But, I felt, with the exception of its radge head, this beer lacked excitement. Or maybe that's just me.

Anyhow, would hoppily have again. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Aldi anything for a beer

Selection of bottles in Aldi beer festival
Selection of bottles in Aldi beer festival
Buying beer is one of my favourite things to do. So it's nice when a chain comes along and says, "Hey, do you like buying good beer? Well, we're gonna do a beer festival, just for you."

So says Aldi, yon German market with the random crazy aisle. Kicks off this Thursday and over the following five weeks beer from around 30 Scottish breweries will be on sale. And we ain't talking Carling. We're talking independents the likes of Eden Brewery, Highland Brewing Company, Houston, Oban Bay and West Beer.

Examples include:

Orkney Blast, Highland Brewing Co, 500ml bottle for £1.99
Foxy Blonde – Scottish Borders Brewery, 500ml bottle for £1.69
Red Monk of Iona – Isle of Mull brewery, 500ml bottle for £1.89
California Common – Knops Brewery, 500ml bottle for £1.99
Brockville Pale – Tryst Brewery, 500ml for £1.79
Lightness – Loch Ness Brewery, 500ml bottle for £1.89

This is Aldi's second bash at a craft beer style festival, and is a solid commitment to Scotland's independent breweries - let's hope it's rewarding to all concerned, though I wonder how long it'll be until the bigger players try to muscle in?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Columbus Discovery

Columbus by St Andrews Brewing Co
Columbus by St Andrews Brewing Co
The Number One sound you can ever hear is the sound of your children laughing. 

I was minded that tonight, while sitting with my kids in the bath, looking forward to them going to bed and that quiet beer with my name on it. To think I was so focused on later I nearly missed the now. 

I mind, a lifetime ago, sitting round a campfire, the glow off it catching our faces, picking up the tips of our tents. The sound of the waves rolling onto the sand, the easy laughter of friendship, of bottles of wine opening. In the darkness we talked about top sounds. The crackling of a campfire featured high on everyone's list. This was years before any of us had kids, and my Number One sound today never featured on anyone's list back then. 

Other great sounds include your car's engine turning. The clink of bottles. Key in the door. Feet upon gravel. Crunch of snow. A pibroch across the bay. Screech of a golden eagle in the mist. Your wedding song. These all carry their own stories and times, too.

Right now, with the kids bathed and bedded, a wee holiday stretching out in front me and this beer here next to me, my Number Two sound is the ktsch of this beer bottle opening. And not any beer. This is a Columbus by St Andrews Brewing Co. 

There's a sweet little song/wean-inspired backstory to this single-hopped ale. It belongs to the 54-46 series of guest beers St Andrews Brewing Co does (54% pale malt; 46% wheat, after the song by Toots and the Maytals). This bottle here is one of a batch of 552, and very nice it is too. 

The nose is potent hops with a citrus heart and a yeasty edge. It pours with a heavy carbonation that doesn't last long, though the cloudiness does. 

Columbus is a strong northwestern American hop, bursting with citrus and spice. You don't have to search hard for these flavours, but you also get a bit of hay and resin. It's enjoyably bitter at the back of the throat while the aftertaste is sweet, with a lingering hint of banana. 

Would hoppily have again. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Orkney brewery uses violence to secure awards nomination

Dark Island Reserve by Orkney Brewing Company
The mashers at Orkney Brewing Co have been talked down from a further bloodshed by receiving a nominated for a drink prize in the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards. That's good news for Scotland's A&E departments, obviously; but I do wonder just how much the decision was affected by the Orkney brewers' propensity for violence and intimidation. Quite a lot I'd say. 

Orkney's notably the ONLY brewer to have made the drinks shortlist, which also contained two juices (eh?!). That's right, Orkney Brewing Co's Dark Island Reserve is going up against an apple juice and a grapefruit juice. Hmmm, when they said black tie ...

I've never had Dark Island Reserve, but I'm going to have to hurry as there's no way I'll be seen dead drinking something that lost out to an apple or grapefruit juice, and pink at that. Mind you, chances of Orkney losing are fairly remote. Over someone's dead body, you might say. 

Orkney wasn't the only brewer to receive a nomination though. Brewing madhouse Allan Water Brewhouse also got a nod - this time for its efforts in combating Food and Drink Tourism. They're up against Hopeton Farm Shop and some place scarily called The Store. Smart money's on The Store, with the film rights being snapped up pretty soon after. 

Here's a nice picture of the Brewhouse, which I reckon is kinda what all foreigners want a traditional Scottish pub to look like. Only with people in it.

Allan Water Brewhouse

Monday, May 13, 2013

Bold Engine Oil

Old Engine Oil porter by Harviestoun
Old Engine Oil porter
The mighty Harviestoun celebrates its 30th birthday this year, kicking into touch the notion that the rise of craft beer is a recent fad or trend. Over the years and in various forms, Harviestoun's Bitter & Twisted blonde and Schiehallion lager have had praise and awards poured upon them. Pretty sure my first craft ale was a B&T, or possibly one of Williams' Fraoch.

Over the decades, Harviestoun has grown out of a shed and in and out of a barn and into a purpose-built brewery that is now too small for them. They've been taken over by Caledonian Breweries and sold off - thankfully - by Heineken. Just shows you where a brewing kit and a shed can take you. 

Anyhow, B&T and Schiehallion's younger sister is Old Engine Oil, a dark brooding porter (6%) that fits snuggly onto Harviestoun's expanding bottling line.

It's a potent, chewy and tangy porter that pours dark with a thick, pale caramel head. On the taste, sweet roasted chocolate-cherry touches of the Black Forest. Hints of yeasty liquorice too. Hops include British stalwarts Fuggles and East Goldings, bringing out that earthy sweetness, with the Galena providing an enjoyable bitter kick. Has a pleasantly smooth texture with a bitter, quenching aftertaste. 

I prefer my porter's on the smokey side, but this was delicious. Would hoppily have again.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tough Mudder: a beer well earned

At the start of this year I signed up to an event called Tough Mudder. Kind of like a cross-country half-marathon with loads of nasty obstacles thrown in to make it even more fun. Part of my training involves running and that; and part of it involves drinking tasty craft beers. So I can pick a top-notch carry out for the evening after, you understand. 

Anyhow, I wrote this article on Tough Mudder for The Herald and they went and gone and published it.

Here's the promo video for last year's event, held in July at Drumlanrig Castle:

This year it's in Dalkieth in August, which makes it even harder by my reckoning. 

On completion you get a hip orange headband and a well earned beer. Last year it was cans of Black Sheep Ale. This year ... well, that's the question everyone's asking. 

Hope to have an answer real soon.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Rogue Trader*

I got to say, Cromarty Brewing Co's Rogue Wave is one of the finest pale ales you're ever going to try. And you are going to try it. You need to.

Cromarty Brewing Company's Rogue Wave
Cromarty's Rogue Wave
What is it? It's a hop-packed IPA-style beer that pours light but packs a punch. They call it an "explicitly hopped extra pale ale". Lip-smacking hops there are aplenty.

It's a dry, fruity ale that is both sweet and tart. On the aroma, you get citrus and grapefruit, mango, grape and that crisp apple/pear smell that minds you of late summer and comes from the heavy doses of Cascade and Calypso hops. Much of that is followed through on the tasting - which was delicious. Tart and refreshing with a dash of bubblegum sweetness for balance.

Pours with a lovely dark golden colour, partially cloudy, and a clean white robust head. Texture was smooth and mild. Lovely summer beer this.

Cromarty Brewing really is one of Scotland's best brewers right now. I reviewed their mighty Brewed Awakening not so long ago, and I've yet to hear anyone describe their beers as anything less than brilliant. Branding's pretty good too. 

Would hoppily have again. And it minded me of this sweet video.

*For you WH40k vets out there xx

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Conscience Hop Bomb

Conscience hop bomb by Innocente Brewing Company
Innocente's Conscience
See the label on the right? There's nothing Innocente about this beer whatsoever, despite the Edinburgh microbrewery's branding. This here folks is a powerful hop bomb that'll knock your tastebuds unconscious.

The 85 IBU on the label is a measure of bitterness. It stands for International Bitterness Unit. That probably means little to most folk but when you see it printed on a beer label you can pretty much guarantee you'll be sucking in your cheeks on the first taste.

This beer is packed with taste and character, but there shouldn't be too many surprises for those beer drinkers able to read: the label on the back states that Conscience is "heavily late-hopped with Australian Galaxy and Ella hops giving citrus and mango notes with melon, pine and bubble gum undertones, leading to a long intensely bitter finish". For beer drinkers unable to read, the image of the twin hop buds should make it clear.

Unsurprisingly then, the aroma was heavily laden with hops. I found it pleasantly peachy with an orangy, biscuity staleness too.

Pouring was a pain. My bottle was heavily carbonated, and poured with a mighty head that was foamy and had an off-white tint. The beer itself was a dark golden brown, partly opaque. Very lively.

Taste: wow. They really weren't kidding, and though the nose offered unsubtle hints of what was to come, I really wasn't prepared for the punch this Conscience packed.

It has a very, very bitter, dry and lingering aftertaste, to the detriment initially of other flavours. The malt, the bubble gum, the citrus are there, but those first few mouthfills it was an unpindownable sweetness and an overhwelmingly hoppy bitterness that hit me. The advertised range of flavours do come through once your tastebuds pick themselves off the floor. I also got a big nostalgia for the Fruit Salad penny chews you used to get. That and grapefruit.

"Truely a beer for hopheads!" declares the label. Hard to disagree. This one's certainly not for beginners.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Beer is the news

The Vintage craft beer pub in Leith, Edinburgh
The Vintage. Crafty new pub in Leith.

Camra have done it again with the jaw-dropping news that the average pint has now topped £3, and in Scotland is a whopping £3.24. Blimey. So, err, I’ve been paying over the average for quite some time now, and have been subsidising some layabout beer scrounger for a considerably long time. But I don’t mind, really. In swell pubs such as Munro’s or Inn Deep you are going to pay more for a decent pint, real, craft or whatever. And you know what, it’s worth it. Paying more than £4 for a pint of generic lager in a poxy, soulless Ashton Lane premises-cum-cinema, however, gets me choking on my dishwater.

But my story of the week is the news that drinking beer makes you want to drink MORE beer. This in-depth and scientifically vital study of 49 male drinkers found that just the very taste of beer makes you want to taste MORE beer. It also - and you better sit down for this - found that having a history of alcoholism in the family, makes YOU more likely to want to take a drink.

Huffington Post made an international public apology
for doubting the magnificence of Crabbie's Ginger Beer.

West Brewery launched a stout. Innis & Gunn launched a lager (and called for more unity among micro-brewers). And BrewDog launched their Fake Lager to take on the dishwater hegemony.

And finally, new craft beer pub The Vintage opened in Leith, Edinburgh. Great news. Good luck guys!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gift of a Pearl Necklace

Flying Dog Brewery Pearl Necklace
Pearl Necklace, yeah!

You know something, a cool silky stout is a beautiful thing. It gives you that warming life-is-great feel that your mum's broth does, assuming it ain't an Extra Cold thing, sweetie.

A few weeks ago at Munro’s official opening, I tried Arbor’s Oyster Stout on draught, a wonderful thing. My local off-licence Hippo Beers has had it in bottled form a few times before but it’s a rare thing; Arbor tends to keep its local beer shops fully stocked, with little escaping the Bristol area. A bad thing. 

So the other night I had a Pearl Necklace offof my wife. This 5.5% oyster stout was a jolly good thing - and came all the way from the US of A, courtesy of maverick Maryland brewers, Flying Dog.

It poured awfully dark brown. And though heavily carbonated, the burnt caramel-coloured head didn’t linger. I gave it a few minutes anyway; I much prefer to let stouts settle to enjoy their full smoothness. A wise thing.

Fish or oysters were hard to find on the nose and the palate. Maybe a bit of brine but I was just back from a holiday on Scotland’s wonderful and windy west coast. But I did get rich, roasted malts edging towards a caramelly sweetness that was kept in balance by a delightfully dry coffee bitterness. Texture was medium smooth: nothing chewy, but not too thin either. A tasty wee thing. Genius.

Would hoppily have again.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Beer is the news

Story of the week has to be BrewDog's brilliantly conceived beer vote in which the Ellon punks invited their followers to design their next beer. That's right, over a week, and using the phrase #Mashtag, Twitter users were each day asked to choose key elements of the new beer.

Here're the results, and they look pretty damned tasty: 
Monday: Beer Style - Brown Ale.
Tuesday: Malt Bill & ABV - American Brown Ale at 7.5% ABV
Wednesday: Hops & IBU - New Zealand Hops and 95 IBU
Thursday: Special Twist - adding Hazelnuts and oak chips
Friday: Name -  #Mashtag

You should check out the BrewDog blog. As well as seeing the other options for each day, you get an idea of how all these flavours and methods work together, with good explanations on the brewing processes. Anyway, as a final twist BrewDog are also letting folks design the label. Plan is they'll start brewing very, very soon, with the first batch ready in about a month.

Anyway, it was a beautiful stunt, got a good hit online and in papers, and was in keeping with BrewDog's off-the-wall modus operandi. I'm sure it'll be lovely, but my worry is that, given the British electorate's tendency for blinkered stupidity, that the beer will be as uninspiring and unpalatable as our current government. Thank goodness then that craft beer drinkers aren't as braindead as the majority of UK voters. 

Also newsworthy, Munro's in Glasgow had their official opening, and I got leathered. Highlights were the Arbor Oyster Stout and Redchurch's Bethnel Pale Ale. 

And, finally, Cheerless News of the Week is how George Osborne became posterboy for British beer drinkers by giving the industry a mediocre tax break and removing a much-hated duty escalator that was generally considered to be the chief cause of thousands of pub closures.

In the following article, Camra chief executive Mike Benner said: "The Chancellor has become the toast of Britain's cash-strapped beer drinkers and we should now be paying around 10p less per pub pint than we would have been had the escalator remained in place in last week's Budget. This is a massive victory for Britain's 15 million beer drinkers."

I have not and will not be toasting Mr Osborne, and, frankly, I'd quite happily keep paying that 10p. I think on a ten-pint bender I can afford to waste another pound. Drinkers in dire poverty will be pleased, no doubt. Shame about the axe in welfare, social fund and council tax benefits, the imposition of the bedroom tax, removal of legal aid, tax credit reduction, public sector cuts, etc. 

What is worth raising a glass to is Mr Osborne's economy-salving decision to reduce the tax bill faced by millionaires. It's this kind of forward-thinking, groundbreaking vision that'll have this economy restored in no time - and the guy's not even an economist!! My millionaire beer-drinking readers out there, I trust YOU will be raising two glasses to Mr Osborne. 

Now, it really is good that the duty escalator has been removed, following hearty campaigning by Camra et al, and thousands of pub closures and job losses. Call me cynical, but I think this only happened because the duty escalator was starting to affect some of the larger breweries' bottom line. Maybe one of their non-exec board members went to the same school as Mr Osborne, maybe he had a wee word over dinner. Anyway, I hope he's toasting Mr Osborne. He can certainly afford to. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tryst in me, Part II: Cascade hop

Tryst Hop Trials: Cascade
I may have mentioned that battle-hardened Falkirk brewery Tryst had started up a sideline in hop cage-fighting, called Hop Wars. 

Last post I previewed Amarillo. Here's a review of its rival Cascade, also 5% ABV. 

It too had a strong hoppy nose, this time with hints of spice coming through. I found it a beautiful, hoppy, fresh, inviting aroma. 

It poured golden and cloudy with a decent enough head that was pushing towards creaminess. Wee bit of sediment from it being bottle conditioned.  

Tastewise, it had a delicious tart bitterness that carried citrus hints, pine and grapefruit in the back of the mouth.

Would hoppily have again. 

Tryst in me, Part I: Amarillo hop

Tryst Brewery's Amarillo beer.
Tryst Brewery in Falkirk is doing this fantastic thing at the moment for craft beer converts. They're producing bottles of single hop beers. They call this series Hop Trials, but I think Hop Wars would be a better bit of marketing. Anyway, it all means you can try a beer and get to know what flavour of hop you're drinking. You can compare two or three to get a sense of the variety of hop flavours. But remember, these are SINGLE-HOPPED BOTTLES. That means there's been no fancy mixing to see which hop goes with what hop. Tonight ladies and laddies, this is Singles Night.

So, I pulled an Amarillo. It's the one in the picture, see. It's sharp and pungent on the nose. Strong too, with a foosty bitterness.

On the pour, this bottle-conditioned beer offered up a tonne of carbonation with a good lingering head. Pale gold and clear it was too. The photo makes it look darker than it was.

Has a strong malty biscuit flavour, I thought, and an earthy yeastiness, with the Amarillo bringing hints of citrus and sweet orange. Texture was smooth and velvety, and on the swallow, a dry yet tangy bitterness. ABV was 5%.

Nae bad at all.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fool's Gold

Flowery bathwater.
You can keep your flowery bathwater. 
Loch Lomond Gold really is disappointment in a bottle. It's by TSA, who should know better 'cause they brew a tonne of beers for other microbreweries - including the mighty Fallen - but their golden ale is like perfumed bathwater (see right).

You know what it made me think of? Slices of lime in bottles of insipid Mexican beer. It's an entry level craft beer for people who like shoving waxed fruit down their long-necks. 

I drank Gold last Thursday on my fairly regular Beer and Boardgames night. (I'm gonna do a long, long post about boardgames and beer, but in the meantime I just wanted - no, needed - to share with you how mediocre TSA's Gold is.) I thought it might have been rubbish because I was playing rubbish or because the beer wasn't fresh out the fridge, but I'm having another bottle RIGHT now. It's cold, I'm winning (kids in bed) but it's still packed with citrus floral nonsense. It's in a different shaped glass too, so this taste test can't be more scientific. 

BTW TSA also did a Rabbie Burns beer a wee while back. I don't remember hating that when I tried it.

I also had a Hobgoblin amber too, which I liked. But my top beer that night was the sexy-looking O6 Porter by Otley Brewing Company. Not my favourite porter by a long way, but it had enough of the right flavours and texture and strength (6.6%) to have me all mournful when I got to the end of the glass. That and the fact I was losing to my father in law. 

Anyway, big, beautiful boardgame post to come. You have been warned.   

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beer is the News

News of the week has to be the Budget announcement by economic whizzkid George Osborne that beer duty is to be reduced by 1p. From today. Wow, that's brilliant news, isn't it? It's this kind of out-the-box forward thinking that sets our visionary Chancellor apart from all his predecessors (and the guy's not even a trained economist!). I've no doubt that this groundbreaking initiative will restore our beleaguered economy. 

There was also some noise about a duty escalator getting axed as well. Not sure what all the fuss was about but let's hope it stops those struggling publicans and brewers whining about going to the wall, the demise of the pub, jobs going, collapse of communities, end of civilisation...

Anyway, it's all pretty meaningless. What isn't meaningless is the revelation from premier beer blogger The Beer Cast that Forth Bridge Brewery is gonna using crowd-funding to get the kegs rolling at its Inverkeithing venture.

Iron Maiden launched their own beer. This story's so old and naff if you want to know more look it up yerself. 

Not a week goes by without Arran Breweries being in the news. This time it's a story about how they plan to take over the world by exporting their expertise and recipes rather than bottles of beer brewed in Scotland. Marvellous.

News that a superbrewer is buying up all the Scottish barley caused some alarm in The Herald.

And finally a whole clutch of Scottish breweries won top accolades at awards hosted by Society of Independent Brewers, including Orkney BreweryHighland Brewery, Fyne Ales, Cairngorm, and Williams.  Full list here.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A five minute brewing lesson

This is beautiful. This is a man with great knowledge and passion explaining how beer is made, clearly and intelligently, and not without humour. This man has one of the world's greatest jobs.

Courtesy of Charlie Bamforth and the University of California.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hula Hops: A Postcard from Hawaii

Maui Brewing Co. CoConut Porter Review by twistedmouth
Maui Brewing Co's Coconut Porter 
Dear Mum and Dad,

How are you? Hope youse are well. 

Things are great here in Hawaii. I’m having a real awesome time.

I’ve learnt to surf, do the hula, and I’ve seen where Barack Obama was born. Right now I’m sitting in a bayside beer supping on a Maui Coconut Porter. That’s right Dad, a coconut-flavoured porter! They were out of heavy - I did ask.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Beer is the news

Black Isle Cold Turkey
Black Isle Cold Turkey
Blimey, story of the week has to be the international outrage at the truly irresponsible creation of a - mother of all evils - low alcohol breakfast beer by those Taliban-loving brewers Black Isle.

In a move which has done more for global insecurity than Kim Jong-un letting his toddler do his colouring-in on the country's non-aggression pacts, Black Isle have begun selling a weak, hoppy craft beer, targeting hardened alcoholics, nightshift workers, over-indulgers and early risers. 

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Beer is the News

Petra Wetzel. Image: Kirsty Anderson/Newsquest
Petra Wetzel. Image: Kirsty Anderson/Newsquest
For reasons I can't yet fathom, Arran Brewery's plans to open a bottling plant in Falkirk are dashed due to the Scottish Government declining to fund them a paltry £1million. Tight arses. Arran said this was a major blow, and although the jobs that won't be created would have been in that hotbed of employment, Falkirk, it could in fact jeopardise the 20 or so jobs on Arran: without a drop in operational costs (from the bottling plant), the rise in duty as a result of Arran's merger with the Isle of Skye brewery could push their margins from tiny to negligible to even negative. Ouch.

I don't know. Is this a hint of a sea change in the support for wee breweries in Scotland, which in recent  years has seen a spate of new ones come online and more established ventures grow? Or has Arran gone too far or too quick? Maybe they pissed off some bureaucrat in the poetically named Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation department. Maybe they didnae fill in the form right.

Who knows.

Anyhow, the Brew Gods are still shining on BrewDog, whose funding model is clearly very different to Arran's. The Ellon Mavericks have just announced more growth, more expansion and more jobs. Blimey.

Meanwhile, darling of the bier world, Petra Wetzel, of West Brewery in Glasgow, goes head to head in an insightful, and rather personal, interview with The Herald's Susan Swarbrick. She's currently reading the painfully over-rated Life of Pi and includes Neil Diamond among her favourite artistes. Check out the article for more insights into lager's leading lady.