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