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.