Thursday, November 19, 2015

Beer Review: Loch Lomond Silkie Stout - Champion Cask Beer of Scotland

Silkie Stout by Loch Lomond Brewery
Silkie Stout by Loch Lomond Brewery

What a result for Fiona and Euan MacEachern and the team at Loch Lomond Brewery! The Alexandria-based brewery took four golds and the Champion Cask Beer of Scotland prize at last week's SIBA Scotland beer contest. 
The bash took place at in Glasgow's Drygate, and while Fiona admits to having had an underlying optimism about Silkie Stout given its consistently good feedback, in no way were she and her team prepared for such a hefty haul. Their superb Silkie Stout, which won the Champion Cask Beer of Scotland, was picked out from more than 100 beers from 36 breweries.
It’s a brilliant result for the Alexandria-based brewery, which only launched in 2011. In the four years since, they’ve built a reputation for consistently good beer that caters to both traditional drinkers (see Silkie Stout and their 80/- Kessog), and hop-lovers (try gold winners Bravehop IPA and Southern Summit). 
It’s also a huge thumbs-up from those in the trade. The 50 or so judges at the Society of Independent Brewers event included brewers, bar owners, hoteliers, bloggers and other assorted beer lovers. It was, says Fiona, “just fantastic”, to get this sort of recognition from such a large swathe of industry peers. It also gives Loch Lomond a solid platform from which to develop their “massive plans for the brewery” over the next couple of years.
Taking silver overall was Seven Peaks Mosaic IPA, brewed by Drygate’s Jake Griffin. After honing his brewing skills at Fyne Ales, he must have been delighted to have seen off their classic Jarl, a ubiquitous presence in winner’s lists at beer festivals. Jarl took bronze overall, gold in the Standard Bitters and Pale Ale round and gold in the Champion bottled beer category.
The winners of each heat go through to the UK-wide Beer X bash in Sheffield in March.

Six Gold Winning Beers

Silkie Stout by Loch Lomond Brewery (5%)
Sweet and smooth with aromas of coffee and chocolate, Scotland’s champion cask ale also has hints of dark berries, caramel and liquorice. Easy to drink it’s also sufficiently layered to please the beer geeks. The long, dry finish will have you coming back for more.
Seven Peaks Mosaic IPA by Drygate Brewery (5%)
Winner of the Strong Bitters and Pale Ales round, Seven Peaks takes its name from the jaggy roof of the Drygate building. It’s a belter of an IPA; heavy on the hops with heaps of tropical fruits – melon, peach and citrus - from the titular mosaic hops. Finishes bitter with a bit of caramel malt helping to round it off.
Jarl by Fyne Ales (3.8%)
If Jarl were a person this golden-coloured ale would surely be crushed under the weight of prizes heaped upon what is one of Scotland’s most popular beers. It’s crisp, clean and refreshing, with citrus and floral hops to the front. Its Imperial big brother Ragnorak (7.4%) won gold in the Premium Strong round.
Weizen by Windswept Brewing Co (5.2%)
Windswept’s take on the German style hefeweizen won the SIBA Speciality Beer round. Flavours of caramel malt and earthy citrus, as well as an inviting combination of banana and cloves, typical of the wheat beer style.
Pale Ale by Swannay Brewery (4.7%)
More amber than pale, Swannay’s prize-winning ale took the Gold for Premium Bitters and Pale Ales. It’s a citrus hop-forward beer, with a rich aroma that also carries pine and floral notes. Held together marvellously by a sweet biscuit-flavoured malt that leads you to a balanced bitter finish.
Fathom by Jaw Brew (4.0%)
Fathom won the Standard Mild Ales & Brown Ales, and pours the colour of coal black, with just a hint of colour coming through. Flavours of coffee, smoke, treacle and dark berries in this waxy and malt-heavy brew.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Beer review: Bloody 'Ell IPA

Dug this one from the Herald archive. Really I should wait until spring 2016 ... when Beavertown release their awesome Bloody Ell orange laden beer. But then, it's good to build a bit of anticipation ...

If you haven't tried any of Beavertown's beer, you really ought to. And if you have had some of their beers - the wickedly delicious Black Betty IPA or dangerously drinkable Neck Oil IPA, for example - chances are you're waiting for their super-selling seasonal IPA Bloody 'Ell to hit the shelves again.

Blood 'Ell is fantastic; a must-try beer made from blood oranges and Amarillo and Citra hops. Don't expect stocks to last when they start arriving in March.

Beavertown have only been around for a few years, but they're easily one of the stars of the great beer renaissance we're living through - one of the 50 or so breweries to open in London in the past five years.

Owner Logan Plant is the son of rock god Robert Plant, but it's safe to say Beavertown have got to where they are on the merits of beers: since starting up in 2011, they've produced collaboration brews with the likes of Dogfish, Mikkeller and BrewDog, and their brewing staff cut their teeth at leading London breweries such as Redchurch and Kernel.

Beavertown's beers have bold flavours and big characters, reflected in their distinctive artwork and branding. The cans, literally, have that feelgood factor.

A lot of their specials often don't make it this far north (and when they do they go fast) but Beavertown's core range - see below - is pretty widely available in good beer shops and online.

Bloody 'Ell is a romp through the senses. The aroma on this powerful IPA is tropical resin hops with heaps of mandarins and a drop of toffee. It's just delicious. For the gardeners, you'll recognise the smell of mock orange.

Pouring it - best not to drink it from the can - gives you a thick frothy off-white head, while below it's amber gold that's opaque like jelly.

Tasting it is a trip. The oranges are there in force but so too is a grapefruit tang and crisp pomegranate - at 7.2%, the alcohol is fairly noticeable too. Then it eases; a light biscuit malt balances the rich juiciness delivering a mellow smoothness before this IPA settles into a medium dry finish that's big on bitterness but also gives you salt and spices round the edges.

No way is this a session ale, it's a hop-forward, citrus heavy IPA for savouring.

Five other Beavertown beers

Black Betty black IPA (7.4%)

A spicy and strong black IPA that bam-a-lams the competition. A beautiful balance of rich roasted malts, hefty tropical, citrus and stonefruit hops. An absolute belter of a beer and a personal favourite.

Smog Rocket smoked porter (5.4%)

Bitter coffee and dark chocolate malt with the bittersweet finish evolving from a tart hoppiness. There's a salty character here, but also a touch of cherry. It pours black like the colour of Marlboro Man's lungs.

8 Ball IPA (6.2%)

A big bold and potent IPA with plenty or rye and aromas of American hops. Pours amber with peach, pine and caramel flavours. Takes its name because the brewers weighed down the bags of hops with pool balls.

Gamma Ray American pale ale (5.4%)

Deliciously juicy and dangerously drinkable, Gamma Ray is a pale ale with big tropical aromas and flavours of mango and grapefruit. Too strong to be a session ale, sadly.

Neck Oil IPA (4.3%)

Beavertown's session IPA. An easy-drinking beer with light citrus and resin hops and enough balance and bitterness to leave you a long and pleasant finish.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Beer Review: Herta by Floodline Brewery

Herta by Floodline brewery
Herta by Floodline brewery
It might only be 18-months-old but craft brewing palace Drygate, in Glasgow's east end, has already made a massive splash on drinking and brewing.

As a venue, it's superb. There's a beer hall, restaurant and beer shop, and the big glass windows mean you can watch the brewing team at work. It was the obvious venue for this September's Craft Beer Rising, and has also hosted comedy nights, gigs, weddings and markets.

But it's the wee 250-litre brewkit that is making waves among Scotland's new generation of brewers. Anyone can rent it, meaning you and your mates now have the opportunity to brew your own beer on industry-standard equipment and even launch your own brewery ... which is exactly what Floodline have done.

Floodline's brewing team - Nina Ballantyne, Ed Evans, Pete Sansom, Liam Hainey and Claire Dobson - all met while student volunteers at Glasgow University's Queen Margaret Union, and although on disparate courses, they shared a love of good beer, so that when the notion for a brewery was mooted - round a pub table of course - there was no real option other than to run with the idea. 

The five friends, all in the early 20s, launched Floodline in January, having spent months cobbling together enough money to rent the brewkit at Drygate and for the ingredients for their first two beers: Fearless Nadia IPA (5.5%) and Herta wheat beer (6.2%).

Herta is a friendly clash of traditional Munich malts and modern American hops. Its aroma is sharp esters and tart toffee, along with the banana and cloves so typical of wheat beers. It pours an opaque amber gold with a thick, cream-coloured head. It's a frothy beer, and noisy, like the distant sound of seaweed popping under the hot sun; its smooth, lively texture envelops your tongue.

The tartness you got on the aroma is there in force when you take that first taste.It's sharp and mouth-smackingly bitter, with notes of orange citrus and juicy tropical hops coming through; the sweet malt character maintaining body and balance. Then it settles down, fades like a wave at the end of its reach, leaving a mellow, salty and satisfying finish in its wake. 

Five other beers from Drygate
Gladeye IPA (5.5%)
Drygate's flagship IPA, an accessibly easy-going pale ale with smooth caramel and bitter citrus zest. 

Inevitable Conclusion Double IPA (8.9%)
Newly released beast of a beer from the Drygate Brewing Co. It's big, very big, on hops, bitterness and strength.

Ymir India White Ale (5%)
Pale wheat ale with heaps of citrus from Heidrun Brewing Co, another Drygate co-venture. 

Bellwether IPA (5.5%) A new beer from Monolith Brewing Co, another start-up to emerge out of the Drygate brewkit. A brilliantly received beer, it doesn't hang around.

Apex: Peak 1 (7.3%) Brewed especially for Drygate's first birthday, it's a potent saison-inspired hybrid.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Beer Review: Unforgiven red rye ale by Tempest Brewing Co

Unforgiven red rye ale by Tempest Brewing Co.
Unforgiven red rye ale by Tempest Brewing Co. 
It's been a good year for Tempest Brewing Co - the Borders brewers have lived up to many people's expectations and continued to create the fantastic beers they've quickly became known for.

Five years after starting out, they've opened a big beautiful brewery Galashiels in the Borders and begun rolling out a new line-up of great beers. They've a history in making some outstanding beers and a lot of people have been looking forward to the first batches from their new bottling line, and it's no surprise they were tipped as one of the hottest breweries to watch in 2015.

With a new brewery, Tempest also underwent a bit of a rebrand, slicker labels but smaller bottles. Their first wave of bottled beers comprises Brave New World, a potent, murky IPA (7.4%), Red Eye Flight mocha porter (7.4%) and In The Dark We Live black IPA (7.2%).

Their Easy Livin' Pils is part of Aldi's Winter Beer Festival, which launched at the start of October so hopefully there's still some left.

Earlier this year, Tempest also  released Unforgiven, a 5.4% smokey red rye ale with as much attitude as the Man With No Name. No surprises at the aroma. It's sweet campfire smokiness with tart gooseberries and bark. Pouring gives you a clear and deep amber, the colour of dying embers, with a light tanned head.

But the taste is surprising. It's shockingly alive and complex, and may be something of a challenge for anyone who's not a fan of smokey beers. The smokiness, obviously, is dominant but there's a lot more going on: fruits, spices, salt. The initial hit is peppery and exciting, like a gun battle in your mouth.

There's something sweet there too, like vanilla or caramel or wafer biscuit, but, like a shooting star in the night sky above you, it's away in a moment. And then there's a sourness, almost bloody, and a gentle sweetness of nectarines; light hops bring the notion of a soft breeze carrying the scent of those loch-side reeds near to where you sit by your campfire. It finishes slowly, bitterly and dryly.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Beer Review: Aldi Winter Beer Festival

Lochtober Fest by Loch Lomond Brewery
Lochtober Fest by Loch Lomond Brewery
Aldi have long been supportive of Scottish breweries, and they've smashed it again with another sensational line-up of ales for its Scottish Winter Beer Festival. 
The best festival kicked last week, and since then Aldi's Scottish stores have been filling their shelves with beers from the majority of Scottish breweries - 50 in total. The beers, from breweries such as Williams, Cairngorm and Inveralmond, are a sterling representation of the world-class ales and lagers being produced in our wee country.
Fans of good beer are in for some treats, with beers such as Alechemy’s Red Rye IPA, Top Out's Copperheid and Windswept's Wolf; but the festival is also a terrific way for Scotland’s breweries to showcase their core beers to drinkers reluctant to make the step away from bland, mass-produced beer. The offering reflects the many different types of beer styles, hops, malts and methods being used across Scotland, from traditional British bitters to hop-heavy IPAs, oatmeal ales to bourbon barrel-aged beers.
It’s also a prime example of how large retailers should be co-operating with small producers. Brewery after brewery praised Aldi for the support it has given to Scotland's craft breweries, highlighting the open and collaborative stance it has taken - an insight as refreshing as the beers themselves. Aldi’s beer buyers Michael Whiteford and Kirsty Reid were singled out for praise.
Isla Mercer of Lerwick Brewery said: “Aldi’s beer festivals are a fantastic initiative that allow smaller breweries to showcase their beers and reach a much larger audience than they normally would. It's great from a consumer point of view to be able to have such a broad selection of quality Scottish products so easily available. Aldi are to be congratulated for putting in so much work to promote local, Scottish produce in their stores.”
Some beard-lovers, of course, may grumble that the line-up doesn't carry enough of the darker beers, such as porters and stouts, traditionally drunk as winter creeps closer. It's a valid critique, though the success of Aldi's beer festivals suggests they know what they're doing; while the beer curation is in fact a reflection of what the breweries themselves want to showcase. It was an assertion repeated by the likes of Williams Brothers, Drygate, Inveralmond, Black Metal Brewery, West Brewery, Tempest, Top Out, Barney’s, Cairngorm, Alechemy, Loch Lomond, Cromarty and so on
Beer drinkers after small-batch specials, spicy porters and the likes, your local independent beer shop will be delighted to help you.
But pedantic grumbles aside, this supermarket beer festival is an outstanding opportunity to access a wide range of Scotland's craft breweries, often thought of - incorrectly - as too pricy or elitist. The beers are priced from £1.29 to £1.99. 
Hopefully this festival and the ones to follow will encourage more people to think craft and to think Scottish. So, while it feels unfair to pick out a handful of beers from such a great selection, here are:

Lochtober Fest by Loch Lomond Brewery (5%)
The soft fruity aroma gives little away but inside is a little beer treat. Amid the toffee and toast malts, you'll find fruity and mild spiced flavours in this amber-coloured boch style beer, with the taste conjuring up the scent of an autumnal orchard.

Easy Livin Pils by Tempest Brewery (5%)
Proof that Czechs don’t have the rights to great pilsners, Tempest’s lager is honey, apricot and citrus on a light biscuit malt. Delicate and subtle with a brilliantly crisp and bitter finish.

Bourbon Barrel by Eden Brewery (6.5%)
Sweet, spirited and well rounded, this is easily one of Eden's best beers and a brilliant choice for them to showcase. The toffee and dark chocolate sit very well with the rich oaky flavours from the bourbon.

Orkney Blast by Highland Brewing Company (6%)
A potent pale ale with a sensational nose of summer woodland. Tastes of mandarin, nectarine and caramel malt with the citrus becoming ever more pronounced as you move towards a well-rounded finish.

Redact Red Lager by Williams Brother Brewery (4.4%)
A lovely little beer that comes in easy-drinking 330ml bottles. The addition of darker amber malts to the lager style is a nice touch as the toffee flavours blend easily with the citrus and autumn fruit aroma and mildly bitter finish.

6.2 IPA by Broughton Ales (6.2%)
Bid, bold and brilliant, you really ought to buy two. It’s probably worth trying the Knops IPA too for comparison. Oh, and you’ll need some of BrewDog's Jack Hammer while you're at it.

Here’s the full line-up:
West Brewing Co, St Mungo Lager
Williams Brothers, Redact Red Lager
Deeside Brewery, LAF Californian steam beer
Tempest Brewery, Easy Livin Pils
Lerwick Brewery, 60 Degree North Lager
Burnside Brewery, Wild Rhino Blonde
Belhaven Brewery, Speyside Oak Aged Blonde Ale
Cairngorm Brewery, Trade Winds
Highland Brewing Co, Orkney Blast
Jaw Brewing, Glide Ale
Sulwaith Brewers, Galloway Gold
Orkney Brewery, Corncrake Ale
Top Out Brewery, Copperheid Ale
Traquair House Brewery, Bear Ale
Archerfield Fine Ales, Archerfield Golden Ale
Black Metal Brewery, Yggdrasil
Wooha Brewery, Wooha IPA
Windswept Brewing Co, Wolf
Spey Valley Brewery, Stillman’s IPA
St Andrews Brewery, Oatmeal Pale
Knops Beer Company, Knops IPA
BrewDog, Jack Hammer Ale
Ayr Brewing Co, Hiphopopotamus Hoppy Pale Ale
Cromarty Brewing Co, Happy Chappy
Scottish Borders Brewery, Elder Flower Ale
Houston Brewery, Crystal Ale
Caledonian Brewery, Bill’s beer
Hebridean brewing Co, Berserker Export Pale Ale
Barney's Beer, Volcano IPA
Drygate, Ax Man Rye IPA
Islay Ales, Angus Og Ale
Broughton Ales, 6.2 IPA
Inveralmond Brewery, Thrappledouser red ale
Isle of Mull Brewery, Terror of Tobermory
Stewart Brewing, Embra Ale
Arran Brewery, Arran Fireside
River Leven Ales, River Leven Dark
Kelburn Brewery, Ca’ Canny
Valhalla Brewery, Old Scotness
Mor Brewing, Mor Tea, Vicar
Speyside Craft Brewery, Bottlenose Bitter
Loch Ness Brewery, Spookyness
Isle of Skye Brewery, Skye Red
Brewmeister, Pump’d Ale
Loch Lomond Brewery, Lochtoberfest festival ale
Alechemy Brewing Co, Five Sisters Red IPA
Black Wolf Brewery, Florida Black
Eden Mill Brewery, Bourbon Barrel

Strathaven Ales, Ginger JockOban Bay Brewery, Skelpt Lug

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Beer Review: Rascal London Porter by Inveralmond Brewery

Rascal London Porter by Inveralmond Brewery
Rascal London Porter by Inveralmond Brewery
Porters have nothing to do with port or Portugal and everything to do with the London porters who hoiked hogsheads, hessian sacks and hefty boxes onto carts, wagons, steamboats and trains. Or so the stories go.
Style-wise, they're a dark heavy-hopped beer - a precursor to stouts - and were hugely popular during the Industrial Revolution but fell out of favour after the Second World War; an unfashionable weak drink for old men. Now, however, thanks to our ongoing renaissance in good beer, brewers have increasingly been looking back to old styles to brew great new beers and have revived this wonderful old style.
Midnight Sun from Williams Brothers, Smog Rocket by Beavertown and Porter by Anchor are great examples of the porter style. So too is Inveralmond Brewery's latest offering, Rascal, a dark, smooth and beautifully balanced bittersweet beer that comes in at 5.6%.
Rascal's the third release in Inveralmond's Inspiration series of world beers, and follows the Sunburst pilsner and De Mons Belgian Abbey beer. Those two were excellent, and Rascal is a very worthy successor, so much so that it won Wetherspoon's Champion Beer of Britain only a few weeks after its release (and prior to its official launch).
Crack this rapscallion open and you're greeted with chocolate aroma, roasted malts, and some tangy citrus hops. Spices and a bit of salt too. 
Rascal pours a deep, dark and broody brown, with a head the colour of bone washed up on the beach. 
Taste it though and this is a beer full of life and character. Initially, the tangy citrus hops work wonders with the rich, dark malts - a bit of young sapling there, also some blackberry and burnt sugar; the roasted flavours so well balanced by the vibrant bittering.
And then it eases, slightly, into a long, amiable bittersweet finish that hugs you and asks, very persuasively, for more. A brilliant beer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Beer Review: Unforgiven Red Rye Ale by Tempest Brewing Co

Unforgiven Red Rye Ale by Tempest Brewing
Unforgiven Red Rye Ale by Tempest Brewing
At the start of the year, and five years after starting out, Tempest Brewing Co opened their big beautiful brewery Galashiels in the Borders and started rolling out a new line-up of great beers. They've a history in making some outstanding beers and a lot of people have been looking forward to the first batches from their new bottling line, and it's no surprise beer experts tipped them as one of the hottest breweries to watch in 2015. 
With a new brewery, Tempest also underwent a bit of a rebrand, slicker labels but smaller bottles. Their first wave of bottled beers comprises Brave New World, a potent, murky IPA (7.4%), Red Eye Flight mocha porter (7.4%) and In The Dark We Live black IPA (7.2%). Their Long White Cloud American pale ale (5.6%) is part of Aldi's Scottish Beer Festival, which launched yesterday so hopefully there's still some left. 
Tempest have also recently released Unforgiven, a 5.4% smokey red rye ale with as much attitude as the Man With No Name.
No surprises at the aroma. Its sweet campfire smokiness with tart gooseberries and bark. Pouring gives you a clear and deep amber, the colour of dying embers, with a light tanned head.
But the taste is surprising. It's shockingly alive and complex, and difficult for anyone who's not a fan of smokey beers. The smokiness, obviously, is dominant but there's a lot more going on, fruits, spices and salt. The initial hit is peppery and exciting, like a gun battle in your mouth. There's something sweet there too, like vanilla or caramel or wafer biscuit, but, like a shooting star in the night sky above you, it's away in a moment.
And then there's a sourness, almost bloody, and a gentle sweetness of nectarines; light hops bring the notion of a soft breeze carrying the scent of those loch-side reeds near to where you sit by your campfire. It finishes slowly, bitterly and dryly.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Beer Review: Celia gluten-free lager by Zatec Brewery

Celia gluten-free lager
Celia gluten-free lager
The Czech people and beer go back a millennium or thereabouts, so they've got a slightly different take on what makes craft beer. But it's nice to see them also cater to modern trends, in this case the rise and rise of gluten intolerance. 
Zatec brewery in the town of Zatec in the north-east of Czech Republic has a bit of history. Hop cultivation and brewing in the area goes back some 1000 years, but the brewery itself is a relative newcomer, mashing its tuns for the first time in 1801. It opened due to growing demand: the town's four other breweries couldn't cope with the locals' need for beer!
The brewery - built inside the town's castle walls - suffered during the era of Communism, and in 1991 it was bought over, lavished with investment and has thrived since, recognising that the global market is vital for breweries in a country where beer is cheaper than drinking water.
Among Zatec's core range of bottled beers is its gluten-free lager Celia. This beer won the Best Gluten Free Beer prize at the 2013 FreeFrom Food Awards, and, to be fair, stands up well against your typical lagers, so isn't just for coeliac sufferers and gluten intolerants.
The aroma is a familiar, rich yet delicate lager malt with a spicy, musky undertone. A shade of earth and drying grass there too.
On tasting, there's a quick crisp and refreshing lager hit that develops into a light-bodied vanilla and caramel biscuit malt character (the malt is sourced locally, and the gluten protein then extracted to less than 0.5 mg/100 ml).
The texture is lively and rich with a refreshing amount of carbonation.
The malt backbone fades abruptly, but not before delivering a wee wave of lemony sweetness then settling down into a surprisingly long finish that also contains some sourness. Though light-bodied, there is enough of a malt character to balance out the local Saaz hops.
And as the photo shows, they do a dark version too. 
Available in some good beer shops and from Premium Czech Beers

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Beer review: Vagabond Pale Ale by BrewDog

Vagabond pale ale by BrewDog
Vagabond pale ale by BrewDog
A couple of pals of mine are or know someone who has gluten intolerance or coeliac disease, which means they really have to watch what they eat and drink. So I did a bit of digging and found this gluten-free beer by BrewDog, as well as a few others, reviews of which will follow over the next couple of weeks ...

Too much good beer can be a bad thing, but only being able to drink bad beer is not good at all. And not being able to drink any beer at all, good or bad, must be murder. About 1% of the population have coeliac disease, which means their bodies can't cope with a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley - used to make malt for beer - and ingesting it can cause a range of symptoms such as headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, fatigue, and in the most extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Consequences far worse than even the most punishing hangover then.
Since the explosion in good beers, gluten intolerants and sufferers of coeliac disease have increasingly found their tastes and needs catered to. And so, due to popular demand, over the next few weeks this column will seek out, review and recommend a few good gluten-free beers, ones worth drinking even if gluten doesn't leave you in a curled up ball of pain.
First off is BrewDog's new beer, Vagabond, a 4.5% Pale Ale that was released as a prototype last year but which has now just joined the brewer's Headliners range. It's in some pretty solid company, and stands alongside mighty beers such as Punk IPA, Dead Pony Pale Ale, Five AM Red Ale, This.Is.Lager. and Brixton Porter.
First off, the aroma is a big blast of grapefruit and pineapple. Maybe some peach in there too. The Centennial and Amarillo hops smell delicious and inviting - pretty much what you'd expect a pale ale from the brewing behemoths at BrewDog.
It pours a lively deep, clear gold with a healthy froth. It looks and smells delicious, and your first sensation on taking a drink is a pleasing hop rush with heaps of bittering - tangerine, grapefruit, resin - that comes in fighting but quickly fades to leave a light-bodied finish with just enough of caramel malt character to satisfy a beer hunger. Towards the end, you're left with a savoury sensation, and a soft dose of grapefuit lingering in the sides of your mouth.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Beer Review: Peat Smoked Ale by Loch Lomond Brewery

It's been a while since the last review on this site, although they've been appearing weekly on The Herald newspaper's website.

Loch Lomond Brewery have gone from strength to strength since launching with just three beers in 2011. Now they've a range of about a dozen beers, as well as a glut of plaudits to hang on the walls of their Alexandria brewery. Their Southern Summit golden ale and Bravehop Amber IPA are particular favourites.
Their newest bottled beer is a special edition release of their perennial Meg's Tail, a moody, broody peaty ale available on cask every January for Burn's night.

With the name Peat Smoked Ale, there's no prizes for guessing the dominant aroma in Loch Lomond's latest beer. The peat is tarry, the smoke black, but you don't have to hunt far to find a balancing honeyed sweetness there too. It pours a clear, medium amber, while the texture is lively and cleansing.
This 5.4% beer takes you on a bit of a journey. Despite the phenolic aroma, it kicks off fairly mild with a malt base of sweet caramel biscuit. You then experience a brief sour rush before being slapped with a big peaty hit. This soon settles into a soft, dry lingering finish that maintains those medicinal notes reminiscent of an Islay malt, leaving you with a long-lasting smokey bitterness at the back of your mouth, like the reek of your clothes the morning after a night round the campfire on Machir Bay. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Beer Review: Space Frontier by To Øl and Brew Fist

Humanity's Final Frontier might be Up There, but breweries down here are still pushing barriers when it comes to making beer. Collaborations, wacky ingredients, new strains of hops and ageing methods are being used by the next generation of enterprising brewers to explore new styles and seek out new tastes, boldly brewing where no brewery has gone before. (Sorry.)

Space Frontier is a bold, newish collaboration between To Øl of Denmark and Brew Fist from Italy. One of its ingredients is grape must, a product from wine production comprising grape juice, the skin and seeds. It's something more and more Italian brewers are using as they look to distinguish their country's craft beer culture from a busy and vibrant global marketplace.  

Space Frontier (6.5%) is a strong, bitter (70 IBU) heavy-hopped pale ale that will particularly appeal to the geek in you. Like sci-fi? You'll love the label.

The aroma is sweet, floral hops, soft fruits like peach and light maltiness, as if you were close to, but upwind, of a brewery.

It poured a light straw golden, hazy an opaque, the colour of autumnal heat haze, with a lively dose of carbonation and a healthy head.

It's got a big taste this - the citra and mosaic hops really make their mark. The bitterness grabs you at the back of the throat first, then woos you with notions of grapefruit and lime citrus, a sweetness of dates and juicy fruit gums, and all as if you were standing in the middle of a pine forest ... though still upwind from that nearby brewery.

Each drink wipes clean your palate for a long, stretched-out and slightly sour finish that leaves your mouth tingling. The texture is both lively and smooth. And even with the big-hitting bitterness, the fruity, gloopy syrupy sweetness remains, balancing well with a light biscuit malt backbone and the dry aftertaste at the back of your mouth.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Beer Review: Hefe wheat beer by Stewart Brewing

Stewart Brewing in Edinburgh are one of the champions of Scotland's breweries. Beers like Radical Road and Edinburgh Gold have become established classics, while their Craft Beer Kitchen has opened the brewery to new generations of homebrewers. The beer kitchen also, crucially, lets them experiment and develop new beers. Carrot and coriander anyone?

This time around they've revamped their traditional German-style hefeweizen beer, a style common on the continent but less so here in Scotland, where detractors are turned off by the style's distinctive phenolic and estery flavours. It also, to be fair, has its legions of fans.

Wheat beers are traditionally heavily carbonated and Stewart's Hefe (5.4%) is no different. It pours very lively indeed giving a thick foamy head. Hefe beers are bottled-conditioned so as well as a naturally cloudy glass you're going to get some yeast sediment.

Fittingly, this hefe (it means yeast by the way) opens with an aroma of phenol and esters - that pungent yeast smell typical of wheat beers. So, expect a good hit of cloves and tart citrus, as if you were sniffing a grapefruit while sitting in a dentist's waiting room. There's banana and an ozone freshness loitering there too.

An initial sour hit is briskly followed by a medium bitter and crisp finish, and long distinctively yeasty aftertaste. The clove/grapefruit combo is there, joined by a mild sweetness coming off the malt, bringing balance to the bitterness and helping to retain a graceful texture despite the carbonation - no gaseous belches like you get with some lagers. As the glass goes down, the character of the beer remains fairly constant, with the clove and banana ever-present and the citrus opening up to give you a touch of clementine and hard apricot.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Beer Review: Orkney Porter Arran Bere Whisky Cask Edition by Highland Brewing Company

Whisky beers were quite the thing last year, with even the mighty Tennent's getting in on the act and taking their whisky oak-aged beer global to follow in the footsteps of trailblazers such as Innis & Gunn and Harviestoun. The latter's Ola Dubh is one of the best examples of this style.

It's a difficult drink to get right. The beer - generally a Big Beer - is left to mature in whisky casks for anything up to six months, and in some cases much, much longer. The spirit in the cask infuses with the beer, giving off distinctive whisky characteristics typical of the region. The flavours don't always balance, however, and just because you're a massive whisky buff doesn't necessarily mean you'll like a beer aged in the butt cask of your number one expression.

But you will like the latest creation from Orkney-based Highland Brewery Company. Their Orkney Porter Arran Bere Whisky Cask Edition (10.5%) is truly something special, and it's not without reason that head brewer Rob Hill has such a solid reputation among his peers.

Highland Brewery's whisky beer is a twist on their Orkney Porter. It's been aged for a whopping 18 months in casks that contained Isle of Arran malt whisky, made from bere barley that the distillery sourced from Orkney.

It pours a dark, dark brown with a burnt tan head. The aroma's rich, with smokey chocolate malt aroma, vanilla and rum and raisin ice cream all thrown into the whisky-infused mix.

There's a burst of sensations on that first taste. You can't help but notice the strong alcoholic hit, but there are sweet and peppery flavours there too. The notes present in the aroma carry through, but are richer and more vibrant. The whisky, less its fiery edge, is a constant presence throughout, and towards the end a tart grapefruit joins a finely tuned medley of spices, black cherry and chocolate sweet malts to progress into a long, velvet-smooth, hop-laden bitter finish.

This is a rich, well balanced and deeply complex beer, one that opens up and evolves as you sup your way through it. Savour it, and enjoy with a decent after-dinner dram.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Beer Review: Blood Revenge rye stout by Black Metal Brewery

Black Metal Brewery make strong beer. At 6%, their Will-o'-the-Wisp juniper smoked ale is the weakest of their mighty brood. Their bottles are a sight to behold, too; distinctive, mostly black, think Cthulhu rather than hipster. And when you look at their website, you'll see this isn't some piece of quirky branding; for the two metalheads behind the brewery, the beer and the look are clearly an expression and extension of their own identity. Not many breweries can say that.

They only launched in August last year but already Black Metal Brewery are bashing themselves out a solid reputation. It's early days for them - they're dossing down with Top Out Brewery in Edinburgh at the moment - but over the past six months they've quickly expanded the list of shops, real and online, where you can buy their beers. Late night drinking dens and rock music venues such as Classic Grand, Audio Glasgow and Studio 24 Edinburgh stock them, and they're also appearing at the Great Scottish Beer Celebration in Glasgow on March 12 and 13.

They make three beers at present: Will-o'-the-Wisp, Yggdrasil pale ale and Blood Revenge rye stout (the latter two come in at 6.6%). Of the three, Blood Revenge is the youngest, and what a beast it is. The aroma is a power blast of sweet malt, treacle and spices, with a freshness, like snow falling at night-time, sneaking through. Pour this slowly for a thick, creamy head the colour of sand with the deep, deep black of nothingness below.

With such a hefty malt aroma, you'd expect a foot-stomper of a stout, but Blood Revenge is surprisingly lighter than you'd imagine. A brief tart hit, like the bitterness of unripe plums nicked from your neighbour's tree, then a sweet malt character - vanilla, rich chocolate and toffee apple - before finishing long, dry and bitter. Heaps of hops and a smooth sweetness are held together in its deep, rich, and brooding body. Blood Revenge is a belter of a beer, far more flavoursome and fruity than many more mainstream stouts. Obviously, it's best served cold.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Beer Review: De Mons Belgian abbey beer by Inveralmond Brewery


In the dark dregs of last year, Inveralmond Brewery in Perth brought a bit of winter warmth with the launch of De Mon, the second in their Inspiration series of world beers. While Inspiration No 1 - Sunburst - paid homage to the Czech pilsner, head brewer Ken Duncan looked to the Belgian abbey-style beer for Inspiration No 2.

And whereas Sunburst, with its gentle bittering, floral aroma and crisp finish was ideal for summer drinking, De Mons (6.0%) is one for long nights and smouldering fires, a seat by a big window with seaside views where you can watch the last of the autumn sun kissing the tops of the waves.

De Mons pours straw golden with a malty aroma that carries a light hoppy touch. Initially, there's a sudden sourness and that distinctive estery flavour typical of Belgian and Dutch beers that comes from the type of yeast commonly used throughout the Low Countries. Then you get a big complex rush of sweet flavours - raisins, red grapes, ginger, malt loaf and cloves - before a long medium dry and bitter finish. This might be a Belgian abbey beer, but De Mons does retain a Scottish feel to it, perhaps from the soft Perthshire water.

In the years since they launched in 1997, Inveralmond have built up a solid core range and a solid reputation, with Lia Fail, Ossian and Thrappledouser winning plaudits and prizes. Will De Mons match their success? Who knows. One thing's for sure: Inspiration No 3 has a couple of tough acts to follow.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Scotland's vegan-friendly breweries

The past four beer reviews have focused on vegan beers. Below is a list of breweries in Scotland that can call themselves vegan-friendly; breweries that don't use isinglass during their beer-production process. Isinglass is derived from fish bladder, usually from sturgeon, and is used to help filter the yeast suspended in the beer following fermentation and thereby give drinkers a clearer pint.

While a lot of breweries use alternatives or don't use finings at all, many breweries do use isinglass, so vegans need to be savvy about where they get their beer from.

The reasons for not using isinglass are varied. Some breweries are staffed or owned by vegetarians. Others use finings derived from natural, organic materials. Others prefer bottle-conditioned, unfiltered beer for greater flavour and depth (though some drinkers find the sediment a turn-off). Some breweries declare their vegan-friendly credentials on their labels; others declare it unfiltered purely to warn barstaff and drinkers of potentially hazy pints. Others don't think it worth mentioning.

So, here's a list of the Scottish breweries that have all confirmed their bottled beer is vegan-friendly. Thankfully, it's a great list and vegan drinkers should never feel they're missing out, with many of these breweries' beers available on the high street and the supermarket - though if you can you should always try to support your local independent beer shop!

Ayr Brewing Company
Barney's Beer
Black Isle Brewery
Black Metal Brewery
Burnside Brewery
Cairngorm Brewery
Elixir Brewing Company
Fallen Brewing Company
Innis & Gunn
Islay Ales
Lerwick Brewery
Loch Ness Brewery
Luckie Ales
Mor Brewing
Plockton Brewing
Six Degrees North
St Andrews Brewing
Thistly Cross Cider
Top Out Brewery
Windswept Brewing Company

Wee disclaimer: Such is the ever-changing nature of the brewing world this list does not claim to be definitive, but it's close. This was written early 2015 and is crying out for an update ... 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Beer Review: Kiwheat fruit beer by Cromarty Brewing

In the three years since launching with their delightful Happy Chappy session pale ale, Cromarty Brewing Company have built a solid reputation for producing an accessible yet flavour-packed range of beers (their Rogue Wave pale ale is a particular favourite). Although the majority of their beers are made using isinglass, Cromarty are planning to phase this out. When they do, vegan beer fans should make bottles of Cromarty a regular presence in their fridge.

New Zealand hops feature heavily among their beers, bringing big tropical and citrus notes and heaps of bittering. With such a focus of new world hops, it's hardly surprising the Black Isle-based brewery now produce a beer using kiwi fruit.

Unlike their core range, Cromarty's Kiwheat kiwi wheat fruit beer (5.2%) isn't made with isinglass, and is a must-try for all beer fans, vegan or not. It pours a warm, hazy amber, with a gentle fizz and heaps of citrus character and bitterness coming from the Waimea and Riwaka hops.

First off, it has a tart fruity hit that develops into a playful sweet and sour dance that's like a mouthful of sherbert lemons, wine gums and royal gala apples. But it's not all sharp fruit flavours (you'll find grapefruit there, too), there's an easygoing, slight biscuit, wafer feel from the wheat malts, giving the beer depth and backbone before settling into a long, slightly sour and refreshingly clean and bitter finish.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

India India by Pilot brewing

The third review of the year is another big-hitter, a double IPA from Pilot, one of Scotland's newest breweries and a product of the boom in craft beers and ales.

Pilot of Leith, Edinburgh, began brewing in November 2013 with the ambition to make beers that were different yet drinkable, off-the-wall rather than out-and-out wacky. They launched with a Vienna Pale Ale, a fairly tame precursor of what has since followed. These past 12 months Pilot's adventures in brewing have seen them brew beer with parma violets, seaweed and cocoa nibs.

With their latest brew, Pilot used ingredients including jaggery sugar and fenugreek, putting the India back into IPA and making an educated nod to the history of this style.

The aroma is warm spice and tropical fruit, and these carry through to the taste, which is surprisingly sweet, delicate and welcoming, with washes of passion fruit, liquorice and toffee, before suddenly moving to a medium dry bitterness that lasts and lasts.

You can certainly taste its 8.5% strength, though it's far from harsh or over-powering. Texture-wise, it's lovely. Think mango juice.

India India is complex and sophisticated, a beast of a beer with big flavours, a solid body and a potent hit. It comes in hefty 660ml bottles, making it ideal for sharing.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Easy IPA by Flying Dog Brewery

Easy IPA (4.7%) by FLying Dog Brewery

Continuing January's vegan theme, attentions switch Stateside to the town of Frederick, Maryland and the magnificent Flying Dog Brewery.

Flying Dog celebrate their quarter century this year, and since their maiden flight in 1990 they've brewed a steady series of craft ales, winning over beer lovers in the States and on this side of the Atlantic. Their international acclaim and reputation for good beers was no doubt aided by renegade journalist Dr Hunter S Thompson and his artist chum Ralph Steadman who helped with their branding. It was Thompson who coined their slogan, Good People Drink Good Beer, and it's the indefatigable Steadman whose distinctive artwork adorns their labels. (Thompson was a neighbour of founder George Stranahan - they shared a love of explosives apparently - and introduced him to Steadman.)

Flying Dog's Easy India Pale Ale, packaged in cans, is relative newcomer to these shores. Its aroma is a hefty hit of pine resin along with more delicate notes of spices, apricot, clementine and soft summer berries. It pours straw pale gold with a thick creamy head and light lacing down the glass.

First off, this IPA has a gentle malt flavour - think oat biscuits rather than anything more caramel - and the sweet stone, spices and soft fruit flavours remain as the drink progresses through to a long, dry bitterness that'll have your lips smacking loudly for more, but leave your palate intact.

The canned Easy IPA is a fine beer, and worth trying out if you see it, but it's their Imperial Porter Gonzo (named in honour of Thompson) that you really, really, really must try out. Complex, potent, rich, delicious. It's truly a great. At 9.2%, Gonzo is a beer for savouring rather than swallying. The Easy IPA on the other hand is a session-friendly 4.7%.

With a couple of exceptions - the Black Honey IPA and Pearl Necklace oyster stout - all of Flying Dog's products are vegan.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Vestan West Coast IPA by Heidrun Brewing Co/Drygate

Vestan West Coast IPA 6% by Heidrun Brewing Co.

Rather than having a Dry- or a Tryanuary I've gone vegan for a month.

Beer-wise, having a Veganuary means being a little bit more discerning about what you fill your glass with. Beers that use isinglass, or finings, are out. (Isinglass is derived from dried fish bladder and is used to help filter out the small particles of dead yeast left over from the fermentation process.) Bottle-conditioned craft beers are a fairly safe bet for vegans; mass-produced beers and cask ales less so.

Vestan West Coast IPA is one such vegan-friendly beer, and hails from the Drygate Brewery in Glasgow under the Heidrun label. Bottle conditioned, this powerful IPA proclaims its vegan, unfiltered status on its lo-fi branding, something more breweries ought to consider.

The aroma on Vestan carries a big resin and pineapple hit, thanks to the hefty helpings of Simcoe and Amarillo hops, both hugely popular in American IPAs.

Unlike many IPAs though, Vestan West Coast IPA pours very cloudy and has little carbonation, much like a cask ale. The first taste is a headrush of pine and pineapple, grapefruit, tangerine and new leather, and there is a long, long-lasting bitterness that carries with it hints of pepperiness. At 6%, Vestan is a big, bold and brooding pint, one that's more suited for sharing than for sessions.