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.