As a Scot and a lover of haggis, I was excited to host a Burns Supper yesterday – and decided to bring some Scottish breweries to the table.
Truth be told, I made the decision with a heavy heart as I thought longingly about my Belgian stash. But it seemed wrong to neglect home-grown produce on Burns night.
So I went on a local beer hunt with the following criteria:
– Seek out breweries I hadn’t tried before
– No weak and boring lagers
– No IPAs
– Desirable characteristics: malty, barrel aged, unusual…interesting!
Kudos to the excellent, informative shop assistant at The Good Spirits Co in Glasgow who humoured me, answered my 20 questions and took the time to help me pick out five Scottish breweries.
And while I didn’t set out to pick out super strong beers, that’s what I ended up getting, and there were some real wee gems amongst them. I also learned a bit more about the Scottish breweries on my doorstep along the way.
BLACK CASK EDITION 2, ABV 10.6%
Out of Town
BREWERY: Out of town is a relatively new brewery in Lanarkshire. Interestingly it rarely brews the same beer twice – the Glasgow Porter is its only regular beer. With its other brews, when they’re gone they’re gone. It’s three-strong team of brewers comprises a sales aficionado and two junior doctors – one of whom has a background in biomedical scientist and the other in bakery/cookery writing.
BEER: I chose this imperial stout as it’s aged in 100% Islay Oak for three months. The website proudly states it’s made with “10 different strains of Brettanomyces”. Google told me this is a type of wild yeast that can impact on the fermentation and flavour. It was VERY lively and I made a good old mess, spraying it across the table and floor. I could immediately smell that it may not be to my taste. It was very tart, almost vinegar-like, and though I persevered and tried to love it, it just wasn’t for me. On balance I should mention that four of us shared the bottle and while two of us weren’t keen, the other two loved it. They relished the tartness, said it was surprisingly refreshing for a dark beer and said they’d have it again. I let them finish the bottle!
DARK TERRITORY – STRONG DARK BELGIAN ALE, ABV 9%
Fallen Brewing Co
BREWERY: Fallen Brewing Co is housed in a Victorian railway station building in Kippen, Stirlingshire, continuing the area’s industrial legacy in a somewhat different way. It’s beers are unfiltered and vegan friendly and the brewery offers a core range as well as some really interesting specials including one-off collaborations. It’s got big plans for 2019 with expansion and online sales in the pipeline.
BEER: It’s no secret that Belgian beers are my favourite – so I couldn’t resist choosing a Belgian style ale. I couldn’t find this one on Fallen’s website so I assume this was a one-off. It had that lovely candi-sugar type smell that I associate with Belgian beers. On first sip it was a lot hoppier than I anticipated (“It’s ALE…of COURSE it’s going to be hoppy” said the fiancé as he rolled his eyes at my amateur tasting notes). It was rich and definitely ticked the malty box though.
ROOBARB & CUSTARD, ABV 5%
BREWERY: Fierce is based in Aberdeen, heart of the country’s petroleum industry, and despite only being a few years young it produces 800,000 litres a year and exports globally. It specialises in big flavours that pack and punch and not “being boring”, with a range comprising hoppy, fruity, dark and specials. Watch this space for ten exciting collaborations in 2019 – apparently barrel ageing is part of the plan which has really piqued my interest.
BEER: This is an oaty pale with rhubarb purée, vanilla and some spice. I can usually take or leave fruity beers but this was too unusual not to try as it’s inspired by rhubarb crumble. Serving suggestions are to drink chilled, mulled or with ice cream. The mulled suggestion intrigued me, the ice cream suggestion made my stomach churn (I hated ice cream floats as a child!) so I went for chilled. This beer really took me by surprise…the mouthfeel was so unusual and it really tasted creamy with a tart edge. I suddenly realised what it reminded me of – those little Fruit Salad chewy sweets! Didn’t taste massively boozy despite its 5% ABV and I think it would be really easy to make short work of this on a summer day.
CURTIS THE DESTROYER, ABV 9.6%
Deadend Brew Machine
BREWERY: Deadend Brew Machine is Glasgow based and specialises in small batch artisanal beers. It creates “custom sacch and brett blends” (wild yeast references again…I really must learn more about those) and the beers are augmented with fruit, spices and foraged ingredients.
BEER: The name sounds like a warning, which is probably wise when you’re handling a 500ml can with such a high ABV. But the strength of this barley wine and the fact its aged in Jamaican rum barrels really appealed to me. While it had a slight head it wasn’t a massively fizzy beer. From first sip you can tell this is high gravity beer and I was blown away but how lovely it was. It gets boiled for over two and a half hours to create delicious toffee and caramel notes and you could really taste those flavours. It was one of the more expensive of all the beers at around £7 a can but well worth it in my opinion. Top marks from me and my favourite of the whole bunch.
Tempest Brewing Co, ABV 10%
BREWERY: This brewing adventure was started by a Scot and a Canadian who honed their brewing skills on a round the world adventure before setting up their own operation in Kelso in the Scottish Borders. After five years they upscaled considerably in a new home in Galashiels where they turned their passion for quality craft beer into an award winning operation. Tempest has produced some really interesting creations (including a stout using oysters) and brews a range of cask beers on a rotational basis.
BEER: This is apparently a reimagined take of that classic cocktail. When I got home I wondered what had possessed me to buy it as I hate ginger, orange flavouring and IPAs. So Tempest’s ginger infused rye and marmalade DIPA was a curious choice. But it’s aged in Kentucky bourbon casks and I do love both bourbon and barrel ageing so I took a calculated risk. And it was well worth it. It was a lovely burnt toffee colour and you could definitely taste the marmalade but it was subtle. It was a beautiful and smooth malt/toffee/vanilla fusion and was a really close contender for favourite of the night. The price point is around £7 and I wouldn’t grudge it for a second. I’d recommend getting your hands on this one before it disappears.
OLD PAROCHIAL – BARREL AGED IMPERIAL SCOTCH ALE, ABV 11.5%
Tempest Brewing Co
BREWERY: (Also Tempest – see blurb above)
BEER: Another from the coveted limited edition range, this one describes itself as “nostalgia and celebration in a bottle”. It’s an imperial Scotch ale aged in Speyside barrels which I thought would be a fitting choice for my Burns night beer tasting. The label artwork is pretty cool and depicts Glasgow’s distinctive architecture. This was a really dark beer with a super sweet smell and taste. It was mega rich, and flavours of molasses and dark fruit mingled with the subtle whisky edge made it reminiscent of a Christmas cake for me! Super rich and indulgent, so you wouldn’t drink bottles of this back to back – one would be just fine. I reckon this would make an ideal dessert beer.