Tastings School - Scotland's new national drink

Tastings School

From basics to more advanced topics, the Beer School has all the info to expand your knowledge and enjoyment of your beers, ales and lagers.


Scotland's new national drink

The opportunity to drink a few beers in Scotland has Alastair Gilmour on a ‘high'.

Scotland has never been short of entrepreneurs, innovators and freethinkers.

Originality colours the national psyche – consider that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, John Logie Baird developed television, John Boyd Dunlop discovered the pneumatic tyre and Shir Sean Connery perfected the shpeech impediment.

Enterprise has coursed through the country’s veins since William Wallace cried freedom, Robert Burns introduced timorous beasties and Archie Gemmell scored football’s greatest goal.

Beer-wise, the names McEwan, Younger, Deuchar, Dryborough, Usher and Tennent are forever associated with resourcefulness and ingenuity – and history is on the point of repeating itself. The Williams brothers have broken new ground in Alloa with innovative products headed by Fraoch Heather Ale, and the offshore brewers – Orkney, Arran, Isle of Skye, Hebridean and Highland – prove that isolation doesn’t mean stagnation.

Scottish brewers have once again become serious players in the national game with Atlas Latitude Highland Pilsner, Cairngorm Trade Winds, Stewart Pentland IPA and Black Isle Yellowhammer joining the best beers that Britain can offer. Arran Brewery’s Red Squirrel marks a new thrust for the company’s managing director Gerald Michaluk and production director Hilary Jones – a case of one previously endangered species protecting another.

Sulwath Brewery in Dumfries & Galloway continues to explore beyond its native South West Scotland with a range of ales (that includes the roguish, caramel-lashed Knockendoch) which have had a big influence in its Castle Douglas base being crowned Scotland’s Food Town.

So, it’s onwards and upwards. Some things look good on paper, but two-and-a-half hours of sweaty slog revealed drinking lager on top of a Perthshire mountain was a daft idea. But if this is Schiehallion the mountain it has to be Schiehallion Lager from Harviestoun in Alva, Clackmannanshire.

Later, breathing normally, I sat on the boulder-strewn summit 3,447 feet above sea level sipping contentedly in utter silence and gazed at the sunny glint of Loch Rannoch basking dizzyingly below at an hour when most folks were at work. Now who’s the daft one?

Award-laden Schiehallion Lager is a wonderfully aromatic refresher with a distinct whiff of floral Hersbrucker hops marking its passage. Schiehallion the mountain is a muchloved peak due to its “beached whale” shape and its translation from Celtic as “the fairy place of the Caledonians.” Scientific experiments into the mass of the Earth in 1774 led to the concept of S mapping mountains by contour lines. And all without the aid of a bottle of lager.

Stuart Cail, Harviestoun’s head brewer, says: “Schiehallion’s hop profile is interesting in that all the varieties used – Challenger, Hersbrucker and Styrian – are becoming more difficult to obtain.

“The hopping rate is about one kilogram per barrel which, with hop prices they are now, has been... interesting. Currently, it’s our second-best seller behind Bitter & Twisted, selling around 1,500 barrels a year.” The German Hersbrucker variety was originally selected by Harviestoun founder Ken Brooker as a piece of calculated whimsy. Herr Brooker wasn’t daft either. The barley wine he created as Old Engine Oil has been developed into the whisky caskmatured Ola Dubh with the entire first production run snapped up by an American distributor.

“It’s been an incredible success internationally,” says Harviestoun managing director Chris Miller. “It’s all positives with our other beer at the moment as well. Ola Dubh is now in Japan, Scandinavia, Canada and America and we’re releasing the latest expression soon.” On the west coast, the Fyne Ales brewery sits right at the end of Loch Fyne – the longest sea loch in Scotland – coddled in a former farm buildings among magnificent mountain majesty and spectacular shoreline rockery. The view is breathtaking; the beers live up to their surroundings and, with the world-renowned Loch Fyne mussel and oyster fishery close by, it’s little wonder that Tuggy (Anastasia) and Jonny Delap moved from Hampshire to the estate her greatgrandfather Sir Andrew Noble, a Tyneside engineering tycoon, bought in 1907.

“The brewery is in the old milking parlour,” says Tuggy. “In 1992 we decided we’d have to do something with it; we thought again in 1998 when someone wanted to use it as a smokehouse, but that didn’t happen.

Then in 2000 we thought we’d really better do something before it fell down.

“My husband Jonny and the boys – we have two sons – were sitting having a pint when I said ‘let’s make it into a brewery’, but they thought at first it was mummy having another of her ‘funny 10 minutes’.

“We started to brew in 2001 and after only two months got gold medals for Highlander and Maverick from the Society of Independent Brewers.” In Edinburgh, in the meantime, a beer brewed to be poured down the drain was becoming a market darling.

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer is a development from a process instigated by William Grant Distillers where beerinfused oak casks are used for its Ale Cask Reserve Whisky. The idea is that beer and whisky’s complementary characteristics are joined in holy matrimony.

In 2001 Dougal Sharp, then head brewer at Caledonian Brewery, was approached by Grants (owners of Glenfiddich) to help with the project.

Dougal brewed a beer specifically designed to leave the desired characteristics in the American oak casks before they were filled with whisky.

At the end of a 77-day infusion the flavours of both whisky and beer had been completely transformed. Not only had the whisky taken on a new dimension, but the beer had spun off at a tangent that Dougal describes as “a unique alchemy.” Until this had been discovered, the whisky had moved on to its laying down stage and the beer disposed of.

“Literally poured down the drain,” says Dougal. “I asked for some samples, not thinking that anything would come of it – and it tasted fabulous.” (He was beaten to it by some perceptive distillery workers who had been taking the “waste” home.) Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer is steeped in vanilla and toffee aromas with hints of orange stretching an oaky palate to its limits – and it seems that women have been particularly smitten by its wine-like qualities and continental je ne sais quoi.

Using wooden casks for storage is an ancient practice, notably mentioned in the Bible. In chapter 17, verse 14, of the First Book of Kings, there is a reference to a barrel of meal; and in chapter 18, verse 33, to four barrels of water. Then, somebody serendipitously put 17 and 18 together, made beer, and so ended the first lesson.

In Perth, the 12-year-old Inveralmond Brewery plans to expand into new premises by mid 2009 to cope with increasing demand. Its flagship bottled beers, Ossian and Lia Fail, are not only thrilling aficionados nationwide but in northern Norway.

Rune Hagen, a professor at Tromso University, says: “We were very happy to find two Inveralmond ales at one of our local outlets. Lia Fail is perfect for the dark season here; it’s rich in roasted malt with a warming taste of caramel, dark chocolate and a delicious bitter ending.” Also expanding is the Highland Brewing Company in Kirkwall, Orkney, with a huge investment in a new brewhouse and a swanky visitor centre at its Swannay Brewery.

Owner, brewer, van driver and head bottle-washer Rob Hill says: “It’s our focus for 2009 and 2010. The building is superb, complete with a courtyard to keep the wind out.

“Our Orkney IPA recently became the fastest-ever selling beer at the Newcastle Arms in Newcastle. It was on sale alongside 12 others and sold out in an amazing one hour and 10 minutes. Their previous record was an hour and 30 minutes – and that was a free bar at a wedding.” Today’s fastest movers, however, are James Watt and Martin Dickie – collectively BrewDog – who, in July last year overtook Harviestoun as Scotland’s largest independent brewery after a mere 15 months in existence.

It takes skill to push the recipe book to its outer limits and imagination to break into tough markets, but this can only be sustained if the end product stacks up. BrewDog stacks. Its turnover has passed the £1m mark; Punk IPA is now listed nationally by Tesco; Paradox, a beer matured in whisky casks, won the 2008 Beer World Cup in the strong ales category – and the company has won several business awards for entrepreneurship.

BrewDog has its base in an industrial unit in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, an unromantic location typified by the town’s Love Lane which is indicated by a sign spelling out One Way Street.

BrewDog, though, is heading places.

Martin and James have been friends from school days in the town and shared student life in Edinburgh before pursuing separate careers – Martin in brewing for two years at Thornbridge in Derbyshire where he worked on the award-winning Jaipur IPA and St Petersburg Imperial Stout, and James in a law and economics job that lasted two days before it dawned that fishing the North Sea was a better option.

“Edinburgh was where we learned about brewing beer in a different way and selling it in a way that would have wider appeal,” says Martin. “It was a dream to have my own brewery and now the only thing holding us back is our imagination.

“This is no pretension, we’re all about making futuristic beer. We’ve got 12 now and we’re running 24 hours, five days a week.” Brewing capacity is 10 barrels (1,600 litres) in a tight-fit plant where eight impressive, 200 hectolitre conical fermentation vessels and three, 100 hectolitre conditioning tanks feed a 12- head bottling line that can fill 2,700 units an hour, 30,000 a day, three times a week.

The fact that the brewhouse lies within spitting distance of the heaving North Sea is of no consequence but many a company would make great virtue – or indeed pretence – out of misty oceans, salt-tanged zephyrs and bladder-wracked rockpools unleashing fragrances of iodine into their beer/whisky/bread/marmalade. BrewDog would rather be “a beacon of nonconformity in an increasingly-monotone corporate desert”. Using raucous American and New Zealand hops with Scotland’s finest malted barley, the end product is wrapped in striking design work that sings “passion” – a deliberate ploy paying dividends.

Around 95 per cent of BrewDog production is in bottle, with 80 per cent of that for export to the United States, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France and Japan, but the Tesco business will bring the percentages closer to a 50-50 split.

Martin apologises for the absence of business partner James who is out in the North Atlantic on the fishing boat owned by his father.

“He’s away until the end of the month while they catch their full quota of mackerel for the year,” he says. “He’s got our IPA on board – we put it in whisky barrels that had previously been used for maturing beer and it’ll have been at sea for nearly 10 weeks before we release it. It won’t turn out the same as the old IPAs journeying to India and going through all the temperature differences at sea, but I suppose there aren’t many mackerel in the Indian Ocean either.

“Next we’re looking at a super premium beer produced four times a year with a limited release and a conceptual beer brand made only once, bottle-conditioned in a champagne bottle with very minimal slick packaging.” This joins a black lager called Zeitgeist, a wheat beer called Chaos Theory, the cranberrylaced Tokyo and the sassy Trashy Blonde in the BrewDog portfolio. Zeitgeist’s name and labelling were developed by fourth-year art students in Dundee.

It looks like port in the glass, is deeply fruity with some liquorice in the flavour, a little stewed coffee and a lot of extra-ripe raspberry. It’s a beer with a sense of time and place.

A 12.5% ABV barley wine has been blended with the help of Mikkeller Bryggerie in Denmark. Its owner Mikkel Borg Bjergso refers to himself as a “gypsy brewer” who leases space in breweries to hand-craft inventive beers that fit snugly with the BrewDog ethos. It’s in effect a dual carriageway, a Love Lane with two-way traffic.

Scottish brewing has shaken itself in recent years with fresh ideas and a quake of innovation. With a future securely in the hands of Dickie, Williams, Delap, Cail, Hill et al, Archie Gemmell can finally hang up his boots.

The breweries
Garve, Ross-shire IV23 2QT
Tel: +44 (0)1854 633 306
CHOICE ALE Beinn Dearg Ale (3.8% ABV)
Brodick, Isle of Arran KA27 8DE
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 353
CHOICE ALE Blonde (5.0% ABV)
Kinlochleven, Argyll PH50 4SG
Tel: +44 (0)1855 831 111
CHOICE ALE Latitude (3.6% ABV)
Dunbar, East Lothian EH42 1RS
Tel: +44 (0)1368 862 734
CHOICE ALE Belhaven Best (3.2% ABV)
Munlochy, Ross-shire IV8 8NZ
Tel: +44 (0)1463 811 871
CHOICE ALE Yellowhammer (3.9% ABV)
Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire
AB43 8UE
Tel: +44 (0)1346 519 009
Broughton, Biggar,
Peeblesshire ML12 6HQ
Tel: +44 (0)1899 830 345
CHOICE ALE Greenmantle Ale (3.9% ABV)
Aviemore, Highlands PH22 1ST
Tel: +44 (0)1479 812 222
CHOICE ALE Trade Winds (4.3% ABV)
Edinburgh EH11 1PH
Tel: +44 (0)131 337 1286
CHOICE ALE Deuchar’s IPA (3.8% ABV)
Glasgow G42 9HB
Tel: +44 (0)141 649 0184
Sligahan, Isle of Skye IV47 8SW
Tel: +44 (0)1478 650 204
CHOICE ALE Skye Ale (4.1% ABV)
Sauchie, Clackmannanshire FK10 3JR
Tel: +44 (0)1259 722 020
CHOICE ALE Original (3.8% ABV)
Prestonpans, East Lothian EH32 9BE
Tel: +44 (0)1875 819 922
CHOICE ALE Prestonpans IPA (4.1% ABV)
Kirkcaldy, Fife KY1 2SN
Tel: +44 (0)1592 646 211
CHOICE ALE Featherie (4.1% ABV)
Cairndow, Argyll PA26 8BJ
Tel: +44 (0)1499 600 120
CHOICE ALE Avalanche (4.5% ABV)
Glenfinnan, Inverness-shire PH37 4LT
Tel: +44 (0)7999 261 010
CHOICE ALE Gold Ale (4.0% ABV)
Alva, Clackmannanshire FK12 5DQ
Tel: +44 (0)1259 769 100
CHOICE ALE Bitter & Twisted (3.8% ABV)
Stornoway, Isle of Lewis HS1 2RA
Tel: +44 (0)1851 700 123
CHOICE ALE Islander Strong Premium
(4.8% ABV)
Birsay, Orkney KW17 2NP
Tel: +44 (0)1856 721 700
CHOICE ALE Orkney Best (3.6% ABV)
Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire AB31 4RY
Tel: +44 (0)1339 883 506
CHOICE ALE Brude (3.5% ABV)
Houston, Renfrewshire PA6 7EN
Tel: +44 (0)1505 612 620
CHOICE ALE Killellan Bitter (3.7% ABV)
Perth, Perthshire PH1 3UQ
Tel: +44 (0)1738 449 448
CHOICE ALE Ossian Ale (4.1% ABV)
Bridgend, Isle of Islay PA44 7NZ
Tel: +44 (0)1496 810 014
CHOICE ALE Finlagan Ale (3.7% ABV)
Tobermory, Isle of Mull PA75 6NR
Tel: +44 (0)1688 302 830
CHOICE ALE Island Pale Ale (3.9% ABV)
Uig, Isle of Skye IV51 9XP
Tel: +44 (0)1470 542 477
CHOICE ALE Hebridean Gold(4.5%ABV)
Barrhead, East Renfrewshire
G78 1QB
Tel: +44 (0)141 881 2138
CHOICE ALE Red Smiddy (4.1% ABV)
Pitlochry, Perthshire
PH16 5EL
Tel: +44 (0)1796 472 196
Ale of Atholl (4.5% ABV)
Glenkindie, Aberdeenshire
AB33 8SX
Tel: +44 (0)1975 641 288
Gartly Nagger (4.2% ABV)
Quoyloo, Stromness,
Orkney KW16 3LT
Tel: +44 (0)1856 841 802
Dark Island (4.6% ABV)
Isle of Seil, Oban PA34 4RQ
Tel: +44 (0)1688 302 830
CHOICE ALE Easd’ale (3.8% ABV)
Plockton, Ross-shire IV52 8TP
Tel: +44 (0)159 544 276
CHOICE ALE Crags Ale (4.3% ABV)
Loanhead, Midlothian EH20 9LZ
Tel: +44 (0)131 440 2442
CHOICE ALE Pentland IPA (4.1% ABV)
Strathaven, Lanarkshire ML10 6PB
Tel: +44 (0)1357 520 419
CHOICE ALE Clydesdale (3.8% ABV)
Castle Douglas, Dumfries & Galloway DG7 1DT
Tel: +44 (0)1556 504 525
CHOICE ALE Criffel (4.6% ABV)
Bandeath, Stirlingshire FK7 7NP
Tel: +44 (0)1786 817 000
CHOICE ALE Ben Nevis Organic (4.0% ABV)
Innerleithen, Peeblesshire EH44 6PW
Tel: +44 (0)1896 830 323
CHOICE ALE Bear Ale (5.0% ABV)
Larbert, Stirlingshire FK5 4AT
Tel: +44 (0)1324 554 000
CHOICE ALE Brockville Dark (3.8% ABV)
Unst, Shetland ZE2 9DX
Tel: +44 (0)1957 711 658
CHOICE ALE White Wife (3.8% ABV)
Alloa, Clackmannanshire FK10 1NT
Tel: +44 (0)1259 725 511
CHOICE ALE Fraoch Heather Ale (4.1% ABV)
Failford, South Ayrshire KA5 5TF
Tel: +44 (0)1292 540 117
CHOICE ALE Priest’s Wheel (4.3% AB