Posts Tagged ‘Orkney’

Beer Review: Orkney Brewery Red MacGregor

2 March, 2008

ON to the third beer from The Orkney Brewry and this one is called Red MacGregor.
Bottle of Orkney Brewery Red MacGregor

Again, I hugely recommend that you read my first review of Orkney Brewery beer because this one sticks to much the same formula for the label. And if beers from Quoyloo, Stromness in the Orkney Islands particularly interest you, don’t forget my recent review of Orkney Dark Island.

This bottle, like so many others, is 500 millilitres, so have a pint glass ready. At 4% volume, this bottle will also give you 2.0 of your government approved alcohol units. The front reveals that this is a Ruby Ale. To date, I’ve only had one ruby ale from Wychwood. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but it was still quite good. So I approach Red MacGregor with curiosity.

Also on the front label, below an illustration of waves lashing a cliff face is the every helpful ‘authenticity stamp’. Why is it I only see these on Scottish drinks? On that ‘stamp’ is a concise description of the drink: “An intensely hoppy, ruby red beer with a delicious, delicate aroma and a rich, rewarding palate.”
Orkney Brewery Red MacGregor front label

The rear label too, as all Orkney Brewery beers do, expands on this. This is useful, as it gives something to judge it by. Words it uses to describe the smell include “floral”, “fruity”, “toffee” and “caramel”. That’s a box of Quality Street, isn’t it? For the taste, words it uses include “malt” (three times in fact) and “spicy hop”. People who know their ruby ale, write in to say if that sounds right to you.
Orkney Brewery Red MacGregor back label

Also on the rear label is mention of an accolade of note. This was apparently the first Scottish beer to win the BIIA World Cask Beer Gold Medal. As with Orkney’s other beers, this is award winning. And even better, we know what award it’s won. Very good, Orkney.

Poured into a glass, we get a good creamy, frothy head. Not over the top however. This is a well behaved head. In colour, you can just about call it ‘red’ or ‘ruby’. But only just. It’s not as red as perhaps I had been expecting.
Orkney Brewery Red MacGregor in a glass

When it comes to smell, it is as complicated as I like my ales to be. I can’t dispute all the things that they claim to be in there. But to my untrained nose, what I can smell is malt, hops, and a hint of flowers and fruit.

Now the most important parts; taste and drinkability. It’s bitter and malty. But a different bitterness and maltiness to other bitter and malty beers that I’ve reviewed recently. It’s not gassy in case that’s something that bothers you. What this brings is a stronger, more lingering aftertaste. And a tiny hint of fruits.

This isn’t bad at all. The quality of the ingredients and the case that went into it are all in evidence. Probably because I’m not a big fan of ruby ale and the bitterness that goes with it, I couldn’t call it outstanding. If however, you love your ruby, I can heartily recommend it. For me though, I’ll have to learn to love ruby ale with a few more examples.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Orkney Red MacGregor? What did you think?
Can you recommend any other Ruby Ales?
What sort of people drink Ruby Ale? Are you one? If so, what sort of person are you?
Comments in the usual place please…

Beer Review: Orkney Brewery Dark Island

27 February, 2008

Time to move on to our next Scottish beer, and it’s another one from The Orkney Brewery. This time, a Dark Ale called Dark Island. Again at a typical price from my local Tesco.
Bottle of Orkney Brewery Dark Island

As you can see, the everything looks much the same as it did on their excellently designed Northern Light pale ale. I strongly recommend you read my review posted yesterday of Northern Light, because everything on the outside of the bottle is much the same.

The front label this time features a stunning graphic of a circle of standing stones. Nothing sums up the monolithic history of our islands more than this type of images. Whether our monolithic ancestors drank ale however is unlikely. Around the 4.6% volume mark, we are told that this is a Dark Ale. Never having had dark ale, I had no idea what to expect. Apart from darkness. On the ‘authenticity stamp’ I liked so much, we are told to expect a “full bodied malt character”. From my recent experience with Leffe, malt is good.
Orkney Brewery Dark Island front label

The rear label is helpfully laid out in the same way as with Northern Light.
Orkney Brewery Dark Island back label

Orkney Brewery also dodge the puddle trodden in by countless other brewers. We are actually told what awards this beer has won instead of just a vague reference. In this case, Dark Island twice won CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Scotland. I don’t know what CAMRA is, but it sounds prestigious and official enough to impress me.

Again on the rear label, we are helpfully treated to their flowery description of what to expect “on the nose” and “on the palate”. Their take on the smell includes “bitter chocolate, figs, toffee and hints of fruit”. And how they think it will taste of “coffee-and-chocolate”, “figs, dates and dried fruits” and an after taste of “fruit and hop bitterness”. That is a lot by which to judge this ale. Let’s see how it does…

Poured into a glass, I’m struck by just how dark this ale is. And how white the head is.
Orkney Brewery Dark Island in a glass

I’d say that Dark Ale is just another name for Stout. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that yes, it is stout. That poses a challenge, because I’m not a big fan of stout. That said, I’m always willing to give dark ale/stout a chance.

The smell is just as complex as the label suggests. But I would say, it smells more of burnt malt than chocolate. But if you want to call it chocolate, toffee and figs, I won’t argue. Just go in prepared for it to smell like a stout and you wont be surprised.

As for the taste. Well… It’s a stout. It tastes as a stout should taste. It’s smooth. It has that burnt malt taste that stout has. It is bitter. As someone who isn’t really a stout drinker, what more can I say? It’s not bad though. It’s not so strong as to be difficult to drink. It is quite tasty, even though the bitterness was still putting me off.

Overall, this isn’t bad. In fact, it’s probably very very good, only I can’t see it because I’m not a dark ale/stout drinker. I’ve got to ask Orkney Brewery all the way up in Quoyloo to replace the words Dark Ale with Stout so that ill-informed people, like me, won’t get something they’re not expecting. Try it yourself, but only if you like stouts. Or if like me, you’re trying to develop a tolerance for stouts.

Rating: 3.25, but probably much higher if you like Dark Ale/Stout

Have you tried Dark Island? What did you think? Do you have a favourite Dark Ale/Stout that I should try?

Beer Review: The Orkney Brewery Northern Light

26 February, 2008

Time to try the next in Tesco’s batch of Scottish beers. And this time, it is a beer from The Orkney Brewery. This one is called Northern Light. And here is a picture of the 500 millilitre bottle.
Bottle of Orkney Brewery Northern Light

The front label does a lot of good things. The “5000 years in the making” tagline and a graphic of the sea lashing a shore do a fair job of conjuring up images of the Orkney isles and their long past. This it enhances by saying, with pride, that it hails from Quoyloo. I’ll take their word for it that it’s the name of an Orkney settlement. Either that or it’s a massive joke on the rest of us.

Another thing I like about the label is the text “Hand crafted in small batches”. Knowing that you’re drinking something exclusive is normally a bonus with ale. Around a circle giving the volume (a low/”light” 4%) we are also told that this will be a pale ale. Now I’ve only tried one other pale ale and wasn’t keen on it. But, this one is from Orkney so it’s probably made by people so toughened by the elements, they will live through the next ice-age while wearing a T-shirt. With that in mind, I’m willing to give pale ale another try.
Orkney Brewery Nothern Light front label

Another good addition to the front label is ‘stamp’ and ‘signature’ proving the Orcadian authenticity of the ale. This looks familiar to me. There was something similar on the Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer. I happen to think that it’s a good addition to Scottish ales. Something that differentiates it from ales produced elsewhere in Britain. Rather helpfully for me, that ‘stamp’ also describes the drink: “A pale citrus-character beer with a subtle malt backbone and zesty hop flavour.” How close will it come to matching that? We’ll see shortly…

The rear label doesn’t disappoint either.
Orkney Brewery Nothern Light back label
There is an exceptionally large amount of information and advice crammed in here. Fortunately, not overdone or cramped. They get away with it by laying it out smartly. Another very nice touch is describing the smell and flavour under two headings; “One the nose” and “On the palate”. In-between the marketing babble, you can even make out some useful information about it. The experience was a bit like reading a wine bottle label however.

Also on there is what reads like a Tourist Board advertisement for Orkney. Probably aimed at overseas drinkers who have this imported, it seemed superfluous to me. But maybe that’s because I’m from another ancient, rural corner of the British Isles myself and look out for this sort of thing. One thing is for sure, you’re not short of reading material with this bottle.

Poured into a glass, it is dark gold in colour with a thin but level head. The bottle described it as “straw-coloured”. I’m not sure about that. But it was gold-ish. And cloudier than many a brew.
Orkney Brewery Nothern Light in a glass

According to the bottle, it should smell of fruits and hops. To my poorly trained nose, I can’t disagree. It reminds me a little of Badger Golden Glory, but toned down a lot. Whatever it smells of, it certainly smells appealing. And complex. Always a good sign.

To summarize the essay worth of description on the bottle, we are to expect fruitiness, maltiness, hoppiness and balance from the taste. Let’s see how it does…

The first thought to hit me after the first gulp was “That was strong! And not what I was expecting!” The sour aftertaste caught me off guard. After several more gulps, I think I’ve figured it out. The flavours in there are mostly the malt and hops plus the fruit. Which is a well tried and tested combination. It is slightly bitter, but after the first couple of glugs, it passes and you no longer notice it.

At the start of the bottle, I didn’t think I’d like it. Toward the end, I was growing to like its taste and appreciate the effort that went into it. You can’t accuse it of not being easily drinkable. This is yet another full-bodied ale that disappears all too soon.

That said, the taste does take getting used to. At least it does if you’re not a fan of Pale Ales. If you’re not, you might want to give this a miss. If like me, you’re indifferent, it is worth a try.

Rating: 3.75, but more if you like Pale Ales

Have you tried Northern Light? What did you think of it?
Any recommendations of your own? Comments in the usual place, people.


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