Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Beer Review: Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer

2 February, 2012

IF you’re reading this, chances are that you’ve also read my ancient Innis & Gunn Original Oak Aged Beer ‘review’. And judging by the comments, you loved it as much as I did. So, here it is again…

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask bottle

Or is it? At first glance, it looks nearly identical to its Scotch inspired cousin. The same little bottle with much the same labels. Examine it a little closer however, and you realise that this is going to be a different type of first-class beverage. That comparing this to its cousin would be like comparing a Gieves & Hawkes suit to hedge fund. That said, I did purchase both (the Innis & Gunn beers, not the tailoring or investments) from Tesco at well under the £2 mark.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask neck label

Oak ageing is to be encouraged. In fact, so enthusiastically have they been encouraged by Innis & Gunn’s lead, that other brewers now make similar ale. Which means that Innis & Gunn is no longer “Oak Aged Like No Other Beer”.

Assuming you didn’t notice the different colour (which I didn’t); it’s only when you reach the main front label that you notice the difference. Not even I missed the fact that this beer was oak aged in rum casks.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask front label

To its credit, practically everything you want to know about ‘Rum Cask’ is right there on the front labels. Including that it’s “Brewed In Small Batches” and “Hand Crafted Scottish Beer”. Helpfully, they even print basic tasting notes. In this case (or should that be ‘cask’), they describe it as “Fully Bodied Scottish Beer Bursting With Fruity And Spicy Notes”. Experienced ale drinkers will think that looks like the tasting notes for hoppy English ale. Is that what it tastes like?

Down here, we spot another important difference between Rum Cask and Original.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask lower front label

Original was matured for 77 days. Rum Cask here was matured for 57. Are those missing twenty days important? If you think they are, then you know what to do in the comments section at the end of this post.

Rotate the bottle one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, and you find a neat little semi-transparent rear label.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask back label

It begins with a helpful blurb. From this blurb, we learn that Innis & Gunn have been experimenting with variations on the theme of oak barrel maturation. That this one, Rum Cask, is one of their favourites. Apparently, they use American oak and rum infused oak. And that this “has impoarted this beer with a delicious warming character that is bursting with fruit and lively spiciness”. That sounds delicious on a cold winter’s night like this one. But I can’t help wondering if they’ve inadvertently re-invented the hoppy English ale. Whatever the case, I can hardly wait to find out.

Next, they helpfully suggest a serving temperature. In this instance, between 4 to 6 degrees C. I guess that equates to room temperature in my cold London flat. Americans and Australians, you might want to store it in a refrigerator during the summer months. It’s also worth pointing out how blindingly obvious it is to put serving temperatures on an expensive bottle of ale. So obvious, that most brewers don’t. So well done Innis & Gunn for being user-friendly.

Even further down the back label are the vital statistics and small-print. First, the alcoholic volume which is a hearty 7.4%. In this 330 millilitre bottle, that equates to 2.4 UK units of alcohol. Or in the vicinity of half of what doctors say you can safely drink per day.

Next, there’s Innis & Gunn’s contact information. For the obsessively curious, it gives their Edinburgh address. For the casually curious, it gives their web address of www.innisandgunn.com. On their helpful and interesting website, you’ll find their Rum Cask product page at http://www.innisandgunn.com/the-range/rum-cask.aspx

The last nuggets of useful information on the back label, are that Rum Cask is a “Product of Scotland”. That it is “Strong Beer”. And that it “Contains Barley Malt”. Nothing surprising at all.

So at long last, here is the bit where I open the bottle and use words to describe what the contents smell and taste like. If you scrolled straight down to this bit, I don’t blame you. So, using the wrong type of glass, chilled by my chilly flat, here is Innis & Gunn Rum Cask poured.

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask poured into a glass (out of focus, sorry)

Pouring was a doddle, thanks to a very controllable head. The cream coloured head, once poured, reverts back to liquid within two or three minutes. With other beers, that would be an annoyance. But with Innis & Gunn Rum Cask, it feels more like a feature, designed to make you wait, and savour it properly.

In the glass, the colour will come as no surprise. I’d call it somewhere between red and brown. Not quite copper, but not far from it. What does Innis & Gunn Rum Cask smell like? It’s pungent enough to hit your nostrils during the pour, but working out what it is you can smell is puzzling. The first impression you get is that it smells light and fresh. Some thorough sniffing later, and all I can discern are a sort of fruity vanillaryness. In short, it smells intriguing and delicious.

Abandoning my attempt to understand the odour, I turn my attention to how Innis & Gunn Rum Cask taste. Remembering that the label used words like “warming”, “fruity” and “spicy”, I’m delighted to say that the very first sip delivered precisely those three words. And so does the second sip. And the third. It’s not at all the variation on English hoppy ale that I was expecting. But as with the smell, finding words to describe it within the limits of a single little bottle are difficult. If you’re lucky enough to have had a few of these, add your own insight in the comments below.

To pull this ‘review’ back from that cop out, I’d describe the flavour as being almost absent. There are some very mild hints of savoury, oaky, fruity, initial bitterness. But Innis & Gunn Rum Cask comes alive with the aftertaste, finish and feeling it gives you. It is dominated by a rich, smokey, oaky, somewhat spicy, fruity and mildly bitter finish. Rich and momentarily intense, but not strong, not overly bitter or too long lasting. And yes, after a good few sips, you even I can detect a tiny taste of rum. All of these qualities make for a warming and distinctive drink.

What am I enjoying about Innis & Gunn Rum Cask so far? As you can probably tell, quite a lot. I love how unusual the taste is. It provides a much bigger taste experience than the Scotch based Original. Oversimplifying, it’s taste of oak and rum is unique, as far as I know. The taste matches the bottle label descriptions, which was unexpected. It is rich and warming to drink, which makes it a great autumn and winter beverage. At 7.4%, I’m discovering that this small 330 millilitre bottle is adequately strong for a weekday evening drink. It’s relatively hard to find, which makes it exclusive and makes you look like a connoisseur. And if you can find a supermarket like Tesco that sells it, purchasing it won’t empty your wallet.

What am I disliking about Innis & Gunn Rum Cask? Not much. To pad out this paragraph, only nitpicking really. A sweeter, fruiter flavour could have been welcome. Or any real flavour, for that matter. But it’s hard to see that playing well with the massive aftertaste and finish. It is however, quite dry, and would be a challenge to drink a lot of over a single night. Nevertheless, I’m up for that challenge. Lastly, price and availability appear to depend on chance and where you live.

How can I sum up Innis & Gunn Rum Cask? It turned out to be completely different to the taste of hoppy ale that I was expecting. It delivers everything it promises in the taste and character departments. By loading the aftertaste with rum driven fruitiness and spiciness and oak powered smokiness, it is bonkers in a sophisticated way. Like Timmy Mallett becoming Chairman of the English National Opera. Personally, I loved it. But not everyone will. If you like intense originality, then add Rum Cask to your ‘to do’ list. If you’re not so keen on that sort of thing, wait until autumn or winter, and then give it a try. If you’re timid, then try the Scotch based Innis & Gunn Original and you’ll love that.

Have you tried Innis & Gunn Rum Cask? Then share your opinions, recommendations and places to buy, in the comments section below.

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Beer Review: Caledonian 80/-

14 April, 2008

DO you remember when I recently promised you a break from reviews of Scottish beers? No? Good. Because here is a 500 millilitre bottle of Caledonian 80.

Caledonian 80/- bottle

There’s little to distinguish the bottle of 80, but I like the straightforward approach to the label. Both the little neck label…

Caledonian 80/- neck label

…and the main front label…

Caledonian 80/- front label

…keep the details to a minimum.  To sum up, this was brewed in Eninburgh, Scotland. It was established in 1869 and is described as “Definitive” and “Satisfying”.

Over on the back label, the “80” reference is explained. Specifically, by the “80/-“, which makes this an 80 Shilling beer. It has something to do with the duties charged on different strengths of beer in centuries past. And it’s not the first that I’ve tried. Belhaven 80 Shilling was the first. And… it was ok. Nothing special. But I thought the 80 shilling concept deserved another chance. So here we are.

Caledonian 80/- back label

The label also describes a “rounded maltiness” and “distinctive hop character”. “Crystal malts”, “roast barley” and “complexity of flavours” are also on there, none of which is out of the ordinary. What does stand out, is that the cask version was the inaugural CAMRA Champion Beer of Scotland. And that it’s still brewed in a Victorian brewhouse on direct fired open coppers. What the importance of these things are, I don’t know. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

Also on the back label are the web address at www.caledonian80.com and at www.caledonian-brewery.co.uk. And their Edinburgh postal address. The 4.1% volume isn’t very prominent, but the “product of Scotland” isn’t all that common. And with that out of the way, it’s time to see if this 80/- is better than the last 80/-.

In the glass, it’s quite dark in colour. Looks like a bitter to me. It has a good head on it though. Consistent and creamy in appearance. And it smells good too. A strong whiff of hops and malted-barley is never far away. It’s not very complex, but I like it.

Caledonian 80/- in a glass

A few gulps down, and Caledonian 80/- is rapidly revealing its character. Quirte simply, it’s a bitter. Well, technically it isn’t. And the experts out there will point out all the reasons why this isn’t the case. But to me. And my untrained taste buds, it tastes bitter. The taste is bitter and the after taste is hoppy. But apart from that, there’s no real complexity to the taste. And there’s no wide spectrum of flavours. Disappointing considering what the label promised.

I’m not a fan of plain bitters. But I know that a lot of you out there are. And that means that you might really enjoy Caledonian 80/-. And there’s a lot to like about it too. Even though the flavours are mostly bitter, malty and hoppy, they are done well. It’s not offensive. And it’s easy to drink.

The downsides are that it’s quite weak. The lack of anything beyond the usual flavours make it boring and lacking in character. There are plenty of much more interesting and unusual beers on the shelf to choose from.

The bottom line on Caledonian 80/- is that it’s a decent, if uninspiring ale that’s mostly bitter. If you like your bitter, you should be this a try. As you should if you want to see what this 80 shilling business is all about. But if you’re wanting an interesting, unusual and flavourful bottle, then pick something else. Above average, but not special.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried Caledonian 80/-? Or anything else from the same brewer? What did you think of it?
Comments, suggestions, corrections and insults in the comments box please.

Beer Review: Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale

29 March, 2008

YET another Scottish ale. Yes, I know, you’re probably getting tired of every other review on my blog being of a Scottish beer. I’ll look at some bottles that aren’t from Scotland soon enough, but let’s see if this bottle can’t end on a high note. Bought from Tesco, this is a Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd bottle of Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Beer.
Traditional Scottish Ales Lomond Gold Blone Ale bottle

I’ll be honest with you. I thought that the brewery was called ‘Lomond’ and that ‘Traditional Scottish Ales’ was just a description. But that would be too easy. Instead it turns out that the brewer is called Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd, and that this bottle is called Lomond Gold. Is it only me who was flummoxed by this?

Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale front label

The front label has a big silhouette of what is presumably a Scottish loch. Loch Lomond perhaps? I happen to think the whole label looks a big like those from the Orkney Brewery. Have a look at their Northern Light and Dark Island to see what I mean.

The style of the text is something I like. The deliberately warn down typeface that looks as if it has come straight from the dark ages is a very effective. It gives the impression that ancient Scottish clans might have stopped to drink blonde ale, in-between fighting each other and the Vikings.

This label also has the highest billing yet for ‘Organic’. This is definitely the new trend in beers and ales. Especially as a selling point by the smaller breweries. It’s probably something that we’ll see a lot more of in the years to come. Also there, are the 500 millilitre quantity and the unremarkable 5% ABV.

Over on the other side of the bottle, it’s clear that they have chosen to keep things simple. No long paragraphs describing the history of the brewer or origins of this brew. Just a white background, black text and some gold here and there.
Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale back label

Very helpfully, they start the back label with ‘Tasting Notes’. These are always good fun, to see how near or far the drink actually is to them. The concise little sentence they give us is “Clean sharp and fresh tasting with a hint of citrus and a very satisfying aftertaste”. Sounds yummy.

Also warranting a emboldened line on the back label is the statement “Triple filtered for added purity”. Now that’s not something I’ve read on any other bottle. What are the benefits to filtering so many times? I’m admittedly a beer novice, so if you know, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Under the ‘Ingredients’ heading, the organic credentials are boosted further. Pure Scottish water. Organically grown malted barley and organically grown hops and yeast are all mentioned. The Organic Certification logo is on there. And that this bottle contains 2.5 of your UK units of alcohol. In case that is of any importance to you whatsoever.

Down below the barcode is the contact information. Which is interesting because it tells us that Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd are from Stirling. There’s a telephone helpline. And a web address, which at the time of writing, doesn’t work. Come on chaps. Get your website working before printing the address on the bottle. You’re bottles are being sold at Tesco now. If you care to try it yourself, you might or might not find it at www.traditionalscottishales.com. Changing it to a .co.uk gets things moving. So, you’ll find their website at www.traditionalscottishales.co.uk instead.

After being poured, the ale itself is non-descript. There’s hardly any head to speak of And the colour is a subdued shade of gold. The smell is quite good though. Split roughly 70-30 of malted barley and hops. A good smell for an ale, if you ask me.
Traditional Scottish Ales’ Lomond Gold Organic Blonde Ale in a glass

A couple of gulps in, and I’m not sure what to make of the taste. There’s nothing that jumps out at you. It’s certainly not bad. But it is hard to figure out. This is going to take a few more gulps…

There’s a little bitterness in there. But not very much. If, like me, you don’t care for bitter, you won’t be too put off here. It’s quite clean and fresh in character. This isn’t a particularly big, heavy and daunting drink. Not too gassy either.

The aftertaste is hoppy and slightly sour. But not in a bad way. And yes, there are those hints citrus that were promised on the label. In fact, all the things promised on the label are present. Only not in the ways that I was expecting. The proportions and character of everything is different to what I was expecting. And arguably different to what the label led me to expect.

But is Lomond Gold any good? I’m sure that is it. It simply isn’t too my pernickety tastes. I’m finding it too ‘sharp’ in its bitterness. But then, that was what the label advertised. I’m sure that there will be lots of you out there, with your flat caps, pipes and walking sticks who adore the bitter and malty flavours of the ale world. The organic links will also be of great interest to the pro-museli brigade of Islington. It just isn’t for me.

This leaves me in a quandary for how to sum up Lomond Gold. Traditional Scottish Ales are a relatively new outfit. And I want to encourage new breweries. Lomond Gold will appeal to some people. But not me. I found it boring and lacking the character of the many other ales and beers out there. It does well with the clean and fresh taste and citrus hints. And that is to be applauded. But with so many awesome Scottish ales out there, this needs to try that bit harder to stand out.

Rating: 3.6

Have you tried Lomond Gold? Or any others from Traditional Scottish Ales? If so, leave your thought below.
Or any other ideas, suggestions or insults for that matter.

Beer Review: Broughton Border Gold

29 March, 2008

TESCO keep surprising, with yet more Scottish ales surfacing. And, best of all. One of them is a Broughton. If you haven’t read them already, then make your way over to my reviews of three other Broughton, and you’ll see why I’m so excited. Old Jock Ale, Black Douglas and Champion Double Ale are some of the most consistently outstanding that I’ve reviewed. Each one scoring in the 4-4.5 range. And all from the Scottish Borders Broughton Ales. This one is called Border Gold and I can hardly wait to crack open the bottle and get to the fun part.
Broughton Border Gold bottle

Much the same formula for the bottle and label has been stuck to here as with the three others, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Especially as you really must read my reviews of the other Broughton bottles. The same style of front label features a roundel, sided by illustrations of hops and the Scottish Saltaire. Inside the roundel appears to be a portrait of a female monarch. Mary Queen of Scots perhaps? As usual, it will probably be explained on the story on the other side of the bottle.
Broughton Border Gold front label

Also on the front is something that should catch your eye. An A.B.V of 6.0%. That should make that that this drink is at least strong enough. And it’s something I like about Scottish beers and ales. No compromise on the alcohol front.

Turning the bottle around and the story is where you’d expect it to be.
Broughton Border Gold story side of label

The story behind the front illustration is as tenuous as it was for their other bottles. This one revolves around legend that gold from the streams of the Yarrow Valley, somewhere near the Broughton brewery, was used to make a wedding ring. And that that wedding ring was for Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots. A ha! My historical hunch was right. It is still an undeniably round-about way of printing her portrait on the label of a gold ale.

The second paragraph goes into some detail about the drink itself. According to the label, we can expect a golden colour. A clean and full malt flavour. And a crisp, hop after taste. As usual, it’ll be interesting to see how close that gets to reality.

Over on the other side are the small-print details and barcode. Sadly, it confirms that we’re back to a 500 millilitre bottle. No full pint of drink here unlike some beers. In a small box on this side, it also describes itself as “Organic Ale”. That’s something I’m starting to see on an increasing number of bottles from small breweries. Is that actually appealing to anyone out there?
Broughton Border Gold barcode side of label

The 6.0% volume gives this bottle 3 of your UK alcohol units. And it contains water, malted barley, hops and yeast. That’s it from the outside. Finally, time to try Border Gold.

As you can see, I head a little trouble with the head. Maybe I poured it too quickly. Or the bottle had been shaken. Or it was intended to froth up like that. But a few short minutes after this photo was taken it died down, so it wasn’t a problem.
Broughton Border Gold in a glass

The colour is dark gold. Roughly what was promised. The smell is as complex as I had hoped for. In there are hints of the malt, the barley and the hops. It’s a good mix. And not too overpowering either.

The taste is sharper than I was hoping for. Much more bitter than I was expecting. And it’s not as malty as promised on the label. What does appear as advertised is the ‘hop flower’ aftertaste. Which I found to be rather too sour for my taste.

I’m not sure what to make of Border Gold. I don’t much care for the taste. But those who like bitter probably would do. The quality is again in evidence. Even though I don’t much like the taste, it still manages to be very drinkable. This poses a challenge for the rating.

I’m going to rate this lower than any other Broughton because I couldn’t get over the taste. But it’s still a high-quality, easy to drink ale. This is one for fans of bitter flavours, I think.

Rating: 3.7

Have you tried Border Gold? What did you think?
Comments, ideas, suggestions and insults below please.

Beer Review: Broughton Champion Double Ale

14 March, 2008

WHAT do we have here? It turns out that Tesco was holding back on one of their batch of Scottish ales. Because here, we have another Broughton beer from the Borders. And this one promises to be something special.
Broughton Champion Double Ale bottle

If you haven’t read my reviews of Broughton Old Jock or Black Douglas, then you should do it now. They were both good, and the bottles and labels looked the same at this one. That saves me time on the description here so we can get to the contents faster.

The front label sticks to the ultra-Scottish theme of before. The roundel is surrounded by illustrations of hops and the Saltaire. Unlike Old Jock or Black Douglas however, the centre illustration isn’t as stereotypically Scottish. The medieval knights could be from anywhere. I expect my Scots to be red-haired and wearing tartan.
Broughton Champion Double Ale front label

But look closely enough and you’ll see what makes this one different to the others. Tucked away at the bottom of the front label, it says “Tesco Drinks Awards Best Beer”. That and the 5.5% ABV give the impression that this should be a cut above the rest.

Presumably, the fact that there are two knights, and that this brew is called Double Ale have a connection. Let’s see what the rest of the label says…
Broughton Champion Double Ale back left label

Around left-hand-side of the big label that is wrapped around the bottle, we get the explanation. And it’s a long-one, so allow me to attempt a summary. The two knights on the front label are supposed to be Sir Alexander Ramsey of Dalhousie and Sir William Douglas, Knight of Liddesdale. They were very good at what they did, and were popular with King David of Scotland in the 14th Century.

This legend, Boughton have twisted to explain this, their blend of two beers. Hence the name Champion Double Ale. What they have done is blend a traditional strong Scottish ale with a Porter style ale. Apparently, they brew and ferment them separately, before blending and maturing the result.

They go on the promise drinkability with complex tastes and aromas. I’ll take a guess that the result will be malty, hoppy and unusual. Place your bets now on how close that guess is, because it’s time to open the bottle. Especially as there’s nothing much to note on the other side of the label. Apart from the 2.5 units of alcohol. If that’s something you like to notice.
Broughton Champion Double Ale in a glass

Once in the glass, the head is just where you want it to be. And the colour is about what you’d expect. Not that I really knew what to expect.

The smell is what you’d expect. Mostly of malt and hops. It’s exactly how you’d expect a big old ale to smell. Although maybe not as remarkable as I’d been hoping.

As you’d expect from a split-personality blended ale, the flavour is complex. It’s a big malty. It’s a bit malty. It has a bitterness and sourness to the taste and aftertaste. It has all these things. Yet none dominate the others. And that’s unusual. Because most that I’ve tried have one that towers over the others.

It might not sound it, but Champion Double Ale tastes quite good. Nothing in there is too strong to offend all but the most timid palates. It’s not too gassy. And there’s enough body to fill out its 500 millilitre bottle nicely. Add to that, the easy to drink quality that Broughton do so well, and we’ve got a beer here that is undoubtedly above average. But is it deserving of Champion, Best Beer status?

There is a lot to like about Champion Double Ale. But would I give it a Best Beer award? I’m not sure. There are a lot of special British beers out there. I’m going to say that Champion Double Ale is very very good, but the sour aftertaste puts me off. So I’m going to say that this is excellent, but some people out there will want to look for something easier to drink. I’d give this a very close Runner Up award. But don’t be disappointed Broughton, this is an outstanding ale.

Rating: 4.4

Have you tried Champion Double Ale?
Or any other Broughton ales?
Got any recommendations? Or ideas of your own for what I should talk about next?
Comments in the usual place, people…

Beer Review: Harviestoun Schiehallion Lager Beer

7 March, 2008

THE penultimate Scottish beer of this batch of Scottish beers from Tesco is Harviestoun‘s Schiehallion Lager Beer. After trying Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted a couple of weeks ago, I’m looking forward to Schiehallion. Even if it is a lager.
Harviestoun Schiehallion bottle

For the front label and bottle shape, Harviestoun have stuck to the same formula for Schiehallion as they did with Bitter & Twisted. There’s a clear and well designed roundel. An illustration, this time of mountains and clouds. An ABV of 4.8% which makes this a premium lager. Those tantalising words “Craft brewed in Alva, Scotland” and three clear bullet points about what to expect. That is to say; “Crisp”, “Dry” and “Airy”.
Harviestoun Schiehallion Lager Beer front label

The rear label is also an example of restraint and class. And one that answers all the questions you have after seeing the front. The band across the middle gives us the pronunciation for “Schiehallion”. A name I thought was German. But is in fact pronounced “She-hal-i-on”. If you try saying it with a Scottish accent, it begins to make sense. And yet more sense when you read the description above it. It turns out that Scheihallion is the Scottish mountain of the front label illustration. And the inspiration for this apparently award-winning beer. What award it won, we’re not told.
Harviestoun Schiehallion Lager Beer back label

The information doesn’t stop there however. This one mentions a type of hops that I’ve never seen mentioned on any other bottle. Has anyone ever heard of “Herbsbrücker Lager hops” before? How are they different? Answers in the comments please.

How Harviestoun describe Schiehallion is “crisp, dry and airy” and with a “fresh, grapefruit taste”. Sounds delicious. Let’s see if it actually is.

Other off bits of information on the label include the suggestion that Schiehallion is best straight from the fridge. And that this 500 millilitre bottle has 2.4 of your UK alcohol units. If you’re drinking this in another country, don’t worry about ignoring the “units” symbol. We ignore them too.

Once in a glass, Schiehallion looks and smells lagery. It’s gold in colour and with not much head.
Harviestoun Schiehallion Lager Beer in a glass

And it smells typically lagery as well. There’s no mistaking that waft of hops that you only get with lager. The smell that I think, isn’t as good as with ale.

Now the most important part. The taste. And the question of whether it matches the description on the label. Let’s test…

A couple of gulps down, and it’s tasting as much like lager as it looks and smells. That is to say, it’s utterly lagery. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the number of quality ales I’ve been drinking lately, but all lagers are starting to seem as full-flavoured as an Alka-Seltzer. Or perhaps I’m being harsh on it. It’s not pretending to be anything other than a quality lager.

After you recover from the bitterness that accompanies all lagers, you can begin to appreciate it a little more. The quality does shine through in the drinkability. It’s not too gassy and easy to drink. And I can’t argue with the description of crisp, dry and airy. As for the promised citrus or grapefruit taste, I found it hard to identify. What dominated for me was watery hoppy bitterness. But that’s lager for you. If you know your lagers, you’ll probably be able to pick out exactly what the flavours are.

For me, Schiehallion was nice, refreshing lager. Was it special? I’m not sure if it truly did anything new. But it was a quality lager. And if you like lagers, you’ll probably like this one. If, like me, you’ve been enjoying beers and ales with fuller bodies than Vanessa Feltz, you’ll prefer something that mentions styrian goldings and fuggles on the label.

For these reasons, I’ve got to rate Schiehallion low. But it gains some marks for it’s obvious class among lagers. And if you like your lager, you can add a point or two yourself.

Rating: 3.25

Agree or disagree with my rating?
Have you tried Schiehallion or any other Harviestoun brew?
Any recommendations of your own?
Or ideas of what I should review next?

Share your comments and insults with the world, in the usual place…

Beer Review: Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic Choice Export Ale

5 March, 2008

AFTER taking a day off to recover from several arduous days of beer reviewing, I’m back. And this time, I’m looking at a bottle of Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic choice. Again, this is from the Scottish ale batch being sold by my local Bethnal Green branch of Tesco.
Belhaven 80 Shilling bottle

This front label keeps things relatively simple. Inside the roundel, there’s a picture of a lion. One that looks like a take on the lion from the Royal Standard of Scotland.
Belhaven 80 Shilling Classic Choice Export Ale front label

There’s a discreet “estd.” of “1719” which is very early indeed. Also a hint that this Belhaven is part of a range that they call “Classic Beer”.

On the other side of he bottle, there’s a surprisingly small back label. Surprising when you compare it to the encyclopaedia’s on the back of some of the bottles I’ve looked at recently.

The rear label is headed with “Belhaven 80/- Export Ale”. This baffled me at first, until I realised that “/-” means shilling in old money. Nice quirky touch. This they followed with the reason why. According to the label, shillings were used to categorise beer strength in nineteenth-century Scotland. This beer just happens to be 80, rather than 27 or 7 guineas. Interesting history trivia for a beer label.

Also on there is a little description of what to expect from it. And it’s good news if you’re a fan of fruity beers. This one was one described as “gooseberry pie and cream”. “Kiwi”, “apple”. “walnuts” and “creamy toffee” are mentioned along with more typical “grain” and “hops”. And when they say “take time to savour the flavour”, you know that they think this will be good. We’ll be the judge of that…

On the more factual half of the rear label, we get all the basics. One of which is an unusually low 3.9% volume. Compared to the 5% and above of most other ales I’ve tried recently, this is low. What it means is that this 500 millilitre bottle has just 1.95 units of your alcohol.

With that out of the way, it’s time to see what this ale from The Belhaven Brewery Co. from Dunbar, Scotland, can do. I’m looking forward to this.

Once in a glass, it looks a little darker than I was expecting. Although it’s more transparent than some of the darker and stronger ales I’ve recently reviewed. It also comes topped with a thick and consistent head of foam.

Its smell I would rate as ale-like. Not surprising as that’s exactly what it is. Hops and grain are what comes across in the smell. And as that’s what ale should smell like, in my humble opinion, that gets 80 shilling off to a good start.

Trying to drink it will give you a milk-like moustache. So ready yourself for that. Or don’t care about it. It’s your choice.

As I had almost no idea what to expect from the taste, I was, unsurprisingly, surprised. It wasn’t bitter. It wasn’t fruity. Nor flowery. The apple and kiwi, if they truly are in there, weren’t strong enough for me to notice. As for the promised walnuts and toffee, they don’t jump out at you either. What then, does 80 shilling taste of?

If pushed, I’d say hops and malted barley. Yet neither are much in evidence either. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the ultra-flavourful ales that I’ve been reviewing recently. Or maybe 80 shilling simply isn’t a strong beer. The character reminded me most of lagers where you notice the watery-ness. And that might be down to the low 3.9% alcohol volume.

What is 80 shilling all about? It’s an ale that’s light and easy to drink. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of true flavour, body and character that makes ales so much fun. If you want something that looks, smells and tastes somewhat like an ale, you’ll like Bellhaven 80 shilling. I however, am looking for something that doesn’t comprise so much. That said, I like drinks that achieve something different. By being light, low-alcohol and drinkable, 80 shilling does just that.

Rating: 3.25

Have you tried this or any other Belhaven beers? What did you think?
Have you got any tips for beers to try?
Or want me to review anything else?
Comments below please…

Beer Review: Atlas Brewery Three Sisters Scottish Ale

3 March, 2008

AFTER yesterday’s satisfying Scottish strong ale, I’m now on to another Scottish ale from my local Tesco. This one is called Three Sisters and it’s the first beer that I’ve tried from the Atlas Brewery. Or is it?
Bottle of Atlas Brewery Three Sisters

You see, it turns out that Orkney Brewery and Atlas Brewery are both part of Sinclair Breweries Limited. How similar Three Sisters will be to Red MacGregor, Dark Island or Northern Light we will discover soon enough.

Going by the front label, Three Sisters certainly stands out. The typeface and pink-ness make sure that the Three Sisters aren’t shrinking violets. The 4.2% volume is clearly visible, as are some statements that remind me of Orkney’s labels. Specifically the “Brewed in small batches” reference. Like I’ve said before, that’s the sort of thing you like to read about your ale. Reference to huge vats and massive volume are to be avoided.
Atlas Brewery Three Sisters Scottish Ale front label

In the place of the ‘authenticity stamp’ favoured by Orkney and some other Scottish brewers, we have something more straight to the point. We learn that it will be “dark ruby” in colour. And that it will have “roast malt”, “fruity” and “hop” flavours.

The rear label is big and crams a lot of information on. Prominently placed is the symbol telling us that this 500 millilitre bottle contains 2.1 units. If that’s something you waste your time counting.
Atlas Brewery Three Sisters Scottish Ale back label

The right-hand side of the rear label mentions a couple of other Atlas beers. The left-hand side gives us the story. That the Three Sisters are in fact three peaks of Glen Coe. Somewhere that is presumably not far from their Kinlochleven address. The last thing to note on the rear label is that they use Styrian Golding hops. These are for fruitiness and a crisp aftertaste. Let’s see whether it is, as we open the bottle…

Once in the glass, it did look every so slightly red. Although I was expecting a little redder. The head was good an frothy, but it died down a lot moments after I had taken this photograph.
Atlas Brewery Three Sisters Scottish Ale in a glass

If, unlike me, you take a lot of time to smell your beer, you’ll probably enjoy the complex mixture of malt, hoppiness and fruits all muddled together. Fans of Scottish ales and those on the darker end of the ale spectrum will probably like this smell. For me though, it’s a little strong.

The taste and flavour are satisfyingly full and strong. The first tastes that hit me were the malt and the bitter. But it manages the avoid most of the bitter and sour aftertaste that accompanies a lot of the ales I have been trying recently. As I worked my was through, it was evident that this wasn’t a gassy drink. Although it did get a burp out of me.

I was rather overwhelmed with the first few glugs, but half-way through, I must have started to get used to it. This must be one of those ales that grows on you. For an ale, it is also surprisingly refreshing. Possibly down to it’s “Purest Highland Water”, or the low-ish alcohol volume, I was surprised at how easy it was to drink.

At the start of the bottle, I must admit, I had doubts. There was the hint on the label of Ruby Ale characteristics which put me off. The smell was a bit off-putting for me. And the bitterness of the first couple of gulps weren’t that promising. But after those hurdles, Three Sisters turned into a rewarding ale. Good flavour, high quality and drinkable all came through in the end. Quite an unexpected turnaround.

Recommended for fans of Scottish ales and for beer drinkers wanting an easy introduction to them. People less keen on strong-ish maltiness and bitterness might want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 4

Have you tried Three Sisters? What did you think?
How about the other Atlas Brewery beers?
Any recommendations of your own?
Comments in the comments section as usual.

Beer Review: Broughton Old Jock Ale

2 March, 2008

BROUGHTON Old Jock Ale is another more Scottish than thou bottle ale.
Broughton Old Jock Ale bottle

The abundant Scottish-ness of the ale is made perfectly clear by the front label.
Broughton Old Jock Ale front label

The simple, yet effective design features two Scottish Saltaire’s. Each, either side of an illustration of the Jock in question. Quite possibly, the most Scottish looking man you have ever seen, in full Highland military regalia and mountains in the background. Printed directly below the name and illustration is something else that catches the eye… “ABV 6.7%”. That makes this a strong ale. And my past experience with strong Scottish ales was good.

Opting for the one long label wrapped around the bottle, the left-hand-side gives us the story. That Jocks were the fighting men of Scotland and that they drunk strong ales. Presumably, like this one. Furthermore, that this is a “classic Scottish Strong Ale” and that it’s “dark and strongly flavoured” nature needs to be at room temperature. Unusual as most ales like to be cooled. I usually take them from the fridge. But not this one. As per the request of the label, I tested it at room temperature.

In case you like to pick your drinks according to your meal, this one says that it goes well with cheese and meat dishes. I don’t have either to hand, so we’ll have to take the brewery advice on that one.

Tucked away on the opposite side of the label are the units. 3 in the case of this bottle. Unusual not to see that in the usual ‘units’ logo. The ingredients, if you give a hoot, are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. It’s not often you see yeast listed as an ingredient. Obviously it’s got to be in there, but most ales and beers seem to leave that out of their lists.

The bottle is 500 millilitres and much darker than many others. There are also hops embossed around the shoulder of the bottle. I don’t know why they bothered since the dark shade of glass makes them almost invisible. The bottle top is plain red too. Most brewers would have done something with the bottle top, but not Broughton yet. Now let’s see how Old Jock from the Borders does outside the bottle…

Poured into a glass, Old Jock has a thick, frothy head. But that settled down within moments to a thinner and inconsistent covering. The colour was a bit of a surprise. Not opaque and some reddish hues. I hope this won’t be another disappointing Ruby Beer.

On the nose, this has a rich, malted barley smell. No fruit, flower or caramel nonsense here. No bubbles either which won’t make it too gassy. And the no nonsense approach is carried over to the taste. This is a straightforward, quality strong ale. And it tastes of malted barley. The taste and aftertaste are somewhat bitter and sour, but honestly, it is not something to worry about.

As I worked my way through the contents, I began to figure out what Old Jock was all about. Unlike the many other ales that I’ve been reviewing recently, it doesn’t try to deliver a multi-coloured spectrum of tastes and flavours. Instead, it aims to provide something simple, and something exceptionally well. And something that I appreciate, something that is very strong.

One point of contention is where, on the label, they say that Old Jock is to be “savoured like a fine wine”. That is completely true of those ales that do deliver a cavalcade of taste complexity. For a strong ale like Old Jock that doesn’t, that statement seems unnecessary. It is hard to imagine the old Jock’s of legend, coming home after a hard day spent fighting neighbouring clans and savouring their strong ale like a fine wine. The strong ale of yesteryear was the super-strength lager of today.

As I worked towards the end of the bottle, there was no doubt that Old Jock was strong. My alcohol addled brain also found it quite drinkable. At least for a bottle’s worth. I’d be reluctant to have another bottle or pint right after this one because the smell and flavour are that strong. But if you want a single, quality bottle of Scottish strong ale, you will probably enjoy Broughton Old Jock Ale.

Rating: 4.25

Have you tried Old Jock? What did you think?
Have you tried any other Broughton beers? What were they like?
Any other comments in the usual place please…

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: Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond Beer

24 February, 2008

AFTER my recent Polish excursion, I came over all thirsty for something with complexity. It was time to head back to a beer from the Britain. Much to my delight, this coincided with my local Tesco stocking a new range of Scottish beers. One that caught my eye was Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted. Purporting to be a “Blond Beer”, this immediately reminded me of the outstandingly delicious Leffe Blond(e) Beer. How would Harviestoun’s and Leffe’s blond(e) beers compare? And does it maintain the fine reputation established by Scotland’s other fine beers?

For a start, Bitter & Twisted looks different.
Bottle of Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted

The shape of the bottle is different to those of the continent. The front label too, gives this beer a look and feel so local, that it amazes you a shipment made its way from the county fair all the way down to London town. That is a quality I like.
Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond Beer front label

The mouse mascot. The hops. The description of ‘Craft Brewed in Alva, Scotland’ all add to it. The front label also gives us a three bullet point description of the contents. Always excellent as it gives me something to judge it by. “Spicy”, “Aromatic” and “Zesty” are what I’ll be on the look out for here.

In the way that all good British beers do, we get a good story on the rear label. This one is about the mouse that frequented the brewery and later achieved fame as the mascot (see front label). We are also treated to a technical description of the ingredients that goes above my head. It includes words and phrases like “hop profile”, “Hallertau Hersbrücker”, “Challenger”, “late hopping” and “Styrian Goldings”. If you know what any of this means, leave a comment in the usual place.
Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond Beer back label

Also on the information packed rear-label is the mention of awards having been won at “home and abroad”. But Harvieston have, like so many others, failed to say what those awards were, and when they were received. Also mentioned is that less carbon dioxide was used in the bottling process, so this should make it less gassy. Also of note, below the “Bitter & Twisted” banner is “Like the Twist of a Lemon”. Will the “Zest” come from a lemon flavour? The ingredients of barley, oats and wheat also tell us this isn’t going to be the watery experience of lager. Let’s see what this 500 millilitre (nearly 1 pint worth) of 4.2% beer is really like…

Poured into a glass, there was less head than with Leffe. The smell was also very different. It’s aromatic in the complex way that I wanted. But not malty like Leffe’s interpretation of blond beer. The is clearly going to be a very different drink to Leffe. You can just about make out the various crops that went into the making of this drink, plus the smell of something zesty added to it. Fortunately, not in an overpowering Cif Lemon way.
Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blond Beer in a glass

Now the most important part: taste and drinkability. And I’m happy to report that Bitter & Twisted has both. The flavour is as complex as you’d expect from a drink with so many qualities and ingredients.

If I had to pigeon hole it, I’d say it was a bitter. But Bitter & Twisted is more than that. In the same way that Sir Ranulph Fiennes is someone who enjoys a spot of rambling, Bitter & Twisted takes the concept of a bitter to an extreme. Although the main taste is ever so slightly bitter, it’s swiftly followed by the taste of countless arable crops and yes, a hint of something that may be considered “zesty”. Possibly helped by it’s relatively low alcohol volume, Bitter & Twisted is very easy to drink. I’d very much like to try a bottle with a seafood meal.

If you find this available, it is well worth your time. In the sub £1.40 price bracket, it is also good value.

Rating: 4.25

If Tesco haven’t sold out, I’ll be trying the other Scottish beers, ales and lagers soon, so watch this space.

Have you tried Bitter & Twisted? What did you think? Can you recommend any other Harviestoun beers?


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