Beer Roadtrip: Scotland (Part 2)
From Inverness, we traveled north to Black Isle Brewery, an all organic brewery producing a current lineup of about ten beers, all available in bottles. As I mentioned earlier, this is where the battle lines on real ale get a bit murky. Included in Black Isle Brewing's beer range is a line of "Organic Live Bottle Conditioned Beers", which CAMRA defines as real ale. Well at least at Black Isle Brewery, you can have it both ways, as long as it's always organic. Black Isle Brewing founder and managing director David Gladwin has been creating organic beer for over thirteen years: "The Black Isle Brewery started in 1998 when I set out to make top quality beers that could stand among the best in the country and to do it using organically produced barley and hops. The labelling and packaging is deliberately contemporary and styled to, in some small way, help dispel the sometime commonly held notion that 'organics' is all about slightly cranky, no-knickered, tepee dwellers living off brown rice and lentils."
Check out their website for full details on the lineup of beers they produce. Below are the beers that we found and sampled both on tap and by the bottle as we traveled Scotland. All of the styles that we tried from Black Isle Brewing landed in the very good to great categories with the standouts being the Organic Export Scotch Ale and the Organic Hibernator Oatmeal Stout. These two were great representations of the style, well-balanced, and had great malt profiles.
"[We want to] help dispel the sometime commonly held notion that 'organics' is all about slightly cranky, no-knickered, tepee dwellers living off brown rice and lentils."—Black Isle Brewing Founder, David Gladwin
- Organic Export Scotch Ale— "Scotch Ale is a strong full bodied, russet coloured ruby ale; a bitter sweet balance of fruit peel and malt loaf - liquid fruitcake! Naturally bottle conditioned it is secondary fermented in the bottle in a similar way to the production of champagne. This beer is made from 4 pure organic ingredients, malted barley, water, hops and yeast. It is full of vitamin B and good for you." (6.2% ABV)
- Organic Hibernator Oatmeal Stout—"Roasted malts, hedgerow fruit, espresso and liquorice. Big, black and wholesome; This is beer with soul! Naturally bottle conditioned it is secondary fermented in the bottle in a similar way to the production of champagne. This beer is made from 4 pure organic ingredients, malted barley, water, hops and yeast. It is full of vitamin B and good for you." (7% ABV)
- St. Nicholas' Knicker Dropper Glory—"Strong, warming winter ale. Caramelised malt and spices - perfect with mince pies! Bottle conditioned. "(6.5% ABV)
- Porter—"Brewed with dark roasted malts producing a rich medium dry ruby-black beer. It is excellent with oysters and crab or for lunch with some mature farmhouse cheddar and oatcakes." (4.6% ABV)
When in Edinburgh, we learned that BrewDog had just had a soft openeing at their new pub in Edinburgh. I learned of BrewDog several years ago when their series of Paradox Barrel-aged Imperial Stouts hit the shelves in bottle stores here in Portland. In fact, founders James Watt and Martin Dickie came through Portland to sample their beers to us west coasters. Although very pricey—hitting about $1 per ounce—they're great beers, showcasing the barrels that they're matured in. The series includes barrels from Macallan, Invergordon, Glen Grant, Springbank, and other Scotch whisky distillers.
BrewDog is known as much for their attitude as they are for their beer, standing behind words like punk, revolution, non-conformity. Then there is the insane competition with Germany to brew the strongest beer in the world: their Sink the Bismarck! beer is currently sitting on top at 41%, achieved through four rounds of freeze distillation. While competitions like this do nothing to forward the craft beer movement, they definitely help get BrewDog's name out into the world.
When we got the Edinburgh pub, we felt like we were back at home on the west coast: big open space, modern design, chalkboard full of both draft and bottled beers from around the world. Truth be told, we did sneak in a Lost Abbey Bourbon Barrel Angel's Share while we were there. It was the one time we broke the "only Scottish beers" rule for our trip. BrewDog recently collaborated with Lost Abbey Brewery on a rum Barrel-aged Imperial Ported slated for a
2011 (I think this is supposed to read 2012 on their site) release. With inspiration coming from breweries like Stone Brewing Co., 3 Floyds Brewing, and Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, it's easy to see how this spot, and the beer, feels like home. Beers we sampled from BrewDog:
- Punk IPA—"'This 5.6% trans-atlantic fusion IPA is light golden in colour with tropical fruits and light caramel on the nose. The palate soon becomes assertive and resinous with the New Zealand hops balanced by the biscuit malt. The finish is aggressive and dry with the hops emerging over the warming alcohol. This fresh, full flavour natural beer is our tribute to the classic IPAs of yester-year. The post modern twist is the addition of amazing fruity hops giving an explosion of tropical fruit flavours and a sharp bitter finish.
- Monk Punk—I have no niformation no this one other than it is the same recipe as the Punk IPA, brewed with a Belgian yeast strain.
- Trashy Blonde—"A titillating, neurotic, peroxide, punk of a pale ale. Combining attitude, style substance and a little bit of low self esteem for good measure; what would your mother say? You really should just leave it alone...but you just cant get the compulsive malt body and gorgeous dirty blonde colour out of your head. The seductive lure of the sassy passion fruit hop proves too much to resist. All that is even before we get onto the fact that there are no additives preservatives, pasteurization or strings attached." (4.1% ABV)
The beer selection was great, the bartenders were very knowledgeable and excited, and there was plenty of beer education material around. Booklets about the beer making process, different beer style explanations, and motivational material to help you drink out side the box were on every table. BrewDog believes in it's own philosophies and wants to share that enthusiasm and knowledge with its customers. Explaining the hows, whats, wheres, and whys goes a long way in forming a bond and a trust with consumers, and BrewDog is doing a great job. It can still be an uphill battle in Scotland to pull people away from their real ales and give them something else to try.
In the part one of this article, I talked a little about the real ale scene. Much of the beer above doesn't fall into the real ale category, but instead represents Scottish craft beer. There is some crossover in these two sections of beer in Scotland, but they seem to be running their own separate races. No matter which camp you're in—I have one foot in each—Scotland has more quality beer choices than ever. This is not only supported by the drinkers at large, but also the brewers and organizations who are saving traditions, promoting great beer, and experimenting with new styles, recipes, and ingredients.
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