Saturday, 15 September 2012

Three new Scottish pale ales

The ale scene in these isles is in a constant state of movement, particularly now with new micros springing up all the time and many brewers constantly striving to come up with new recipes as well as perfect the traditional styles. The Scottish brewery scene is certainly enjoying some of this vibrancy, with many new breweries and brewing companies forming in the past couple of years, existing breweries expanding or stepping up a notch with their product developments, and a constantly expanding assortment of craft bars appearing to meet customer demand.

It's difficult therefore to keep abreast of all the new beers that come out, even when they're available down here in the Midlands, but a few new Scottish beers have come my way recently, so I thought I'd try a few out in one session and see what I thought.

First up was Old Worthy – a sample sent to me by Nick, who is behind the production company and currently contract-brewing at Isle of Skye Brewery while they fine tune their recipe and start seeing their beer appear in shops. This aims to bring something different to the shelves, being billed as a “Scottish Pale Ale”, but taking the unusual step of adding peat-smoked malt (supplied by the Ardmore distillery) and honey in the mix. I liked the sound of this as I'm familiar with the smoked malt lighter-style beers produced around Bamberg (as well as the more familiar meaty marzen rauchbiers), and if handled gently, a touch of smokiness can be great to deepen flavour without making a beer heavy. At first I wasn't getting much aroma wise, and only a very gentle hint of the smoke at the end of a mouthful, but as I let the beer warm up a bit, more appeared on the nose, and while still remaining refreshing, a lovely rounded peat and honey finish came out. My only gripe is that for a pale ale, I would like a little more hop character to be evident, just a little bite of bitterness before the sweet & smokey hints take over. But overall the subtleties were an asset in this beer, so if the hops stepped up just a little bit, I think it would be a beer of interesting balances and one I'd definitely have again. I see they are already building a following in Scandinavia and I can imagine this ale going down very well over there – I expect more people on this side of the North Sea will be encouraged to try it when it starts to appear in The Whisky Shop branches now they have finished their first UK production run.

Next were two beers from the 2012 Sainsbury's “Great Beer Hunt” - where they run a competition for regionally-selected beers to be stocked in their stores for a limited period, and those that prove most popular may be invited to a national listing.

The Harviestoun Wild Hop Gold might be related to the Wild Hop IPA they've produced in bottle and cask before, but there's no info on their website so I'm not sure if the recipes are similar. The label however states it's made with Citra and Simcoe hops (my two favourite!) so I was really hoping this would have a powerful aroma and lots of bitter & resiny flavours. It didn't quite have the assertive hop notes I would have liked, but obviously wasn't going to be anything like a high-hopped double IPA; instead it was a really pleasant, hoppy enough sessionable (4.4%) beer, with a good biscuity smooth malt character holding up against the citrus notes. It was a great accompaniment to some American-style pulled pork & sweet potatoes with a hint of chilli, and a beer I'm definitely looking forward to buying again before the Beer Hunt ends. Here's hoping it gains a regular stocking in my local Sainsburys.

The Williams' Prodigal Sun was the beer I'd been most looking forward to trying from the Beer Hunt, as I always expect good things from the Alloa-based brothers having been checking out their beers since the early days when their core range were historical ale recipes such as Fraoch, Kelpie (with seaweed) and Grozet (a gooseberry ale) and and they were known as Heather Ales. From those beginnings you can imagine they like to experiment with locally-found botanicals not usually seen in today's beers, and the Prodigal Sun follows this path, with some spruce clippings in the brew. There was a fresh, wet, berry aroma to the beer and an unusual fruity sweetness to it – I would have expected more of a pine element from spruce, but as I don't know exactly how it behaves in the brewing kettle, I wasn't sure if the sweetness & red berry fruit elements may be from this or from something else. Overall this was a very pleasant beer, though it may well be at it's best if carefully matched with foods that pair up with the malt and sweetness characteristics.

There are many more extreme and experimental beers coming out of Scotland, but as an example of new-style pale or golden ales, these three each offered something different and showed that the desire to keep moving forward with beer styles is strong north of the border.

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