Showing posts with label scottish beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scottish beer. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

To a T

I spent my formative teenage years living in the Outer Hebrides, in particular for the geographically challenged the bit in the red box in the picture:


The blue bit to the west of the islands is, obviously, the Atlantic Ocean. That blue bit stretches all the way to Canada with nothing between. It is not for nothing that the islands are often referred to as being on the edge of the world. I loved living there, and there are still times when I have moments where I think it would be good to go home and raise my boys the relative peace and safety.

Like most teenage kids growing up in isolated communities drinking started at a relatively early age, I think I was 14 when I had my first sneaky can of beer, nicked from a fridge at someone's house during a party at which parents were free to bring their kids along. I am not counting here the cider my parents would give us as younger kids, or my dad's homebrew that we would drink from time to time. There is something about that first illicit beer, as I say taken from the fridge when the adults weren't looking, that means more than all your parents' enlightened attitudes toward booze.

Most definitely among those first ill-gotten cans of nectar was Tennent's Lager, at a time when the cans still featured the , scantily glad models that were probably many a teenage beer filcher's first crush. With said cans safely hidden in coat pockets we would head out to the garden and sit behind a dry stone wall, in the lee of the wind, and pretend like we knew anything about beer.

Such memories came flooding back when
Boak and Bailey posted a story about them drinking Tennents when in Scotland recently, and so I resolved that on my trip home in July to do likewise. Thus it was that on the first Friday night in the Highlands, Mrs V and I left the bairns with their grandparents and wandered up to one of my favourite institutions, the public bar of a Highland hotel, the Station Hotel in Alness.

Entering through the hefty, weather beaten, teal blue doors you land practically on the bar. In keeping with public bar tradition there is no carpet, old school wooden floorboards are the order of the day. There is no fancy furniture, a few barstools, well used wooden tables around the periphery of the room, and equally well used wooden chairs. My kind of bar.

Dotted around the bar are groups of working men, ignoring the barstools entirely, standing just shy of an arm's length from their pints. At a table in the corner, a mixed group of Polish seasonal workers, in many a Highland public bar when there are ladies present in your group, you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar. Mrs V and I took up station at the short end of the bar itself, I like to be at a bar when I am drinking, next to the gaming machine, flashing with promises of paying your drinks bill for the night if you are lucky enough.

The Station doesn't do craft beer, doesn't really do local beer either if I remember rightly. I am not sure it would matter anyway, basically everyone was drinking Tennent's, which apparently accounts for 50% of all lager drunk in Scotland. I didn't bother with pictures of my pints, perhaps for fear of being called out as the metropolitan middle class softie I have become, or because it was irrelevant to being out with my wife on a rare trip sans enfants.

The first thing that strikes me is just how fizzy the pint is, though given the laser etched nucleation points on the base of the branded glassware, is it always that carbonated? Given the never ending stream of bubbles, the head pretty much stayed put, it was actually a rather alluring sight, and possibly the first time I had drunk Tennents and been able to see it.

Taking a first mouthful, my initial reaction was that if I was served this at an American craft brewery, either as a pilsner or helles, I would be pretty happy. Sure it is no Port City Downright Pilsner, but it is not a bad pale lager by any stretch of the imagination. The flavour is mostly a grainy crackeriness, somewhat similar to a Jacob's Cream Cracker, with a similar subtle sweetness as well. Am I allowed to say that it actually tasted of barley? That's a thing right? Hops are not a major component of the brew seemingly, but what was there gave enough of a clean bitterness to snap the malt to attention, as well as wisps of floral lemoniness that reeks of classic noble hops, you know, the ones from Central Europe.

Four mouthfuls in and the pint was gone, a fresh one on its way, then another, and another as we settled into the buzz and banter of the bar. At some point a pair of young girls came in, one with ID and one without, dolled up for a night on the town and pre-gaming before heading into Inverness. The gathered older folks, which Mrs V and I have accepted we are now part of, shared looks of recognition of days gone by, while the barman gave the IDless girl short shrift, and soon they were gone, while hands reached out for pints and the drinking continued.

I don't recall how many pints I had, maybe 8, but I did wonder, perhaps out loud and a tad overly loud as Mrs V and I walked back to my parents' place whether an avowedly craft bar is capable of such an atmosphere? Merrily buzzed and with no regret whatsoever for drinking Tennent's all night, I fell into a happy slumber that thankfully the twins didn't disturb until about seven thirty the next morning. I would drink Tennents again several times on the trip, each time knowing that I would miss it when I got back to Virginia.

Maybe it is the Tennents I miss, maybe it's public bars in Highland Hotels. Either way, that session will live on in the memory, despite no pictures.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Hitting the Sweet Spot

Well, so much for micro blogging July eh? Turns out the Blogger mobile app is a pile of dogshit and every post I attempted got hung up in the publishing process. Anyway, Mrs V, myself, and the twins are back from our month long sojourn to Scotland, so I have access to regular Blogger again - 2 step authentication is great, if your mobile phone actually gets text messages abroad.

One of aims while home in the Highlands was to stick as much as possible to local beer, and if that failed then to at least drink Scottish brews. The very, very, very minor midge in that ointment, was that my thinking ahead parents got me in some Timothy Taylor Landlord a couple of days before we arrived. One of my rules in life is to never say no to Landlord, and after 20ish hours of travelling, they went down superbly well.

Don't worry, I am not going to give you a blow by blow list of tasting notes of the various beers I enjoyed, and didn't, in my month back. One thing though that I did notice, and this may say more about me than it does Scottish brewing, but there seemed to be a sweet spot in terms of ABV and insanely wonderful drinking, somewhere in the range of 3.5-3.8% to be honest.

That range of alcohol seems tiddly when compared to the average craft beer being made in many a brewery in Virginia, 6.5% is pretty much the norm. Thankfully though I tend not to think of strength as a flavour or pre-cursor to my enjoyment, many of the worst beers I have ever drunk have been in that average craft beer range. Perhaps then it is a case that British brewers are just phenomenal at producing flavourful beer without boatloads of malt and the requisite hopping to avoid drinking syrup.

The highlights of drinking in this sweet spot were:

The beers listed are sold as an Edinburgh pale ale, session IPA, session blonde, and session pale ale respectively, so sessionability is a key part of the appeal, and there is not one of them I wouldn't happily spend the night on the sesh devoted to. Of the 4 only Inveralmond's frankly divine EPA doesn't focus on New World hops, if anyone ever slags off Goldings or Styrian Goldings then force this down their neck and watch them come to the light of truth.


When I finally get back round to having a pint now that the travelling is all but done, I am actually mildly concerned that nothing at the various brewpubs and bars I frequent will have the same appeal. I know that I will spend some time brewing variations on this theme, so I am not utterly bereft, but the absence of proper session beer in the US craft scene genuinely saddens me.


When I think of Lew Bryson's definition of a session beer topping out at 4.5% and that so many brewers sell "session" beers that go well north of that, I am forced to come to the conclusion that despite various well known outliers, session beer is unlikely to be a regular part of the craft beer scene. Whether that is a result of brewers being unwilling to make beers that are genuinely session strength or that a very vocal minority of drinkers advocate for the big, or unusual, stuff to the detriment of all else, I am not sure.


Thank goodness then for the homebrew store...

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Taking Stock

It was just a few days more than a year ago that I brewed the 2012 International Homebrew Project beer, a recreation of Wm Younger's 120/- ale from 1853 (if anyone is interested, the recipe is here). Just after New Year, with my annual booze fast in full swing, I was organising my cellar and discovered that I had a solitary bottle of said beer, tucked away in the back of a case of other homebrew.


Despite the massive shilling rating, the beer was intended, back in the 19th Century, to be drunk young or to use the parlance of the day, 'mild'. Yes indeedy, a 10.7% abv, 90 IBU, Scottish mild was the beer we brewed last year, stick that in your 'traditional' Scottish ale pipe and smoke it. When the appropriate time to drink it arrived, I described it thus:
I was kind of surprised at the colour of the beer, a deep, entrancing amber which failed to form a head, though swirling the glass after the initial mouthful produced a decent layer of firm, whipped cream type foam. The aroma was a heady mix of grass, spice, perhaps a touch of tobacco and a little background alcohol. Drinking it though was quite a shock, thoroughly, thoroughly bitter, but at the same time a juicy malt biscuity thing make sure the hops didn't rip my tongue out and stomp all over it. The finish was long, as in progressive rock guitar solo long, and bitter, puckering while not being like sucking a lemon. Goodness me, what a lovely beer! The body was positively voluptuous, the mouthfeel a sensual satiny smoothness, like melted chocolate, goodness me this is a beer that could get me into trouble, so dangerously, and temptingly, delicious it is.
With the 2013 IHP beer finally, successfully, bubbling away in the carboy, I decided the time was right to open my final bottle of the 1853 120/- and see how it had aged. In the lingo of the mid 19th Century, the beer was no longer a mild, but rather an 'old' or 'stock' ale.


The beer still poured the same deep amber, topped off with an inch or so of fluffy white head, most of which lingered for the drinking - and I took my time with this one, as I watched something on the Food Network that once again made me wonder why I don't live in Minnesota. The aroma was predominately Seville orange marmelade, with some sweet spice notes, almost like Allspice, and a slight edge of hay, gone was the baccy and booze. Tastewise, big, hefty, dollops of juicy sweetness abounded, backed up with biscuits and caramel, think Twix minus the chocolate, there was just enough of a hop bite to balance the beer, but otherwise the hops were barely noticeable, lingering in the background were a few sherry like notes. The mouthfeel was smooth, almost satiny and the booze was now so well integrated as to be hardly noticeable.

I was sad to see this beer leave the cellar, then I remembered one of the reasons beer kicks the crap out of wine, I can make some more! Which is exactly what I plan to do at some point in the coming months, brew more of it, except this time I will drink half mild and leave myself with half a batch to become stock ale, which can then be added to one of my bitters to make that classic beer blend The Mother-in-Law.

Note: my Mother-in-Law is neither old nor bitter, nor does she live up to the anagram of Mother-in-Law - 'woman Hitler'.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Brewday Disaster

There is a story that when Robert the Bruce was on the run, between 1306 and 1307, he spent some time hiding in a cave on Rathlin Island, off the coast of Northern Ireland. Whilst hiding out, so the story goes, he watched a spider spin a web. and every time the spider failed. Rather than give up and take up quilting, which let's face it spiders are not exactly equipped to do, the spider would begin again until he succeeded. Inspired by the spider, Robert the Bruce returned to Scotland, eventually defeated the English and resumed his reign, which lasted until 1329. The story is told to illustrate the maxim 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try again'.

Today I will be channelling the spirit of that spider as I brew my International Homebrew Project recipe again, though with a couple of changes. Given that the target gravity of the beer is 1.079, I used my 5 gallon cooler as the mash tun on Friday when I initially brewed the beer, rather than my normal smaller one. I am not convinced that my 5 gallon cooler holds the temperature very well, and as such I got terrible conversion and ended up with an original gravity of just 1.044. Having substantially dropped short of my gravity I decided to ferment my wort with a different yeast, and so I have 2.5 gallons bubbling away with Munton's and Fison's Premium dry yeast. Also, the hoping is crazy, calculated at 135 IBU.

The changes I am making for today's brew are really very simple, I am going to do a smaller mash in my 2.5 gallon cooler, which I know holds the temperature very well and gives me about 75% efficiency rather than the 53% of the 5 gallon job. I will then supplement that mash with a couple of pounds of extra light malt extract to reach the target 1.073.

Once I am done, I think I will drink the final bottle of last year's International Homebrew Project which I found in the back of the cellar the other day...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Love the Brethren

As you most likely know, I lived in Prague for ten years before moving over to the States in 2009. During that decade, I made it home to Scotland all of 4 times, the last trip being in 2005. Those were the days of drinking the smoothflow ales I wrote about a few posts ago, although I also managed to develop a taste for Fraoch. I enjoyed it because had the flavours that I liked in an ale coupled with the drinkability of a lager.


Coming closer to the present, I have been on something of a William Bros Brewing jag of late. During my trip to Wine Warehouse, where I picked up the cans for the smoothflow tasting, I also got a couple of bottles of their Heavy and Midnight Sun porter as well as a new beer for me, Scottish Session.

I have long liked the Heavy, which I believe in the UK is known as 80/-, it's deep russet colour and fluffy white head reminding me of drinking with friends on the Byers Road in Glasgow on the way from Birmingham when I was a student. Aromas of toffee, cocoa and a little grassiness with flavours of caramel nicely balanced with a delicate bitterness and only 4.2% abv, making it insanely drinkable. Likewise with the inky blackness of Midnight Sun, a porter brewed with ginger. Lots of roasty aromas and flavours abound, with a spicy zing in the finish. It's fair to say that I had great expectations for the Session.

I was not to be disappointed, and admittedly I was thrilled to see the abv was "only" 3.9%. Thrilled because I actually enjoy drinking beer rather than needing an age to get through a single 12oz bottle of something stronger. The Session, which I think is called "
On Friday I swung by
Beer Run in the hope of getting some altbier to compare my homebrew version with something commercial, but they didn't have any so I picked up some other stuff, including their Joker IPA. My introduction to Joker came when Beer Run had it on cask, and what a delight it was. The bottled version is just as good, packing a hefty hop punch but with a solid malty backbone and a mouthfeel that suggested the silkiness of a touch of oats in the grist, this is just lovely, lovely beer.

I can see this Williams Bros jag carrying on for quite some time to be honest. Packed with flavour and balanced beautifully for drinkability rather than sensory abuse, the guys in Alloa are getting things right and are, in my as ever unhumble opinion, probably brewing the best Scottish beers that are available in the States right now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

International Homebrew Project - the recipe

So here it is, the recipe for the International Homebrew Project. Just a quick recap, I took an executive decision that this year we would brew an historic recipe from 19th century Scotland and gave you good people the choice of a pale, mild, stout or some random surprise. When the voting was done with there was a clear winner, mild.

When many people think about mild these days, they think low gravity, dark session beer, and admittedly this particular iteration of the tradition is something I love to brew and drink myself. It was, though, not ever thus. The origins of the term "mild" refer to beer that was sent out into trade before it had a chance to become old, thus the flavour was "mild" rather than the raciness you would get with older beers. "Mild" did not refer to the strength of a beer, which is just as well, because I think this recipe is going to mess with people's heads on a couple of levels; on what constitutes mild and what defines "Scottish" ales.

This recipe, kindly provided by Kristen England, comes from the William Younger's Abbey Brewery in Edinburgh, and was brewed in 1853.

Firstly then the grain bill:
  • 100% English Pale ale malt
There we go, that was simple wasn't it, the kicker though is that the target Original Gravity is 1.114, or almost 27o Plato.

For the hopping you are looking at:
  • 65 IBU of Goldings for 90 mins
  • 26 IBU of Fuggles for 20 minutes
  • Dry hop with 1.25oz of Fuggles (assuming a 5 gallon batch)
As far as fermentation goes, use the Windsor strain or Wyeast's 1318 London Ale III, as we are looking for this beast to attenuate down to about 1.046, giving our 91 IBU monster an ABV of 9.1%.

Now for some more technical details. The mash should be done at a ratio of 0.95 quarts per pound of malt, or 1.98 litres per kilo, for 120 minutes at 150oF/65.6oC. The boil should last 90 minutes.

Here are Kristen's tasting notes:

"Big, thick and rich. Biscuits, sweetened Vienna bread dough. Green tea, hay and marmelade. Ripping tannins and thoroughly bitter. The finish lasts forever and keeps from being sweet by the bitterness. What a bloody nice dram!"

Over the IHP 2012 page you can see a more orderly description of the recipe for you to adapt according to your system. The planned weekend for brewing is the 25/26 of this month, and given the simplicity of the ingredients I think most people should be able to get hold of them. I for one am looking forward to this!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Mild Victory!

The poll are closed, the votes have been tallied and there is a clear and decisive winner, and if I may be honest, a somewhat surprising winner it was too. The chosen beer style for this year's International Homebrew Project is Mild, more specifically Scottish mild from the 19th century. Ron posted just this morning about the differences between a Scottish mild and its English counterpart.

As I say, I am surprised that Mild came out on top, especially with pale ale and stout also options on the poll. I really thought people would go for the stout, even though we did a milk stout last year. When I first did this project, in 2010, the overwhelming choice of beer style was an American Pale Ale. I don't want to extrapolate too far as a result of these results, but it seems that the people who read Fuggled any interested in brewing history and are prepared to try something a little different and out of the ordinary (ordinary here being adding a shit load of hops and using a Belgian yeast strain). I find that really encouraging for some reason that I can't really explain.

Hopefully I will have the actual recipe for posting on Friday. The revised timeline for the project is on the IHP 2012 page, and if you are planning to take part either leave a comment there or send me an email. 

I am always surprised that more breweries over here don't do Milds, especially given that we hear so much about beer being best drunk fresh, and mild is the perfect style for that. Perhaps as a little side project to this, everyone who brews the recipe should give a few bottles to local craft brewers and see if we can stir some interest for more commercial mild?

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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