Following the announcement that Highland Orkney Blast was awarded the 2010 Champion Beer of Scotland, it was time to pay a visit to the festival as a punter and sample some of the new and unusual beers on offer this year. Nobody attends the SRAF to drink Deuchars IPA, after all. As ever, the larger ballroom was opened up to escape the warm atmosphere of the main hall – providing a rather ornate backdrop to the business of drinking beer. I got there to find the rest of the guys drinking the aforementioned CBoS from Orkney – the third time in four years Rob Hill’s brewery has won the title – and with three different beers.
Obviously, I’d had a sample of Orkney Blast already that day – check back later for my thoughts on judging the Champion Beer – so I set off to find something I’d never seen before. First to fit the bill was Fyne Ales Jarl (4.0%), which was so new it wasn’t in the official programme. We’re tremendous fans of Argyll’s finest at the BeerCast, having visited them a couple of times – and their Cairndow brewery recently hosted their own beer festival, at which they launched their latest beer – Jarl. It features a relatively new high alpha hop – Citra. First presented at the 2008 World Brewing Congress, the Sierra Nevada-backed hop gives a fabulous tropical fruit flavour to Jarl. It’s extremely sessionable, golden and with a lovely bitter grapefruity aftertaste to compliment the pineapple up front.
Next I went for a hometown tipple, and Caledonian’s Surf Sup (4.0%). Deuchars IPA may be ubiquitous, but their seasonals can sometimes slip between the cracks. Surf Sup is their ale for June, and is also citric and sessionable. At exactly the same abv as Jarl it was ripe for comparison. The hops give less of a ripe fruit taste, it’s more lemon zesty than mango. It’s also pretty good, but the addition of the Citra hops elevates Jarl over Surf Sup on points. My third beer was Linger (5.0%) from the newly-reborn Fowlers who brew out of the Prestongrange Gothenburg in Prestonpans. It certainly does linger – very hazy with a ginger aftertaste, it was pretty empty after the ginger hit. It may need a touch more refining.
The next round was the traditional ‘buy something for the BeerCaster to the left’ round – which results in an even mix of nutty bitters and 9% barleywines. For MrB I selected Broughton’s Champion Double Ale (5.0%) – the only blend on offer at the festival (strong ale mixed with porter), it was a bit rough around the edges, but drinkable. It was Shovels buying for me, and I ended up with a Traditional Scottish Ales Bannockburn (4.2%). Described as a pale, golden beer with a ‘thick, tight head’ it was almost totally flat and pretty insipid. TSA had brought eleven beers to the SRAF, but this one wasn’t one to savour.
Seeking a high note, I then went onto Raj IPA (5.5%), from the Tryst Brewery in Larbert. It scored very highly in BeerCast #49 (from the bottle), on cask at the festival it was just as good. A classic strong IPA with corresponding piney resinous hop flavours, it was really outstanding. It was interesting to see how the flavour differed between a chilled bottle and a warmer cask pint – either way it’s currently one of the best British IPA’s out there.
The final beer I sampled was a dark one – Islay Dun Hogs Head Ale (4.4%). The Islay brewery were founded on the whisky-loving island of the same name in 2003, and have seven ales in their range. They are pretty tough to find over here on the eastern side of Scotland, so I was keen to try at least one. The Dun Hogs is a dark, roasty stout with a really nice bitter finish complimented by some initial sweetness. It’s always good to end on a dark note, and Dun Hogs Head was a great way to end the festival.
Thanks to all at CAMRA for hosting the festival, we’ll be back next year to sample more local treats. Whilst the overall winner of the 2010 SRAF was Highland Orkney Blast (with Black Isle Hibernator second and Cairngorm’s Black Gold third), the beers that really stood out for me were Tryst Raj IPA and Fyne Ales Jarl. Thanks to everybody for checking the BeerCast during the festival, we’ll see you again for another beer festival in the near future.