There are a growing number of small microbreweries in Scotland – many of them begun by enthusiastic homebrewers making the next logical step. The costs of scaling up the equipment can be prohibitive however, so some are currently working on a very small scale. One of the tiniest is the Madcap Brewery in Annan, a few miles southeast of Dumfries. All of their beers are released from 200 litre batches produced on equipment housed in a garden shed. They supply local pubs with cask ales, and also release a few bottles when time (and capacity) allows.
When these bottles appear, they certainly make you take notice. Currently the weakest is Killicks Madness (7.5%), an old ale aged in rum casks. They also bottle a 9% honey pale ale, an 8% Imperial IPA, and a 9% Tripel (or Trippple, as they call it). We managed to get hold of one of Madcap’s strongest offerings – Liquorice Madness (10.0%), the label of which has a kilted Scotsman tossing a caber of liquorice root into a roaring fire (I think). That’s not far off how it is made – pure liquorice is added to an imperial stout before bottling.
The first things you notice are the colour and texture – it’s totally black, dark and viscous – it looks like a glass of balsamic vinegar. On the nose are aromas of roast coffee and some aniseed – but not much liquorice. This becomes the next thing you pick up (or rather don’t) – the subtlety of the dark root. Roast coffee bitterness is the major flavour, followed by the sweet alcohol strength from the imperial components. The liquorice isn’t the star of the show, or even a supporting act, as it appears on the distant aftertaste. That’s not a bad thing however, it actually balances out quite well in the end, and the whole effect is a punchy winter warmer.