Introducing Dr Hornbook

Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Scottish Beer | No Comments

Ayr co-founder Anthony Valenti (centre) talks about his beers

“There’s a different market for out-there beers.”

With those words last night, the co-founder of Ayr Brewing Company revealed the latest release in their lineup – signifying a departure from what has gone before. Anthony Valenti was on hand at Appellation Wine in Edinburgh to chat about his brewing philosophy and run through a tasting of their full bottled lineup. Until now, Ayr have concentrated on lower-abv session beers, in 500ml bottles (or casked). Wanting to tread a different path, their newest beer is a 7.2% blonde imperial stout, bottled last week for the first time in 750ml bruisers.

Dr Hornbook has been released before on cask (and will be again, in time for June’s Scottish Real Ale Festival) – but this is the first time it has been put into glass for wider sale. Anthony got in touch with the Cumbrian bottling plant and asked them what they had that was different – large swingtops was the answer. The beer looks from the outside like a cross between an American harvest ale (complete with artisan hand-ripped label) and a Belgian wit – only the Burns reference hints at it’s connection to the Ayr brewery (all their beers are named after characters or quotes from the Bard of Ayrshire).

Brewing operations began almost three years ago, in the grounds of the Glenpark Hotel – by far their biggest customer (Anthony revealed he has to pay for his own pints there – but then, it is a distinct business rather than a brewery tap). Ayr have traditionally struggled to get their beers up the M77 to Glasgow – apparently Edinburgh has always been a keener market. Without naming names, it seems there are a couple of regional cask ale producers who have the lion’s share of the Glasgow scene. However, Anthony supplies a healthy number of pubs in Ayr itself, which is always great to see.

We ran through the regular beers, in order of abv, starting with the 3.8% Leezie Lundie. It has quite a lot of straw on the nose, with the Styrian Goldings giving a bitter lemon finish to the beer. Next, Jolly Beggars – a 4.2% coppery bitter, which should be the house beer at the pub of the same name in Glasgow (in my opinion). Packed with dark crystal malt, it reminded me of a slightly burnt crumble – the singed fruit and brown sugar flavour. Towzie Tyke (4.6%) was another dry grass and citrus pale bitter – but with more caramel before the finish.

After the excellent Rabbie’s Porter – one of the best mouthfeels on a 4.3% beer I’ve had for a long time – it was onto the newcomer, Dr Hornbook. An Imperial blonde in the Belgian style (but without Belgian yeast), mashed coriander seed was added at the end of the boil. As a result, there’s a slightly vegetal, slightly orangey edge to the finish – but I also got a lot of honey sweetness, and a bit of glucose. There’s a lot happening on the aroma as well – sweet banana and a touch of yeast, with toffee alongside.

It’s really interesting, and hides the 7.2% brilliantly. Considering it was only bottled a week ago, there are very little green flavours there – it’s smooth and balanced right from the start. I think after a few months to age, the Belgian-style components would come out even more. It’s great to see Anthony and Ayr Brewing Co look to embrace that different market – they are keen to find new premises to give them more space – so that could be the start of many more specials in the future.

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