With so much currently happening in Scotland, it’s easy to concentrate solely on the beer scene north of the border. That would, however, lead you to miss out on all kinds of fantastic new beer being produced in England – much of which is now starting to slowly filter up the M6 and A1. It’s also easy to overlook the sheer scale of what happens down there. Whereas we now have around 63 production breweries in Scotland, the single county of Derbyshire (population 1m) has over 40.*
One of those is the Buxton Brewery – until now, largely strangers to the beer fans in Scotland. The other night though, a six-cask takeover took place at the Stockbridge Tap, and following a mammoth train journey from Chesterfield to Edinburgh, owner Geoff Quinn was on hand to answer questions. With a regular lineup of seventeen beers, they certainly keep busy – yet again, another producer currently pushing all-out simply to keep up with demand.
It’s clear that both Geoff and brewer James Kemp know exactly what they are doing. They manage to get a huge amount of flavour into the lower abv beers – the vinous, citric Moor Top (3.6%) and the bittersweet, bready Buxton Bitter (3.8%) being great examples. With an impressive 35 different types of hop in their cold locker, the willing cones are put to great use. Kinder Downfall starts off with a big melon flavour, before bitter grassy hops, roasted chocolate and even a leathery dryness rounds it out.
The highlight of the evening, however, was the mighty Imperial Black. Pitched at exactly 7.5% to stiff the treasury, it’s a belter (I asked Geoff if they would consider a 2.8% beer to take advantage of the lowered duty rate. “No,” he replied “if we did, it would only send the message that their thinking was right”). I’ve had plenty of mid-7% black IPA’s or Imperial Stouts or whatever – and can remember few as balanced as Imperial Black.
On cask, perfectly conditioned as ever by Archie at the Tap, it was joyous. Properly hoppy on the nose, tropical fruit and citrus, with a smooth, dark roast flavour. Rich fruit, with some alcohol, and then bitter coffee on the end – it’s as good a beer as I’ve had for a long time. I mean that – it’s an absolute stunner. I know us beer bloggers often trade in superlatives, but Buxton Imperial Black – together with the rest of their portfolio – is very much the real deal.
* So extrapolate that per head, and Scotland would need over 200 breweries to be equivalent. Another 137 on the scene would make for a LOT of blogging…