The Scottish Real Ale Festival is well and truly open for business – once the doors were unlocked the first hundred people had entered the venue with only thirty-five minutes having elapsed. We covered the details of how the Corn Exchange is working out for the SRAF in yesterday’s post – so today, it’s on to something far more important – the beers. I was involved with the judging for most of the day, but still managed to sample a few when the deliberations had finished.
On that note, congratulations go – once again – to the Highland Brewing Company for winning the Champion Beer of Scotland with Orkney Best. Rob and the team deserve every credit – they are surely the most consistent brewery in the country. Underlining this, they also finished second with Orkney IPA – only a bronze for the fantastic Fyne Ales Maverick prevented a potential clean-sweep.
Following last year’s surprise victory for the Skye Brewery, Highland’s win marks six consecutive years that an island brewery has won the Champion Beer of Scotland accolade. It was waaay back in 2006 that Kelburn’s Cart Blanche last won CBoS for the mainland. In fact, Highland have now won the trophy four times in those six years – and with four different beers. How’s that for an achievement?
Back to the other beers on offer – one of the first I managed to seek out was Head East, from the brand new Strathbraan Brewery in Dunkeld. A 4.2% bitter, it was the ideal festival starter – as was the fruity Burnside M-pire, which had a bit more body at 5.2%. Next up, Stewart Brewing Solas – the winning red IPA from their most recent brewer battle, which I really enjoyed.
Speaking of Stewart Brewing, hops and enjoyment – bolted to the bar was something new for the SRAF – the inaugural run of Stewarts’ Hopinator. Pulling Pentland IPA through a column of hops is a great idea – and it looked fantastic, like a beerhound’s lava lamp. However, the result was almost undrinkable at first – pure hop juice, with no alcohol or body. We went back later, and it had calmed a little, but still wasn’t right – hopefully it’ll come good later in the week.
There were more successful experiments with hops on offer – St Andrews IPA was possibly the beer of the day, although Cromarty Red Rocker on cask is another cracking beer from Craig Middleton. Both producers are relatively new on the scene – as are the Spey Valley Brewery. If the 5.4% Spey Stout is there on your SRAF visit – it’s a must-try, simple as that. A fantastic rich, roasty beer – the best in show, for me.
Another good one is DemonBrew Mashup – we featured Dave Whyte and his antiquated brewkit on our new Edinburgh brewers post a few months ago. Operating from the Prestoungrange Gothenburg, he somehow manages to get great results from his cantankerous gear. I imagine a brewday for Dave is like the Tardis scenes in Doctor Who, all hissing pipes and sudden warning sirens, as he gets thrown around whilst trying to hammer things back in place.
Mashup is a result of one of these days of excitement – a blend of two different brew runs that didn’t make it to fruition. What were to become an 80/- and a well-hopped bitter eventually were blended together to form this new beer. Having the heat exchanger fail halfway through a run was far from ideal – but it resulted in Mashup, a fruity best bitter with a blast of citrus from Motueka and Pacific Jade.
On a final note, we can’t talk about the SRAF without mentioning the twisted madness of Tinpot. The small brewery in Bridge of Allan always sail close to the edge – as last year, when their Thai Pot and Beetroot & Black Pepper Pot divided opinion. With their offerings this time around, they are sure to do the same. Prune Pot, for example, is unfortunately horrendous – although it is big on the prunes.
This is the bottom line with Tinpot – their beers do taste of what they say – but it’s completely up to you whether you find them palatable or not. Five Spice Pot really does smell and taste of star anise and dandelion and burdock. Raspberry Pot was probably the pick of the bunch with its slightly sharp fruit edge. We spoke to Mr Tinpot – Walter ‘Wattie’ Dunlop – who confirmed his next beer should be Apple and Raspberry Pot – although his oregano beer, Pizza Pot, might return.
That conversation summed up why I love beer festivals. For all the fantastic, locally-made, on-style beer available (such as the Spey Stout or Red Rocker), there are always surprises. Before, I’d have taken a few sips of an ‘XYZ’ Pot and gone looking for something else, but having chatted to the man behind it, I still might not like many of his beers – but I hope he carries on inventing them for a long time to come.