I had an idea about how it should taste, and this is pretty close
As we’ve discussed many times before – and with increasing regularity these days – the major downside of jumping into the contract-brewing game is that you really aren’t sure how that keenly-awaited first batch will turn out. With a home-brewing background you can tighten the chosen recipe as much as you like – but once it is transferred to somebody else, and then scaled up on a larger brewkit, there’s more than an element of hoping for the best.
Last night at Edinburgh’s Stockbridge Tap, Scotland’s latest ‘gypsy’ producer – Elixir Brewing Company – launched their first beer (Benedictine Groove) and, naturally, there were a few nervy moments leading up to the big reveal. Fortunately, the beer turned out to be fairly remarkable – which shouldn’t really have come as a surprise, given that it was a 5.5% Scotch Ale, brewed with added tablet and tonic wine. A world’s first?
“We wanted to make something that was really Scottish” says Barry Robertson – one half of Elixir, who also manages Edinburgh’s Cloisters Bar. “So it had to be a Scotch Ale, and we wanted to put Highland Toffee in – but when we found out they didn’t make it anymore, it had to be tablet.” And the tonic wine? “What could be more Scottish than that?” Barry laughs. It certainly is a unique take on the style, along with the sugary tablet added to the brew.
Barry’s partner is Benjii Bullen, who has been cranking out the homebrew for years, since his arrival from the deserts of Western Australia. Benedictine Groove, however, is the first Scotch Ale he’s ever made – the trial version was actually a black IPA. Brewed at Alechemy in Livingston, Elixir came away with enough for two small pins and around 80 bottles (the pin at the Stockbridge Tap sold out in fifty minutes).
There are so many new contract breweries appearing in Scotland at the moment – but Elixir are treading a different path. Not for them the slow, steady golden ale route. Next up should be that 7% black IPA, and then a pumpkin ale, currently fermenting away at Alechemy. I’ve been drinking Benjii’s homebrew for a couple of years [full disclosure, he lives just round the corner from me] – but anyone who can make a reverse whisky and coke* must have a serious amount of talent.
* That’s non-alcoholic whisky essence mixed with fermented (15%abv) cola syrup
So, how did the Benedictine taste? Benjii wanted it to be balanced – and it really is. There’s a bit of toffee, oak and chocolate on the aroma, with some alcohol – but as the heavy edge of the tonic was boiled off, it comes over on the flavour instead. There’s a sweet, sugary hit, and a porty-type flavour, which can only come from that tonic wine – at first, the finish reminded me of a Caramac – that sweet, tacky caramel flavour. But as you go on, the sweetness mellows, it becomes roasty, and the alcohol comes through a bit more.
It’s really quite something – and is the kind of beer that will have every drinker picking something different from it. Chatting to Benjii and Barry, they certainly have a huge amount of ideas – and everything else seems to be in place. Brewing with James Davies at Alechemy, they are in safe hands, and knowing how inventive they are, I wouldn’t put it past them to create all kinds of interesting beers – for Elixir this, surely, is just the start.