Black Isle go Cold Turkey

Posted by on Feb 1, 2013 in Scottish Beer | 3 Comments

ColdTurkey3 Back in late 2010, the Government announced they were to raise alcohol duty on all beers over 7.5%abv, ostensibly to tackle ‘problem drinking’. At the same time, they revealed a plan to cut duty on beers brewed at 2.8% or under – to promote lower strength alternatives. I wondered at the time if any of these super-session beers would be produced, and how many would catch on. Well, fast-forward a couple of years and there are certainly plenty on the market – yesterday I had a chance to sample a brand new release, and find out why another hadn’t performed as expected.

Firstly, the one that didn’t – Caledonian 2point8 – which appeared around spring last year. I managed to try it, and was initially pretty impressed, but over the course of a pint the lack of body shone through, and it became a little disappointing. This is the major sticking point of these low-abv beers – getting around the problem of them being too thin. I understand what the Caley were trying to do, though. On a visit to their brewery yesterday (post up next week), the subject came up, and it was revealed they aren’t brewing any more at the moment – as it wasn’t performing as well as they hoped.

The issue seemed to be twofold – you need a throughput at the bar to keep the low abv beer ticking over, and you need to get around the idea in some drinker’s minds that these beers aren’t worth trying. That was the initial worry faced by Colin Stronge of Black Isle, as they planned their 2.8% beer – how to attract people in, and get them to have another. The answer he came up with was to whack the hops up. Again, though, there’s a balancing act here – too much dry-hopping, and you get ‘watery hop juice’ (in his words). It’s a tough beer to get right.

This was very definitely the attraction. On the back of huge, bold beers – such as their recent Black Run, Colin wanted to do something low-abv. There’s nowhere to hide with beers like this, he saw it as a challenge to get enough flavour in. Actually, he wanted to go lower than 2.8%, but it was eventually decided to get it up to that abv. So, rather than being a duty-killer, Cold Turkey was conceived by Colin to test his brewing skills.

It works, too – hopped with Nelson Sauvin and then dry hopped with more NS and Pacific Gem, it’s dark copper and very bitter. There’s an almost sharp, redcurrant flavour to it, alongside a tannic, woody element. If I had to sum it up in a word, I’d probably go for ‘tangy’. The vinous Nelson work really well with the berryish Pacific Gem in the dry hop. Although, as you would expect, the finish doesn’t last long, it doesn’t disappoint. Cold Turkey is a great beer, and proof that sometimes, less is more.


  1. Richard Morrice
    February 1, 2013

    A lot of brewers (Fuller’s, Caledonian and others) rushed into 2.8% and produced beers that did not stand the test of time. It’s a very hard trick to pull off and one that will no doubt take a lot of trials, tests and research.
    Will it be worth it?
    I’m really not sure. I don’t think that the majority of beer drinkers understand the beer duty regime or see any advantage in lower alcohol beers. It may just take time.
    But the more unrewarding beers that go on sale the less likely the initiative is to succeed.
    Brewers beware!
    Richard Morrice

  2. The50FTQueenie
    February 1, 2013

    Be interested to try this, but I can’t see many pubs making a huge price cut to undercut their stronger beers – which begs the question why should they? It’s not a huge margin in tax and if they did start selling these beers in vast quantities, then why should the bother to stock the stronger beer. For smaller pubs with limited lines (and turnover) it just might not reach the margins they are after – so why bother?

    I’m sure it’ll be a good brew though…

  3. tania_nexust
    February 2, 2013

    I’m excited to try this (hope I get the chance) as I’d trust Colin’s integrity as a brewer to make the best beer possible at 2.8% and get the balance of body and hops right – I understand it’s a huge technical challenge, but if brewers could crack it and produce a pintable beer with enough body and flavour, I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only person to welcome being able to drink a lower ABV beer – as long as something delivers on flavour and satisfaction, I’d be pretty happy to not be upping my units consumption with every sip – not from a killjoy perspective, but because I hope to go on enjoying beer on a regular basis for decades to come, and if all I can get to satisfy my hop needs are 8% hop bombs, then I’d be screwed!

    Would love to know what kind of reduction in price at the bar a drinker might expect to see for the lower-abv, lower-duty product – should I expect it to be 30p cheaper than a 3.8% beer from the same brewer & same dispense method? 10p, 50p, more? No-one has been able to give me a good indication of this so far, any thoughts from yourselves or brewers you’ve spoken to about 2.8% beers?

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