The Scottish Real Ale Festival is almost upon us once again, taking place next week at the Corn Exchange out in Slateford. With only a few days to go, the beer list is more or less finalised; but at the time of writing this preview, not every producer has confirmed their attendance. However, if everyone comes through with the casks, this time there will be 48 different breweries present at the Corn Exchange – up from 41 last year, 37 in 2011, and 32 in 2010.
Last year in this SRAF preview post I wrote that the increased brewery numbers at the festival are proof that Scottish brewing really is in great shape – and it seems to be continuing in 2013. Critical mass may still occur at some point in the future, but again, on this evidence, there’s no sign of that happening yet. Another positive is that a few ‘older’ names are hopefully set to re-appear this time, in the shape of An Teallach, Cuillin and Valhalla, all last at SRAF in 2010. Although the distances between all three and Edinburgh are fairly huge, hopefully a few casks from them will make it down to the Corn Exchange.
If everything in the provisional list makes it, this time around will see a selection of roughly 150 different beers on offer. That’s down on previous years – but not at the expense of variety; or breweries – alongside the three returnees, a hugely impressive nine producers will send their beer to the SRAF for the first time. Expect to sample the wares of Beeches Brewery, Eden at St Andrews, Elixir, Fallen Brewing Co, Kinneil, MòR Beer, Oban Bay, Six°North and the St Andrews Brewery. For a single festival, that’s a great haul of new Scottish breweries.
As a result, you’d probably expect a reasonable amount of new beer on offer, compared to what was available last time around. You’d be right; 55% of the beer on the provisional list is different to last year (an increase of about 20%). In fact, only five of the forty-eight breweries are bringing the same beers (Barney’s, Cairngorm, Moulin, Scottish Borders and Strathaven). Even the larger producers are shuffling their entrants. In terms of numbers, top of the class are Highland and Loch Ness, each having pencilled in seven different beers.
Some of the festival must-try’s include five cask ales from Cromarty (thankfully the ridiculous policy that reared its head at Larbert has been ignored for SRAF). Also, Elixir Brewing Co will be revealing the 7.9% lychee and pink peppercorn number Jump the Shark, Fyne Ales are bringing their recent Bell Rock and Bell Rock n Hop IPA’s, and there’s a rare sighting of Plockton’s Starboard – one of the least-commonly seen breweries in the country.
For those that think CAMRA festivals are a drudgery of golden ales and milds, there’s Tempest’s 7.4% Mocha Porter, Highland’s twin cannons Orkney Porter and Old Norway barley wine (both 9%), and new big-hitting IPA’s from Broughton and Loch Lomond. Even Belhaven are getting in on the act, with a 9% 90/-. Strongest beer of the festival goes to the suitably titled Prince of DarkNESS from Loch Ness, at 10%.
Aside from bang-for-your-buck drinking, the best thing about beer festivals is taking a punt on the unknown. Ayr Scaur o’ Doon (a raspberry summer quaffer), St Andrews Single Hop Wheat, Williams Forth of July, and Burnside 3-BULLZ fit that particular bill for me. I’ll also be keeping a close eye on the new producers, having never sampled anything from Beeches Brewery or the Belgian-influenced Six°North. Finally, for 2013 the festival is introducing a Battle of the Brewers, as seven Scottish producers have each come up with a 5% summer blonde ale. Try them all, vote for your favourite, and find out who it was brewed by…
The Scottish Real Ale Festival is being held at the Corn Exchange, New Market Road, Edinburgh from Thursday 11th July to Sunday 14th July (the first time the festival has opened on both days of the weekend). Opening hours are 12pm-11pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 12:30pm-4:30pm on Sunday. Entry is £4 for CAMRA members, £6 for non-members, but keep hold of the glass given out and you can get free re-admission over the other days. As this is a preview, breweries and beers submitted may change – visit the official website to keep up with any amendments.
*will a mainland brewer take back the Champion Beer of Scotland prize in 2013? Last year, the Highland Brewery took home their fourth CBoS in six years, underlying their dominance in the competition. With Orkney and Skye winning in between, the last non-island producer to win CBoS was Kelburn Cart Blanche, in 2006…