We’re now halfway through our annual best new British beers of the year feature with this, the third pick. So far, we’ve had a fruity chilli IPA and a pithy, salty, wheat beer. Next up, we return to our native Scotland and turn attention towards an honest-to-goodness high abv, barrel-aged monster from the Borders…
Old Parochial (10.0%)
Tempest Brewery, Kelso, Scottish Borders
Barrel ageing; it’s a lottery. A mystifying, olfactory lottery. The very instant you decant a beer into a wooden barrel, it’s no longer yours. Brewers spend their waking lives in a cloud of disinfectant, scrupulously tending to every surface, making sure all is sterile, clean. Then, some throw caution to the wind and tip their cared-for beer into a sloshing, pungent container that could have who-knows what inside. Sometimes, the micro-organisms have a field day, and what comes out is undrinkable. Other times, everything works, and the resultant beers are spellbinding.
That’s an oversimplification, somewhat – although there are uncertainties involved, most brewers that barrel age aren’t that much in the dark – they know, at least roughly, how things will turn out, how to rescue situations, and when to (literally) pull the plug. Take Kelso’s Tempest Brewery. Back in September 2012 they brewed a smoked Scotch Ale, fermented it with two different, bespoke, strains of yeast, then matured it in steel tanks for four months. Two thirds were then removed, and aged for a further three months in bourbon casks and sherry butts. The endgame of all this effort was blended, and released as Old Parochial.
Goodness me, it was worth the wait. I was relatively late on the uptake, others had surged across social media as to how good Tempest’s latest really was. A well-respected Edinburgh bottle-shop owner even urged me to buy two, carefully stating he wasn’t upselling, just that the beer was that good. Of course, I followed the recommendation, trusting his high-pitched yelping. Boy, was he right. Thick, treacley molasses; vanilla, dark fruit, sweet Demerara sugar, smoked caramel on the finish. A slight hum of alcohol. Just so much going on, every sip was different; a hallmark of the very best aged beers. And the most amazing thing of all? Old Parochial is the first barrel-aged beer Tempest have ever made; all the processes, they were doing for the very first time.
Check back tomorrow for the next in the series of best new British beers of 2013, selection number four – a collaboration that dominated the unseasonably warm summer. Find out then what beer it is, and who was involved in its making. By the way, that other bottle of Tempest Old Parochial is in my beer cellar, where it will remain for a good long while, maturing (and improving) quietly…