Why do people drink? For me, it fills the gaps between meals – but it’s a question that has been asked ever since beverages more tasty than water were invented. Ever since ‘Ug the curious’ discovered that you could ferment fruit and became the most popular Neanderthal on Earth, people have wondered just what it is about alcoholic beverages that attracts others, or (more pertinently) keeps them coming back. One of the important reasons is in that last sentence, of course – the fact that they have that mild toxic effect we return to time after time. Taking aside the social aspects of this question for a minute, the other main reason why those who drink do so – as if you needed a moment to even consider – is the flavour. That’s why there are different styles of beer; it’s why wine is infinitely more complex than red or white, and it’s why Advocaat exists. It shouldn’t, but it does.
Flavour is not just a single experience, a lone point, though. As anyone who’s attempted to judge beer has discovered, for our favoured beverage it is broken down into different distinctions. There’s general flavour – i.e. ‘what am I experiencing right now’, and there’s aftertaste – i.e. ‘what am I experiencing…right…now’. Each of these has further quantifiers. From the hop-forward power IPA that lights up the tastebuds before the glass has left the lips, to the long, drawn out finish of something beefier. In fact, if we want to break into another plane entirely, I remember the very first ever tasting notes written on the BeerCast were of (if you can believe it) Sagres Bohemia – a representative of the lesser-known Portuguese Dunkel style – which was summed up in April 2007 in the following manner…
Dark, Portugal, strong, subtle…has pre, current and after taste
Now, aside from being still the best tasting note I’ve ever seen (and a riot of oxymorons), it even borders on the metaphysical. A beer that has a pre-taste is one that is definitely worth seeking out, you would think. Of course, it’s the final words of that note that are important in that regard – the aftertaste is crucial in beer. It determines instantly whether you like what you have decided to take a punt on, whether you’ll be ordering another, and whether you’ll need to break into those polo mints on the way home or not. For me, without doubt it is the most vital component of a beer. And the most vital component of that is Linger. How long those flavours stay around makes or breaks a beer. Even those styles – like, say, mild – that don’t have a long aftertaste can still have an amazing linger; they can provide a base flavour you enjoy long after putting the glass back on the table.
Maybe it’s a simple progression – flavour > aftertaste > linger. Or maybe it’s just semantics on my part – but I always differentiate between those last two. Aftertaste coats the mouth as you swallow, and then linger is what you get after you count to five. I think I remember reading once about cigar smokers ‘rolling the flavours around in the mouth’ – and it’s maybe along the same lines (although I’ve only ever attempted to smoke a cigar once in my life, and it ended with me regurgitating my £2 pints of Carling into a bush outside Hull University). The experience of enjoying a lasting flavour is by no means limited to beer – the number one lingering sensation has to be garlic – but there are plenty of ales out there that give you an amazing result, long after you expect it.
Here are five of the best Scottish beers I can think of for Linger – with these, the rewards just keep on coming.
Tempest Unforgiven (5.4%)
A juniper rye ale with smoked oak, on cask this one goes on and on. Smoked and rauchbiers are (in)famous for their long, deep aftertastes, the addition of juniper gives this one a lift away from the full-on sausage-meat effect of some of Germany’s finest, towards a sloe-gin element that really works.
Loch Lomond Silkie Stout (5.0%)
This particular style is perfectly suited to yielding a long, rewarding linger – but the balance of malt right at the beginning is where it really pays off. Silkie is a stout that has a fantastic ashen dryness on the finish, that you can really taste for a while after. Proof that it doesn’t have to be hoppy to be moreish.
Highland Old Norway (9.0%)
Barley Wines are a prefect illustration of beers that leave you with a complex, enduring far-aftertaste. And like many of their beers, Highland’s is the best in Scotland for the style. Old Norway is a masterpiece, with a linger of figs, honey and warming, walloping alcohol.
Fyne Ales Vital Spark (4.4%)
I’ve never really been entirely sure what style Vital Spark is (a medium mild?), but it’s my favourite beer that they produce. This is largely down to the fantastic flavours that it leaves you with – the key here being the blackcurrant fruitiness that blends into the roasty finish.
Stewart Brewing Chilli Reekie (6.2%)
Another ingredient bound to linger, Stewart’s chillied-up version of their strong stout Cauld Reekie has a rising subtlety of heat which works really well with the base components of the beer. Chilli is easy to overdo, and this one gets the balance perfectly correct (unlike the worst beer linger I ever experienced)…