Time to kick off the work shoes and lace up those drinking boots – Friday has rolled around again. Last week I began a new series, shining a light on unsung Scottish beers that deserve to be in your cupboard or fridge (or cupboard, fridge and then glass). Seven days ago I started things off with a beer that started an entire brewery – Fyne Ales Highlander – and now for the second of my Scottish Beers of the Week we’re moving 250 miles north of Argyll and crashing ashore on the windblown islands that make up Orkney.
This is a beer I had last on New Year’s Eve and it hit me like the proverbial thunderbolt – and not just because it clocks in at 8%. The best beers in the world make your eyes open instantly to not just the skill but also the intentions of a brewer – and this particular beer encompasses history, tradition, location and one of the true unsung heroes of brewing in the UK – Maris Otter malt. It also reminded me just who the best brewer in Scotland is (in my opinion) – Rob Hill at Swannay. The second of my 52 Scottish beers to try (if you haven’t already) is the untold classic that is the mighty Old Norway.
2. Old Norway (8.0%)
Swannay Brewery, Swannay by Evie, Orkney
Style: Barley Wine
330 ml bottle
There’s an aspect of brewing that is often overlooked by today’s customers – driven as we are by ingredients, pricing, packaging and F5’ing social media feeds every twenty seconds. I’m thinking of logistics. Unless your name is Eddie or Norbert there’s nothing sexy about getting things from A to B, so even less a reason for customers to stare at a shelf of beer and think ‘how did that come to be here?’. Apart from me, I guess. The fact that Swannay’s beers (and others from that part of the world) arrive from Orkney on a regular basis seems little short of a miracle – the ballache it must be to organise everything I can’t possibly imagine. Every brewer within five miles of a motorway has no idea.
Anyway, that’s a point for another time – the beers that make it on the Hill family’s private sloop from Kirkwall are among the best you can find anywhere, and when looking for one to single out then head for the seldom-seen barley wine Old Norway. If there’s a better example of the style in the UK then I don’t know what it is. This is a smooth, armchair beer of the highest order. Deep, almost lozengey-sweet but with a backdrop of leathery bitterness it is like drinking a sherry or a port – not in terms of flavour, but in terms of the mouthfeel and warmth it brings with each and every sip. There are apricots, honey, marzipan – but that’s just me, this is one of those beers everyone will get something different from but it will all be very, very good. A stone-cold classic, Old Norway is a true benchmark.
Pick it up here:
At Swannay’s online shop (as single bottles)
Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander