All posts by Richard

Beer Trends for 2018

It’s been a while but after a couple of months distanced from my fifty-two beer year (although in truth I managed a lot more than 52) it’s back to the grindstone with this, a look ahead into 2018 and a few trends I think will become apparent over the course of the year. As ever feel free to quote these back at me at some point. Thankfully nobody has ever actually done this, allowing me to get away with such screamers as predicting sours would take over back in 2010* and beer sold in PET plastic would be the new thing in 2016. I did sort of predict the session IPA though, so you have me to blame for that.

*Note to self, must renew 3rd-party hosting on Photobucket.

1. More Crowdfunding

Ok so this one is a freebie. Writing a year preview post in early March means I’ve missed the first couple of months where Northern Monk hit their £500k target in three hours and Bristol-based Left Handed Giant hit their £450k target in one hour. Just think about that for a minute – particularly if you’re not overly familiar with either of those breweries. A combined £950,000 raised in four hours. At time of writing Northern Monk have now raised £815k and LHG £580k. This is astonishing.

Now I’m not crazy into motorsport but I do know that when there’s a wet race and the conditions dry out, the teams wait and see which of their rivals will be brave enough to pit for dry-weather tyres first. Once that person does, and posts fast lap times, they all pit. Well the teams from Leeds and Bristol have pitted first and holy cow is the running good. It’s an easy prediction to make but look for more regional craft breweries to crowdfund asap, I would think the guys at CrowdCube are going to get a lot of cases of beer on their doorsteps soon. And why not? People buy brewers breweries these days.

The motor racing analogy doesn’t quite hold though of course – Northern Monk weren’t the first to come into the pits. BrewDog were there at the end of the first lap, and are so far down the track as to be a dot. Currently with a combined £54 million raised in the five rounds of Equity for Punks they are off to the races. But the recent CrowdCube raises show that there is still mileage in crowdfunding, and then some. Back at the end of 2017 Cloudwater’s Paul Jones suggested he was open to the idea. Look for them to pull the trigger in 2018 and all hell to break loose. Who will be first to £100M?

2. Loyalty Cards

I’ve been wondering for a while why this concept isn’t more prevalent when it comes to beer. With recent developments (again, via the medium of crowdfunding) of things like the Beer Merchants Tap, where an online retailer funded a real-life bar in London – and yes, online is real life too, I know – I think the greater concept at play could become more prevalent. With more competition than ever, rewarding your regular customers takes on a new level of importance. Will 2018 be the year we see a brewery loyalty card?

So if you spend money in the (say) Magic Rock taproom you get a discount from their online store (or vice-versa). I know these kinds of things do exist, and places like Beer Merchants have redeemable codes for discounts but aside from BrewDog’s Equity Punk ID Card I can’t think of another actual, physical card that you carry with you. Swipe your Buxton card every time you visit the Buxton Tap, say. Maybe even have it scanned every time you buy a Beavertown can, whether in Mother Kelly’s or Wetherspoons, with the data collected on your account online. And what do cans make?

3. Cyclical Styles

Why couldn’t Black IPA be the style of 2018 like it was a decade ago? (I did have a list of the styles of the year somewhere but have sadly mislaid it – I think it went Black IPA, craft lager, saison, sour, session pale, saison again, sour again, NEIPA – with a few years in between the styles). Let’s all adopt the retro-vibe that never actually goes away and get on board with the first wave of styles that hit the UK’s nascent beer appreciation scene. It’s like Stranger Things but with booze.

4. Taprooms away from the Tap

These days there’s no need to have your taproom actually physically attached to your brewery. Or at least, the second one you build. Look for 2018 to be the year that breweries take a punt on locations in other cities (as Moor Beer have done so well with their arrival in London). If the capital’s brewers are jaded with the Bermondsey Beer Mile, why not a selection of UK brewers taking over the arches? That really would be a beer festival every weekend – for good and bad. And why stop there? Would people not head to a Moor Tap in Birmingham? Or Newcastle?

5. Wax

It pains me to write it, but wax just won’t go away. In fact, more wax will be here this year, as the dip-club gains new members and America’s greatest scourge runs over this country anew. Full disclosure – I work for a brewery that releases wax-dipped bottles. But I still struggle (both literally and metaphorically) with the messy, brittle seal that adds a needless five minutes to my enjoyment of the beer. But as it looks cool and it’s catching on, expect to have to reach for that carving knife more often in 2018.

So that’s it. Any screamers in here? Let me know…

Beer of the Week – Swannay Orkney Imperial Stout

So, the series ends here. All throughout 2017 I have been trying to cast a light on some of the beers produced by Scottish breweries that I feel deserve a little more attention. Whether they are under-appreciated, modern classics or just plain flying under the radar, every week I have listed a new entrant that I feel needs a little more love. And to round things off, two days before we hit 2018, I’m ending on a high. This is the singlemost under-rated beer in Scotland.

Of course it had to come from Swannay. Every year I mentally list the Scottish brewers who are at the top of their game and Swannay are in it every single year (that is no exaggeration) – way back to before they were even Swannay. This multi award-winning family-run business is one of the top three breweries in Scotland and has been for as long as I can remember. Of course, beers such as the mighty Orkney Porter are a huge reason for this – and there’s no way I could have that on my list of unsung beers as it’s arguably the best beer in the UK. But one that is right up there alongside it? Step forward Orkney Imperial Stout.

52. Orkney Imperial Stout (8.0%)
Swannay Brewery, Orkney
Style: Imperial Stout
330ml bottle

Pick it up here:
From the from Swannay’s online shop

Back before New England IPA and Sours and whatever came before that, Imperial Stouts were the thing. A brief flurry of high-gravity armchair beers appeared around five years ago and were quickly usurped by other styles. But the Imperial Stout is still king – and Swannay’s is right at the top of the tree. And for my year-long exercise in uncovering unsung brews, it also stands right at the peak. Let’s take a look as to why that might be.

Firstly, as I said in the introduction it has a more commonly-heralded stablemate. Orkney Porter is an incredible beer and the similar Imperial Stout is often left in the shadows as a result. Secondly, it isn’t seen that often aside from the Swannay online shop and a few incredibly fleeting appearances on cask in the larger Scottish cities (and if you ever do see it on cask, it is nigh-unbelievable and a must-order). Thirdly it comes from a brewery at the far end of the country, perched on a rocky islet who go about their business with a calm, respectful attitude. The only thing blustery on Orkney is the wind.

Added all together those factors make for a champion of the unsung. But you also need a beer worthy of the accolade. There’s no point in quietly whispering about something for people to try if it’s not worth their time. But Swannay’s Orkney Imperial Stout is magnificent. Massively approachable for an 8% beer it is deeply roasty, has layers of dark fruit in there and is dry and ashy – different to the opulent Porter but every bit (in my eyes) as good.

This is a true yardstick for Scottish brewing, a marker for how our men and women are creating beers every bit as good as those from anywhere else. Orkney Imperial Stout is the must unsung beer in Scotland and one of the very best. It’s the reason why I started this quest and the perfect way in which to end it.

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock
4. Traquair House Ale
5. Tempest Easy Livin Pils
6. Cromarty Brewed Awakening
7. Fallen Chew Chew
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red
10. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve
11. Orkney Skull Splitter
12. Windswept Wolf
13. Kelburn Dark Moor
14. Alechemy 5ive Sisters
15. Loch Ness Light Ness
16. St Andrews Eighty Bob
17. Harviestoun The Ridge
18. Orkney Dark Island
19. Williams Bros Seven Giraffes
20. Cairngorm Black Gold
21. Strathaven Craigmill Mild
22. Black Isle Red Kite
23. Spey Valley Spey Stout
24. Top Out Schmankerl
25. Cross Borders Braw
26. Williams Bros Midnight Sun
27. BrewDog Kingpin
28. Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack
29. Deeside MacBeth
30. Drygate Ax Man Red Rye IPA
31. Swannay Orkney Session
32. Fallen Platform C
33. Black Isle Porter
34. Top Out Altbier
35. Black Metal Gates of Valhalla
36. Fierce Beer Cranachan Killer
37. Loch Lomond Southern Summit
38. Tempest Old Parochial
39. Williams Bros Profanity Stout
40. Windswept Tornado
41. Campervan Pacific Zest
42. Swannay Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout
43. Cromarty Ghost Town
44. Fyne Ales Vital Spark
45. Knops Musselburgh Broke
46. Orkney Red MacGregor
47. Cross Borders Porter
48. BrewDog Jack Hammer
49. six°north Hop Classic
50. Stewart Brewing Cauld Reekie
51. Williams Bros Nollaig

Beer of the Week – Williams Bros Nollaig

Not long to go with the year-long journey through the most unsung beers Scotland produces – so with just two left it’s time to roll out the big guns. Next Friday the series concludes with the single Scottish beer I consider to be the most under-rated; but before that there’s time to fit in a festive version of this post with the fifty-first of fifty-two, a seasonal release that deserves to be in the line-up of this brewery year-round.

Christmas beers often have a range of spices in their arsenal but surely the quintessential festive ingredient is the lesser-used spruce tips. What’s more Christmassy than Christmas trees? This particular beer revels in the resins, pairing the actual thing (from the spruce tips) with the hop-derived (from Centennial, with Citra and Goldings also on hand). When it comes to brewing with these arboreal ingredients, there are no masters of the art that can hold a branch to the Brotherhood from Alloa. The penultimate unsung Scottish beer is the fascinating Williams Bros Nollaig.

51. Nollaig (7.0%)
Williams Bros, Alloa
Style: Spruce IPA
330ml bottle

Pick it up here:
From the Fine Wine Company online (as 1 Litre growler)
(also available in 330ml bottles from local Aldi stores in Scotland and from Williams Bros online store – although currently out of stock)

Sure, you don’t get many Spruce IPAs – but if you had to rank them this would be at the very top of that small piece of paper. It’s a masterpiece. The spruce tips – not pine, as in the case of Williams Bros’s other tree-based throwback Alba – are harvested green and introduced into the boil in a giant herbal teabag. The effect it has on the beer is incredible – a true example of the brewers’ art of complementary flavour.

The natural piney, woodsy notes from Centennial and Goldings (respectively) – with a fair dash of citrus from Citra – play off beautifully with the oily resin from the spruce tips. It’s not for the faint of heart – this is a thought-provoking, perfumed floral thing of wonder. There’s some light caramel, tea-like tannins and then the faintest tingle of spruce. It casts your mind back to how beers likely used to be, and where they have ended up. Nollaig is amazing, and if it weren’t so Christmas-themed a perfect year-round beer. Hell with it, trees grow 24/7 so this beer should be available then as well.

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock
4. Traquair House Ale
5. Tempest Easy Livin Pils
6. Cromarty Brewed Awakening
7. Fallen Chew Chew
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red
10. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve
11. Orkney Skull Splitter
12. Windswept Wolf
13. Kelburn Dark Moor
14. Alechemy 5ive Sisters
15. Loch Ness Light Ness
16. St Andrews Eighty Bob
17. Harviestoun The Ridge
18. Orkney Dark Island
19. Williams Bros Seven Giraffes
20. Cairngorm Black Gold
21. Strathaven Craigmill Mild
22. Black Isle Red Kite
23. Spey Valley Spey Stout
24. Top Out Schmankerl
25. Cross Borders Braw
26. Williams Bros Midnight Sun
27. BrewDog Kingpin
28. Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack
29. Deeside MacBeth
30. Drygate Ax Man Red Rye IPA
31. Swannay Orkney Session
32. Fallen Platform C
33. Black Isle Porter
34. Top Out Altbier
35. Black Metal Gates of Valhalla
36. Fierce Beer Cranachan Killer
37. Loch Lomond Southern Summit
38. Tempest Old Parochial
39. Williams Bros Profanity Stout
40. Windswept Tornado
41. Campervan Pacific Zest
42. Swannay Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout
43. Cromarty Ghost Town
44. Fyne Ales Vital Spark
45. Knops Musselburgh Broke
46. Orkney Red MacGregor
47. Cross Borders Porter
48. BrewDog Jack Hammer
49. six°north Hop Classic
50. Stewart Brewing Cauld Reekie

Beer of the Week – Stewart Cauld Reekie

Just three more Fridays remain in 2017, so time for the final few selections in my great under-rated Scottish beers feature. It’s been quite a haul, in both senses of the word, but here we are – only three more spaces to fill with unsung heroes of Scottish brewing. To be honest this feature could carry on into next year given how prolific our brewers are, north of the border (but it definitely, definitely won’t).

Anyway this Friday rolls around with the most fitting of styles for this series – the one that has probably resulted in more inclusions than any other. Stout. On starting this odyssey back in January I had no idea the brewers of Scotland produced so many amazing, under-appreciated stouts. I guess we have so much dark, chilling weather here that they become almost a necessity. And this particular stout is very much a necessity.

50. Cauld Reekie (6.2%)
Stewart Brewing, Loanhead, Midlothian
Style: Stout
330ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At at Stewart Brewing’s online shop (as individual 330ml bottles)

If I had to sum this beer up in a single word it would likely be ‘welcoming’, as that is the feeling it gives you. Deep and dark, with a big liqourice backbone the stout is roasty and enormously drinkable for over 6%. There’s a fair bit of dark stewed fruit in there as well and this is very much another beer you’d want to take straight from the cupboard. Don’t trouble the fridge with this one. It’s a fabulous stout and should be a year-rounder in their repertoire (if it isn’t already).

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock
4. Traquair House Ale
5. Tempest Easy Livin Pils
6. Cromarty Brewed Awakening
7. Fallen Chew Chew
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red
10. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve
11. Orkney Skull Splitter
12. Windswept Wolf
13. Kelburn Dark Moor
14. Alechemy 5ive Sisters
15. Loch Ness Light Ness
16. St Andrews Eighty Bob
17. Harviestoun The Ridge
18. Orkney Dark Island
19. Williams Bros Seven Giraffes
20. Cairngorm Black Gold
21. Strathaven Craigmill Mild
22. Black Isle Red Kite
23. Spey Valley Spey Stout
24. Top Out Schmankerl
25. Cross Borders Braw
26. Williams Bros Midnight Sun
27. BrewDog Kingpin
28. Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack
29. Deeside MacBeth
30. Drygate Ax Man Red Rye IPA
31. Swannay Orkney Session
32. Fallen Platform C
33. Black Isle Porter
34. Top Out Altbier
35. Black Metal Gates of Valhalla
36. Fierce Beer Cranachan Killer
37. Loch Lomond Southern Summit
38. Tempest Old Parochial
39. Williams Bros Profanity Stout
40. Windswept Tornado
41. Campervan Pacific Zest
42. Swannay Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout
43. Cromarty Ghost Town
44. Fyne Ales Vital Spark
45. Knops Musselburgh Broke
46. Orkney Red MacGregor
47. Cross Borders Porter
48. BrewDog Jack Hammer
49. six°north Hop Classic

Beer of the Week – Six Degrees North Hop Classic

Friday is here again so there’s just a single item of business to take care of before the weekend can begin. Another recommendation from yours truly of a single beer that I believe is currently flying under the radar and deserves a little more recognition. With so many new beers appearing on the Scottish scene every month it can be hard (but enjoyable) to keep up. Hence this series of fifty-two unsung Scottish beers.

This week’s entrant is a beer from this country that very much looks to another – and of course that is one of the most fascinating things about brewing. It doesn’t matter where you try your hand, the styles of beers that result can be from anywhere around the world if you have the ingredients, water character and pitch the right yeast. And when it comes to yeast, the Continent is the place to go. Except not in the case of this particular beer; you just need to head to Aberdeenshire.

49. Hop Classic (6.6%)
six°north, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire
Style: Belgian IPA
330ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At at EEBRIA online (as individual 330ml bottles)

This is a serious collection of different flavours; floral, fruity, spicy, bittersweet (even if that’s more of a sensation) and much of it driven by the yeast. But that is the powerhouse that drives much of Belgian life and it’s very much in evidence here. Belgian IPA is a style I don’t get much of, being drawn to beefier numbers when I reach for the shelf marked with flags of the Low Countries. But to find one brewed in Scotland is fantastic, and Hop Classic is a similarly fantastic beer from the always excellent six°north.

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock
4. Traquair House Ale
5. Tempest Easy Livin Pils
6. Cromarty Brewed Awakening
7. Fallen Chew Chew
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red
10. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve
11. Orkney Skull Splitter
12. Windswept Wolf
13. Kelburn Dark Moor
14. Alechemy 5ive Sisters
15. Loch Ness Light Ness
16. St Andrews Eighty Bob
17. Harviestoun The Ridge
18. Orkney Dark Island
19. Williams Bros Seven Giraffes
20. Cairngorm Black Gold
21. Strathaven Craigmill Mild
22. Black Isle Red Kite
23. Spey Valley Spey Stout
24. Top Out Schmankerl
25. Cross Borders Braw
26. Williams Bros Midnight Sun
27. BrewDog Kingpin
28. Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack
29. Deeside MacBeth
30. Drygate Ax Man Red Rye IPA
31. Swannay Orkney Session
32. Fallen Platform C
33. Black Isle Porter
34. Top Out Altbier
35. Black Metal Gates of Valhalla
36. Fierce Beer Cranachan Killer
37. Loch Lomond Southern Summit
38. Tempest Old Parochial
39. Williams Bros Profanity Stout
40. Windswept Tornado
41. Campervan Pacific Zest
42. Swannay Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout
43. Cromarty Ghost Town
44. Fyne Ales Vital Spark
45. Knops Musselburgh Broke
46. Orkney Red MacGregor
47. Cross Borders Porter
48. BrewDog Jack Hammer

Beer of the Week – BrewDog Jack Hammer

The week ending is a sign that you should reach for your beer collection and toast the completion of another five days of hard graft (assuming you work Monday-Friday and actually do some graft, that is). But the question is, what to reach for? With dozens of new Scottish beers hitting the shelves recently it can be tough to pick one out – so this series takes a step back, and instead considers the existing classics.

Take this week’s beer – and full disclosure, I work for BrewDog – but this particular India Pale Ale was first released five years ago, in 2012. I’ve no idea how many IPAs have hit the taps and bottle shops since then; it must be a three-figure number – but in my opinion this one is still right at the top of the tree. What do you want from an IPA? Hops. Bitterness. Refreshment. A kick. This beer has it all, and then some. I’m talking about the most under-rated IPA in Scotland – Jack Hammer.

48. Jack Hammer (7.2%)
BrewDog, Ellon, Aberdeenshire
Style: IPA
330ml can

Pick it up here:
At at BrewDog’s online shop (as individual 330ml cans)
At at BrewDog’s online shop (as individual 330ml bottles)

In a sense Jack Hammer is very much a bookmark of its time. Half a decade ago, high-Alpha was what IPA was all about – this is long before New England IPA arrived and convinced hop heads that mellow and citrus was a viable alternative. Back in 2012 it was all about the face-shredding bitterness. And Jack Hammer delivers this from the colossal amount of US hops used. It’s a riot of grapefruit, enormously refreshing and a perfect beer to sit in the back of the fridge for when you (and your palate) needs a metaphorical kick up the arse.

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock
4. Traquair House Ale
5. Tempest Easy Livin Pils
6. Cromarty Brewed Awakening
7. Fallen Chew Chew
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red
10. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve
11. Orkney Skull Splitter
12. Windswept Wolf
13. Kelburn Dark Moor
14. Alechemy 5ive Sisters
15. Loch Ness Light Ness
16. St Andrews Eighty Bob
17. Harviestoun The Ridge
18. Orkney Dark Island
19. Williams Bros Seven Giraffes
20. Cairngorm Black Gold
21. Strathaven Craigmill Mild
22. Black Isle Red Kite
23. Spey Valley Spey Stout
24. Top Out Schmankerl
25. Cross Borders Braw
26. Williams Bros Midnight Sun
27. BrewDog Kingpin
28. Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack
29. Deeside MacBeth
30. Drygate Ax Man Red Rye IPA
31. Swannay Orkney Session
32. Fallen Platform C
33. Black Isle Porter
34. Top Out Altbier
35. Black Metal Gates of Valhalla
36. Fierce Beer Cranachan Killer
37. Loch Lomond Southern Summit
38. Tempest Old Parochial
39. Williams Bros Profanity Stout
40. Windswept Tornado
41. Campervan Pacific Zest
42. Swannay Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout
43. Cromarty Ghost Town
44. Fyne Ales Vital Spark
45. Knops Musselburgh Broke
46. Orkney Red MacGregor
47. Cross Borders Porter