Category Archives: Beer of the Week

Beer of the Week – Traquair House Ale

Time to turn the attention towards a single beer for the week-ending post looking at one of the classic Scottish examples you should try (if you haven’t already). Since starting in the first week of the year I’ve highlighted three unsung heroes of Scottish brewing – Fyne Ales Highlander, Swannay Old Norway and Broughton Old Jock so now we have a fourth addition to that line-up, and to find it we have to journey a short distance from Broughton to the outskirts of Innerleithen – and the oldest inhabited house in Scotland.

Last time around we looked at Broughton Ales (est. 1979), but they have nothing on the brewery at Traquair House. Since being unearthed by the 20th Laird in the 1960’s (whilst he was spring cleaning), the original brewkit at the House is still operational, making it one of the longest continually-operating family-owned breweries in Europe. The ‘potent liquor’ they create there on a wooden copper hammered together in 1738 is utterly unique, and deserves a place in this list – or in any list. The fourth classic unsung hero of Scottish beer is the majestic Traquair House Ale.

4. Traquair House Ale

Traquair House Brewery, Innerleithen, Scottish Borders
Style: Scotch Ale
330 ml bottle

Looking back at the other beers to start this series, there is something of an (unintentional) theme developing. Traquair’s House Ale is another rich, warming ale in the grand tradition; these are armchair beers of the highest order. My Dad once brought six of these round to watch the football because he liked the label, and had no idea it was 7.2%. I have no idea who won the game. This beer is enormously complex, with a depth of flavour that brings every dark stone fruit you can knock from a tree together. There’s heaps of raisins, leather, sherry, and an almost wine-like finish (or port-like, more accurately). Many beers like this creep up on you but this House Ale revels in being over 7% and tastes all the better for it.

Celebrating five continuous decades of brewing, Traquair are one of the true pioneers of the art in the whole of Europe. That isn’t hyperbole; if the 200 year-old Russian oak brewing vessels were on a farm in Belgium, for instance, rather than the Scottish Borders, beer fans around the continent would flock there and gaze reverentially at the cobwebs. Traquair is a living museum, but producing beer of the highest order. Their House Ale – first brewed in 1965 – is one of the classic beers not just of Scotland, but the entire United Kingdom.

Pick it up here:
At Traquair’s online shop (as two-bottle gift pack with glass)
At Traquair’s online shop (as case of 24x330ml bottles)

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway
3. Broughton Old Jock

Beer of the Week – Broughton Old Jock

As it’s Friday again, let’s power up the spotlight and point it at another in my series of 52 unsung Scottish beers to try. There are so many amazing new things on offer north of the border, but whilst the brewing scene here continues to go from strength to strength it means the classics are worth seeking out more than ever. So with this weekly series I’m suggesting a beer every Friday to unearth and add to your drinking collection. Since kicking off with Fyne Ales Highlander and last week Swannay Old Norway, for the third instalment we are heading back south into the Scottish Borders.

If you look at the oldest breweries in Scotland that are still operating, there aren’t many on the list before you reach Broughton Ales. Belhaven, the Caledonian, the Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow, Traquair House. And then, just on the cusp of the 1980’s, Broughton appeared. Co-founded by David Younger (of the brewing dynasty) and James Collins they have changed hands a couple of times, but their range of beers that feature characters of Scottish legend have remained. And in that range you’ll find one of the true unsung heroes – Broughton Old Jock.

3. Old Jock Ale

Broughton Ales, Broughton, Scottish Borders
Style: Scotch/Red Ale
500 ml bottle

The concept of beer styles is a relatively recent arrival (in brewing terms), and it’s interesting that two of the first three of my weekly picks have straddled several of the more commonly-recognised styles. Just as Fyne’s Highlander is part bitter, part Scottish Export, Broughton’s Old Jock has elements of the Scotch Ale, a bit of the classic Red and more than a hint of barley wine about it. That’s proof that it’s not just modern craft beer that blurs the boundaries (as well as proof that styles are only really a guideline). Old Jock is a fantastic beer, and one that combines a depth of flavour with an inviting ruby colour unsurpassed by any other from a Scottish brewery – it has to be one of the best-looking I’ve ever seen.

The food pairing the guys at Broughton suggest for Old Jock is strong cheeses – and they aren’t kidding. This would stand up to anything you could throw at a port – the flavours of raisins and dark stone fruit, particularly plums, really make that a great suggestion. There’s a grainy bitterness around the edges, and a slight spice from the Bramling Cross and Perle hops (also in the brew is the quintessential English one-two-three of Challenger, Fuggles and First Gold). It has a sweetness about it, almost like candied oranges, but nothing comes across as cloying because there is a terrific balance going on. Old Jock is lovely, and should you see it in your local supermarket, walk past it at your peril.

Pick it up here:
At Broughton’s online shop (as a case of 8 500ml bottles)

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander
2. Swannay Old Norway

Beer of the Week – Swannay Old Norway

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

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

Beer of the Week – Fyne Ales Highlander

There is so much amazing beer out there now – it is all but impossible to track down everything released and still fully enjoy it (ask the RateBeer guys – you can do one but not both). Even if you just stick to the output of a single region or city it can be tough – and if you live in London it’s all but impossible, as a new brewery will have opened up underneath your stairs in the time it has taken you to read this paragraph. So what can you do? Well, don’t sweat it, for one. Beer appreciation isn’t completionist – there are no achievements for opening every single one out there. Stick to things that intrigue you.

With that in mind, today sees the launch of a new feature for 2017 on the BeerCast – the unsung heroes of Scottish brewing. With around 120 breweries north of the border at the moment, chasing the new and rare is a full-time gig. But instead let’s step back and look at the classics. Whether years or decades old, or recent arrivals on the scene, each week I’ll be picking one up, tasting it, and letting you know why it’s one of the 52 best beers in the country – and also where you can get hold of it, so you can discover it for yourself if you’ve yet to have the pleasure.

I’ll kick things off today with a beer that has just passed a significant milestone…

1. Highlander (4.8%)
Fyne Ales, Achadunan, Argyll
Style: Scottish Export (see below)
500 ml bottle

Argyll’s finest may have 130 different beers on RateBeer, but they are all descended from this one. The first beer ever brewed in the jumble of whitewashed stone farm buildings at the head of Loch Fyne, Highlander (and Fyne Ales) mashed in on the 30th of November 2001 – a couple of months on from fifteen years ago. Many forerunner beers go on to reflect the brewery as a whole, keeping the ethos going to the present day, whereas other breweries eventually move away as their tastes develop, or sales show their customers want to explore their other offerings. Highlander is a modern classic because you could argue it has done both – Fyne Ales still cask it up and sit it alongside Maverick, Vital Spark and the rest – whilst also kettle-souring and double IPA’ing to boot. Highlander is an ever-present.

It also belongs in this list because it similarly straddles two of the great style families the UK should be proud of – the Scottish Export/80 Shilling and the English Strong Bitter. Not that I want to start this series with in-depth style comparisons but I think that if you live down south and enjoy a taste for Fuller’s ESB then Fyne Ales Highlander is (or should be seen as) an equivalent. It’s that good. But what does it taste like? Well, the first thing that strikes you is the bitterness – listed at 38IBU it certainly delivers that and then some. After a few pulls on the glass the sweeter caramel and toffee comes through, joined by a very faint earthy peatiness harking back to the hillside water source. Highlander is a celebration of bitter, both the taste and the style – and is a beer to be savoured and enjoyed in quantity in equal measure.

Pick it up here:

At Fyne Ales online shop (as a twelve pack of 500ml bottles or 5 Litre mini-cask)
At EeBria (as single bottles)