Category Archives: Scottish Beer

Lagerboy Speaks – Colonsay Lager

Beer fancying isn’t just about a competition to find the darkest, strongest, most pungeant brew you can. Most beer websites and blogs do tend to concentrate on that end of the spectrum, but only because they tend to be the most interesting and flavoursome. Even the most ardent lagerfan would probably admit the lack of taste the lighter-coloured stuff suffers from. But less taste doesn’t mean no taste (unless you opt for certain lagers), there shouldn’t be a stigma against drinking good lager – after all, it was invented by the Czechs, and they know more or less everything good about brewing.

So amongst the BeerCast’s regular malty, hoppy, caramelly (Podcast no.1 was brought to you in conjunction with that particular word) offerings, this committed Lagerboy will now and again pop up with a few drinks from the world of beers that you can actually see though. But just as ‘real ale’ suffers from an image problem, so does lager – one of popularity. In 2005, the UK lager market was worth £11.3bn – nine out of the top ten takehome beer brands were lagers (Guinness being the other). 42% of British adults now buy and drink it. By 2010, 80% of all UK beers sold are expected to be lager. Yikes.

But most of the major brands out there are the same old suspects – Stella, Carlsberg, Carling, Fosters. They don’t taste of much, they are fairly cheap, you can buy them in any off-licence or pub. But it doesn’t make them any good. Take Stella, the UK’s most popular lager (it has a third of the market), due to recent issues of ‘branding’, producer InBev added more boutique beers to the stable, a wheatbeer called Peeterman, and a 6% super lager called Bock, which someone bought by mistake the other week and nobody would drink it. Fosters, brewed in Edinburgh, is the typical Australian lager – except I lived there for almost a year and hardly ever saw it.

You have to search them out, but local lagers are available. They cost more than the mass-produced types (although Stella recently went up again, by 12p a pint), but are infinately nicer, with more taste – and you get a pompous air of smugness to have sought out something regional that the other lagerboys will have never heard of. Take Colonsay Lager. Produced by a small new microbrewery from the tiny Scottish island of 120 people, they knock out this 4.4%abv gem using local ingredients and a slower fermentation process. That means the lager has a touch of the wheatbeer about it, and is a dark apricot, almost amber colour. Incredibly refreshing, and with a packed taste, it blows the Carlings of this world out of the water. Which can only be a good thing.

Colonsay Brewery

BeerCast #1 – Count the Shillings

Question 1. 3×80=…?

Each beer-producing country has peculiar quirks that serve to make it’s brewing unique. It could be the water, the type of hops, the variety of barley used. Scotland has large variations in these without doubt – but it’s history that counts around here. Beer was first produced in the chilly Highlands 5000yrs ago, using heather and herbs in place of the as yet un-imported hops. As far back as 1509, Aberdeen had over 150 brewers (all female – the original alewives). After the Act of Union in 1707 there was reduced tax on beer in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, and no tax at all on malt.

As a result, the 18th Century was a boom time in Scottish brewing. The different strengths of beer were classified based on the amount charged per barrel, in shillings. Originally a 3.5%abv beer would cost 60 shillings per barrel, a 4%abv ale 70 shillings, and so-on. To some extent England did this too, but it’s north of the border that the system stuck. Shillings passed into history long ago, but beers here are still produced in those categories, and 80/- are the most common. So for the debut BeerCast podcast, our (somewhat reduced) panel tested three local 80’s, all from within 40 miles of BeerCast HQ.

1. William Wallace Ale (4.5%abv)
Traditional Scottish Ales Ltd, Bridge of Allan.
500ml glass bottle

Traditional Scottish Ales have two main brewery sites in central Scotland, an original site in Stirling, and a second acquired in 2006 after a merger with the Bridge of Allan brewery. The latter was founded in 1997 in the Victorian spa town outside the campus of Stirling University, where many of the BeerCast panellists received an early education in the merits (and pitfalls) of beer drinking. The area was first settled to take advantage of natural copper deposits in the area, and these minerals give the local water a distinctive taste. As befits their name, Traditional Scottish Ales’s brews have patriotic names – none moreso than William Wallace Ale, named after the iconic Highland hero who, as summed up by Shovels, “gave it to the English, or something”.

What They Say“This full-bodied malty ale is rich ruby in colour with a satisfying crisp dry aftertaste. Hand brewed in the heart of Scotland with only the finest malted barley, choicest hops, yeast and pure Scottish water.” [Traditional Scottish Ales]

What We Say
Richard – Strongly sweet ale, I prefer McEwans 80/- to this 4
Shovels – Caramel aftertaste that is quite unpleasant

2. St Andrew’s Ale (4.6%abv)
Belhaven Brewery, Dunbar.
500ml glass bottle

Belhaven was the oldest independent brewery in Scotland, having started production in 1719, until taken over by the Suffolk giant Greene King in 2005 in a deal worth £187million. According to the 2007 Good Beer Guide Belhaven has 275 tied pubs in Scotland. They produce four domestic beers, Best, Best Extra Cold (is nothing sacred?), 80 Shilling, and St Andrews Ale, which the panel sampled today. Belhaven are sited in Dunbar, a coastal town of 6300 people, 30 miles east of Edinburgh. First settled in the 7th Century as part of Northumberland, it was destroyed in the 9th Century by the Picts, and within a hundred years was part of Scotland. According to the Met Office it receives more hours of direct sunshine and less rainfall than anywhere else in Scotland, due to it’s easterly coastal location. The locals call it ‘Sunny Dunny’.

What They Say“A bittersweet beer with lots of body. The malt, fruit and roast mingle throughout with hints of hop and caramel.” [The Good Beer Guide]; “A rare modern phenomenon – a beer that tastes like beer. A smooth, full bodied, malty flavour and fruity palate, St Andrews Ale is the perfect mellow way to wind down.” [Belhaven Brewery]

What We Say
Richard – Similar to the William Wallace, but not quite as tacky 5
Shovels – More refreshing and less sweet than the first one 5

3. Golden Promise (4.5%abv)
Caledonian Brewery, Edinburgh.
500ml glass bottle

The Caley opened in 1869, and is the only remaining brewery in Edinburgh. In the mid 19th Century it was one of over forty, producing such a malty stench the city was nicknamed ‘Old Reekie’. The brewery’s two founders were in their early twenties, and were drinking buddies at the Golf Tavern on Bruntsfield Links. In 2004, they signed an agreement with Scottish & Newcastle (who had just closed the second last brewery in Edinburgh, at Fountainbridge) to brew their products under license. The Caledonian Brewing Company is an independent company, and brews the famous and multi award-winning Deuchars IPA – one of the greatest Scottish beers. Golden Promise is one of it’s lesser-known brands, and is named after the variety of malting barley used in it’s manufacture.

What They Say“The first organically-brewed beer in Britain, Golden Promise is a five time winner at the organic food awards, and won a silver medal at the 2005 International Brewing Awards. It has a delightfully rounded sweet malt flavour, reminiscent of Ovaltine. It’s aromas are spicy, with a hint of dusty cinnamon and vanilla.” [Caldeonian Brewery Ltd]

What We Say
Richard – Nice golden hue, it’s the best thing we’ve drunk today 7
Shovels – More subtle flavours to it, which is a good thing 7

BeerCast panel verdict

Golden Promise – 14/20
St Andrew’s Ale – 10/20
William Wallace Ale – 7½/20

Panellists – (from left) Shovels, Richard

Site news
In the latest of a long line of promises and missed deadlines, we are on the final stretch of getting the podcast out. Currently we’re tracking down a file host for our RSS feed, and when we do our freshly completed and polished debut BeerCast will be available on iTunes – obviously, we’ll let you know how and where to subscribe the moment it goes live.

Secondly, this week sees a flurry of excitement for the panel, as festival season grips the blog. Our full complement of Edinburgh-based BeerCasters will be attending the Scottish Traditional Ale Festival, notebooks and tasting glasses at the ready. Meanwhile over the Atlantic, our South American correspondant Hopmeister has been dispatched to Ecuador to discover the secrets of Galapagos lager*, and our Quebec-based panellist Craig AS (Phd) attended the recent Montreal beer festival. He filed a report, which will be published in due course. So look out for another BeerCast first – three posts in a week. Crikey.

Oh, and while we’re here, hearty congratulations on the latest addition to the panel – Edd celebrated the birth of a baby daughter this week. We’ll be raising a glass to little Abby (and Mrs Edd) in due course…

* Surprisingly, this is actually true.


Second Update (Andy, Dec 2008):

Hello i’m moving the site over from blogger to and through the magic of television i can now wholeheatedly insert the original collectors item BeerCast No. 1 right here: