Tag Archives: Black Isle

Beer of the Week – Black Isle Porter

The weekend is once again nearly upon us – or upon you today if you have a very understanding boss. Thoughts invariably turn towards a beer or two for the days of downtime ahead. But with so many to choose from, where should you turn? Well, this is where this series of blog posts come in. Every weekend throughout 2017 I will be detailed a single beer for your enjoyment, if you haven’t had the pleasure of trying it already.

With so much amazing beer emanating from Scottish breweries it is easy to get lost. That’s why I’ll be shining a light on a single unsung release from north of the border each week, letting you know how and where you can get hold of it. For the full list to date, simply scroll down to the bottom of the page and select a beer you like the sound of or a style you fancy. For today’s entry we have one of the best porters to come out of – not just Scotland – but any part of the UK. Black Isle Porter.

33. Black Isle Organic Porter (4.6%)
Black Isle, Munlochy
Style: Porter
330ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At Black Isle’s online shop (as individual 330ml bottles)

What do you want from a Porter? I guess it’s up to the individual but for me to be a classic example of the style it needs to have three things. Firstly, a big kick of roasty flavour to give the beer a lift. Like a campfire but not smoky, a coffee but without the caffeine kick and overdone toast without the fire alarm going off.

It also needs an overall smoothness, to balance this out. So relaxing, embracing and easy to drink. A character that would make it amazing on cask, equally as good from the bottle and would stand up to keg serves. Finally, it needs to have something else. A hit of dark fruit from the hops, say. Or liqourice. An earthy spice maybe. Well Black Isle Porter has all of these things. It really is that good – and is a beer you should seek out asap.

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

Beer of the Week – Black Isle Red Kite

The weekend is here again so for the twenty-second time this year I’m about to shine a spotlight on a single Scottish beer that I think has to date flown under the radar. I’ll be doing this at the end of every working week throughout 2017 in order to spread more of the love to beers that are, perhaps, not getting the attention they deserve. For this unsung hero of Scottish Beer, it’s time to head to the Black Isle.

I’ve featured a few red ales so far in this series (for the full list of unsung beers as it stands, scroll to the bottom of the post). There’s just something about the way this style bridges the past, with its faint nod to the Shilling beers of old, and also juts into the present with the use of US hops or elevated IBU, ABV or other variations. And for a case in point as to what I mean, it’s time to check out Black Isle Red Kite.

22. Red Kite (4.2%)
Black Isle, Munlochy
Style: Amber/Red Ale
330 ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At Black Isle’s online shop (as individual 330ml bottles)
At Black Isle’s online shop (as a case of 12x500ml bottles)

The first thing you get from Red Kite is how extremely fruity the initial flavour is, the crystal malt and the Pacific Gem hops give a jam-like richness to the beer right from the off. The sweeter elements then come into play with the roasty, toffee-like flavours arriving and rounding everything out. Red/Amber Ales have so much leeway in their depiction that nearly everything can get into the picture at one time or another, and yet the one things they all need to stand out is balance (something that every great beer needs). Red Kite is perfectly balanced and a real joy to drink.

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

Beer of the Week – Black Isle Hibernator

The next in my weekly series of unsung Scottish beers hails from the same part of the world as the beer before last (Cromarty’s Brewed Awakening) and is also a stout – in fact there have been three in a row now in this feature. That’s a complete co-incidence, but maybe there is something in the water north of the border that lends itself to the production of dark beers. There are plenty more to come, but for now we head back to the Black Isle and take a look at an oatmeal stout from the brewery of the same name.

The eighth in this series of fifty-two beers showcases another one that you should consider hunting down if you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting it yet. With so much amazing new beer in Scotland, I’ve decided to take a look instead at the untold classics; the beers that maybe don’t get the headlines they deserve or are overlooked by others in the same style or from different parts of the UK or further afield. Scotland, despite its near neighbour to the southwest, is an amazing country for stout. And one of the very best in that regard is Black Isle Hibernator.


8. Hibernator (7.0%)
Black Isle Brewery, Black Isle
Style: Oatmeal Stout
330 ml bottle

Of all the additions to the family of stouts, it is the oatmeal stout that I have the softest spot for (pun intended). The crucial addition of those flaked cereal grains gives a creaminess that settles the body of the beer and also goes really well paired up against the remaining dark, roasty components of the malt bill. Hibernator is a name that Black Isle are certainly fond of, having used it for a 4.5% stout (the progenitor of this one) and also a 7% Barley Wine/Old Ale which if you can still find is truly amazing. But the most recent arrival to have borne the name – usually extended to Hibernator Organic Oatmeal Stout – is a fantastic beer and hugely underrated.

It has one of the best aromas of any dark beer on the market, and the flavour follows; big peaks of roasty, dark chocolate and coffee. The great thing about the flavour is how it changes, with the roastiness giving way to dark fruit and a touch of sweetness (from the oatmeal I guess) before the finish arrives very dry and bitter, with a coffee-like aftertaste. There’s also a fair whack of liquorice in there and the fact that it rounds out at 7% will be a huge surprise to anybody approaching this with no idea. In short, it’s a masterpiece and one of the best stouts – from any part of the UK – you can find.

Pick it up here:
At Black Isle’s online shop (as individual 330ml bottles)

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

Two more Scottish breweries to open bars

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Everything happens in threes, as they say – and a mere handful of days since Innis & Gunn took the plunge and opened their first bar, on Lothian Road in Edinburgh, two other prominent Scottish breweries have announced plans to do something similar; almost literally around the corner from each other. Beer drinkers of Inverness – you’re about to get a lot more options in the near future (subject to planning and licencing; conditions apply). Yes, the pearl of the Moray Firth is due to become the staging ground for something that has become more and more prevalent of late – mid-size breweries taking the plunge and opening their own branded on-trade premises. And that can only be a good thing.

It was reported in the Press & Journal that the first of these beermakers is likely to be the Black Isle Brewery; a planning application has been lodged to convert an old charity shop on Church Street in the city to a bar with a rooftop drinking terrace and a self-contained 48 bed hostel above. The same article goes on to state that the Cairngorm Brewery are hoping to restore the really rather beautiful AI Welding building on Academy Street – a mere three-minute walk away. Others have tried – and failed – to restore it in the past; Cairngorm have owned the historic building for a while so here’s hoping it can be renovated and given another lease of life.

From a rough calculation, if these two projects get the go-ahead and come to fruition, they would be the ninth and tenth small to mid-range Scottish breweries to open a bar that is distinct from their place of brewing (a figure that discounts Greene King/Belhaven, C&C etc, as well as brewpubs, of course). The others I jotted on the back of an envelope being Arran, BrewDog, I&G, St Andrews, SixNorth, Tempest, WEST and Williams Bros.* Actually, of those, WEST opened their WEST on the Corner only a couple of months ago – so the trend is definitely on the up.

* If I’ve missed any out here, let me know – thanks to RC for spotting SixNorth.

Having a street-side outlet for your beers is a fantastic idea, if you can source the capital and the planners come on-side. As much as I love heading out to Industrial Estates or other out of the way brewery locations, to get your (sorry for this) brand out there, a bar serving your beer in the centre of the city is a much better proposition. Plus it can deliver the beers in exactly the way your brewer intends, every time. It can be tough, finding a location that works for a bar and guarantees enough trade – but if you can and manage to convert it, having a bar adds a massive layer of confidence on top of your organisation.

In fact, whilst we’re on the subject – let’s put out another five breweries that I would love to see open their own premises one day…

Harviestoun – With Cairngorm and Black Isle pulling the trigger, a Harviestoun-branded bar somewhere in the greater Stirling area would do really well, I think. Give it a Scottish feel for the visitors who pass through, serve Schiehallion and Bitter & Twisted on cask and keg for the craft-curious; oh, and a devoted Ola Dubh tap.

Cromarty – Maybe an arrangement with the Anderson in Fortrose, but I can’t imagine anywhere better to go for a few beers than a bar with the original Happy Chappy himself perched on a stool at the end of the counter. And with the range of beers from Cromarty, it would surely be hugely popular.

Stewart Brewing – Another brewery expanding and getting into different lines and styles, Stewart could bank a bit of the change from the Craft Beer Kitchen and convert one of Edinburgh’s many historic buildings into a centrepiece ‘destination’ bar for all those people who love their beer and make the trip out to Loanhead to fill up the growlers.

Traquair – Yes, they are really tiny – and the stunning Traquair House is reason enough to go to them, but every Scots-themed bar I’ve been in would be transformed by a range of historic ales from the Innerleithen concern pouring from the taps. I know they only produce one beer for draught, but this is a fantasy list, anyhow. It would be one heck of a place to go.

Orkney Supergroup – Whilst we’re on the theme of fantasy bars, let’s imagine that the centre of Kirkwall cries out for a brewery bar, and Rob Hill and Norman Sinclair square up and shake hands. It would be like Theakstons and Black Sheep opening a pub in Masham, only with Old Norway, Skullsplitter and Orkney Porter on draught.



Anyway, whether those come to fruition or not, it’s great news that two more Scottish breweries are having a go and opening their own premises. I’ve only actually been to Inverness – the happiest place in Scotland – once (without stopping) – on the way back from a family holiday in the Highlands when I was about 14, and the only thing I can remember was that I went into a small sporting goods store and bought a single golf club; a 7-iron. Two points related to that – a) it probably doesn’t give me adequate knowledge of the city, and b) yes, I really was a teenage tearaway.

UPDATE
Thanks to Paul Grant for pointing out that the AI Welding conversion would be Cairngorm’s second bar; they already operate the Winking Owl in their hometown of Aviemore. My main point still stands, though!

BeerCast brewday with Black Isle…and Pluscarden Abbey

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It was fairly clear from the beginning that our fourth BeerCast brewday would be unlike any of the others. Following trips to Alechemy, Ayr and DemonBrew, our visit to the Black Isle brewery actually began several weeks ago, when chatting to our host at the launch of their Cold Turkey breakfast beer. Head brewer Colin Stronge (normally an ebulliently raffish character at the best of times) was bouncing around like a caffeinated spaniel, trying to keep himself from blurting out what we were going to be brewing. On the drive up to the brewery, sales man Lewis was chuckling to himself about the weekend ahead, as the Black Isle van vibrated up the A9 like the Millennium Falcon making point five past light speed (albeit at 60mph, obviously). Despite themselves, neither wavered, and the brew was a complete surprise until we arrived at the Munlochy farmstead, perched on the lozenge-shaped peninsula a few miles north of Inverness.



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The Black Isle Brewery were founded in the late 1990’s, and the buildings sit on the Old Allangrange farm, located down a few single-track roads off the A9. Run by the Gladwin family, brothers David and Mike are at the helm – David also looks after the farm, and on the Sunday morning was zipping about on a quad bike, feeding the horses, a throng of pointers and spaniels in his wake. The brewery is a world away from the ‘aluminium and concrete box on an industrial estate’ staple – animals are everywhere, watching the goings-on with amusement or indifference. In every direction, fields – some with grazing sheep, others producing the organic barley used by the brewery. Old farm buildings are put to use in variously inventive ways – a woodchip burner in one, dairy cow in the next. In between, the barrel store, batches of Black Run ageing quietly in oak.



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So, the first of those differences from other brewdays was the location. The second was the beer we were to be brewing. When Colin finally let the secret out, on the night we arrived, our faces must have been something of a picture. For some time, he’s been in contact with Pluscarden Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery on the outskirts of Elgin. The monks there live as self-sufficiently as they can, growing their own vegetables, pressing apple juice from their orchards, and so-forth. But a few of them have become very interested in beer – which the monks consume a few times a year, at celebration feasts. Other than ourselves, the Black Isle team had invited Brother Michael from Pluscarden over for the day – and we were all to brew a Belgian Abbey-style blonde ale – with input (both figuratively and literally) from Brother Michael.



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Colin weighs out the hops for the brew, which was scheduled to be 5.1% and – in his typical house-flavour style – loaded with new world hops. Rakau, Magnum and NZ Cascade for the aroma, to be exact. As he was weighing them out, Mike Gladwin arrived with milk from Molly the dairy cow for our coffee – and commented on the small size of Colin’s hop bucket. However, as Mike handles the money side, there was a rueful grin on his face as Colin admitted a bigger bucket would mean more hops. Since arriving from Marble of Manchester, Colin’s tweaked several of the Black Isle staples – tinkering with Yellowhammer, and quadrupling the bitterness in Goldeneye. Next month, a further BI regular will be re-released. It’s all part of the central core idea of brewing; experimentation. It really fosters success – reviewing successful lines can make them even more well-received.



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Other than having him on-hand to help out (here breaking up the Magnum hops for the late-addition), the reason Brother Michael was taking such an interest is that Pluscarden are planning to begin brewing themselves. Under the tutelage of the brewteam at Black Isle, around half a dozen of the twenty monks at the Monastery are extremely keen to establish what would be the first genuine Abbey brewery in Scotland (and, depending on how quickly they start, the UK). Brother Michael was recently down in Ampleforth, speaking with the monks there – but as that beer is brewed for the Ampleforth monks at Little Valley Brewery (ironically by one of Colin’s predecessors at Black Isle, Wim van der Spek), if the Pluscarden brothers begin producing on-site, they will become the true first Abbey brewery in Britain for hundreds of years.



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The beer that we all put our hands to this weekend then, is just the start. The beginning of something that could be unique to Scotland. The plans are to produce other Abbey-style beers at Black Isle down the line, with input from the Pluscarden order, before the Abbey starts production for themselves. For the first beer, Colin decided on a blonde – so, Belgian beer fans can probably guess what some of the other styles might be. It was great for us to be a part of this – Brother Michael was extremely enthusiastic – he told me the monks at Ampleforth had given him two cases of their Abbey beer to try, which they were saving at Pluscarden for a feast. It wasn’t just us that got a surprise, as Michael brought with him three containers of springwater from the Abbey, to give the finished beer some genuine monastic authenticity.



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It will be interesting to see how the new world hops affect the typical Belgian Abbey-style flavours. Although by their nature the monks are highly traditional, Michael was quite taken with the aromas spiralling out of the copper as the kiwi hops were added. Time will tell as to whether the Pluscarden Abbey beers become high-alpha, and if the brewing Brothers become hop-heads from the start. I’m not exactly an expert, but it seems that despite being Benedictine, the order at Pluscarden aren’t from the Trappist branch of the Roman Catholic church, so when they get going, will be producing Abbey, rather than Trappist, beers. The Belgians do have a distinct ‘Abbey designation‘ which, although being less exacting that the Trappist, contains such luminaries as Maredsous, Grimbergen and Leffe (albeit, several of the twenty or so are owned or licenced to the big producers).



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The beer we helped (in a small way) to produce will be launched later this month, on Wednesday the 27th of March, at Noble’s in Leith. As befits Black Isle’s multi-dispense approach, it will be going into cask, keg and bottle (most being released in the latter). The exact specifics are still to be discussed – the beer is only just fermenting, after all – it doesn’t even have a name yet. But look out for it in the beer shops sometime at the start of next month, with some possibly heading out for their important export market. Come down to Noble’s at the end of the month for the first tasting, though, and try it for yourself – the entire Black Isle team will be there. Hopefully, too, will Brother Michael – but we’ll see…



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Many thanks to David and Mike at Black Isle for the invite, and Colin and Vicky for letting us stay in their cottage over the weekend. Stuck on the bus in traffic this morning, I was certainly envying Colin’s twenty-second commute to the brewery!

Black Isle go Cold Turkey

ColdTurkey3 Back in late 2010, the Government announced they were to raise alcohol duty on all beers over 7.5%abv, ostensibly to tackle ‘problem drinking’. At the same time, they revealed a plan to cut duty on beers brewed at 2.8% or under – to promote lower strength alternatives. I wondered at the time if any of these super-session beers would be produced, and how many would catch on. Well, fast-forward a couple of years and there are certainly plenty on the market – yesterday I had a chance to sample a brand new release, and find out why another hadn’t performed as expected.

Firstly, the one that didn’t – Caledonian 2point8 – which appeared around spring last year. I managed to try it, and was initially pretty impressed, but over the course of a pint the lack of body shone through, and it became a little disappointing. This is the major sticking point of these low-abv beers – getting around the problem of them being too thin. I understand what the Caley were trying to do, though. On a visit to their brewery yesterday (post up next week), the subject came up, and it was revealed they aren’t brewing any more at the moment – as it wasn’t performing as well as they hoped.

The issue seemed to be twofold – you need a throughput at the bar to keep the low abv beer ticking over, and you need to get around the idea in some drinker’s minds that these beers aren’t worth trying. That was the initial worry faced by Colin Stronge of Black Isle, as they planned their 2.8% beer – how to attract people in, and get them to have another. The answer he came up with was to whack the hops up. Again, though, there’s a balancing act here – too much dry-hopping, and you get ‘watery hop juice’ (in his words). It’s a tough beer to get right.

This was very definitely the attraction. On the back of huge, bold beers – such as their recent Black Run, Colin wanted to do something low-abv. There’s nowhere to hide with beers like this, he saw it as a challenge to get enough flavour in. Actually, he wanted to go lower than 2.8%, but it was eventually decided to get it up to that abv. So, rather than being a duty-killer, Cold Turkey was conceived by Colin to test his brewing skills.

It works, too – hopped with Nelson Sauvin and then dry hopped with more NS and Pacific Gem, it’s dark copper and very bitter. There’s an almost sharp, redcurrant flavour to it, alongside a tannic, woody element. If I had to sum it up in a word, I’d probably go for ‘tangy’. The vinous Nelson work really well with the berryish Pacific Gem in the dry hop. Although, as you would expect, the finish doesn’t last long, it doesn’t disappoint. Cold Turkey is a great beer, and proof that sometimes, less is more.