Tag Archives: Cairngorm

Beer of the Week – Cairngorm Black Gold

Friday means that the weekend is just around the corner, and with it the chance to kick back with a beer or three (unless you have already been doing that all week). Every seven days at this time I will be detailing a particular Scottish beer and letting you know exactly why it should be on your drinking radar if it isn’t already. And for this iteration – the twentieth – attentions turn to another challenger for the title of best stout in Scotland.

Our neighbours to the south-west are renowned for being brewers of stouts and porters but for every dark beer across the Irish Sea we have at least one here to stand up to it. Several have already featured in this series (and more will follow) but for this particular example it’s off to the centre of the country and the mountainous background of the Cairngorms. There you’ll find the incredible Black Gold.

20. Black Gold (4.4%)
Cairngorm Brewery, Aviemore
Style: Stout
500 ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At Cairngorm’s online shop (as individual 500ml bottles, 330ml bottles or 5L mini-casks)

In a series devoted to unsung beers, Black Gold is the outlier. Having won well over two dozen awards over the past decade it is one of the shining lights of stout in this country – so if you’ve yet to have the pleasure there really is no excuse. That’s because of all the beers on this list Black Gold has the perfect crossover – widely available in bottled format in beer retailers, large and small, and commonly seen in pubs where it is amazing when served on cask.

Black Gold is a roasty, dark malt-led treat and has supporting elements of dark fruit, bitter coffee and a slightly creamy, mocha-like edge to it. Jet black it carries all of these different flavours from start to finish, but for me it is the first and last of these that really stand out. The roasted malt runs throughout the flavour profile right up until the end, when that creaminess really comes to the fore. It truly is a fantastic stout and one that deserves to be in your cupboard for pretty much any occasion.

(This post also indicates the perils of combining beer photography and inquisitive spaniels)

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

Beer of the Week – Loch Ness Light Ness

Another Friday, and another chance to stock your beer fridge with one of the unsung heroes of Scottish brewing. Each and every week this year I’ll be leading into the weekend with a beer that deserves to be on your radar if you aren’t already familiar with it – and for the fifteenth in the series of fifty-two it’s time to take a look at a beer that has defied the odds to still be with us today, as the original brewery has ceased to exist.

The Loch Ness Brewery were founded on the shores of the world-famous body of water in 2011, in the Benleva Hotel. They put out their beers for just over five years before a (extremely good-looking) brand refresh by Thirst Craft was unfortunately timed a very short while before the brewery went bust and was put into liquidation. That was around this time last year, but since then the Cairngorm Brewery acquired all rights, trademarks and recipes and have started production once again – in partnership with a bakery chain. For fans of beers like Light Ness, that is great news indeed.

15. Light Ness (3.9%)
Loch Ness Brewery, (brewed at Cairngorm, Aviemore)
Style: Pale Ale
500 ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At selected branches of ASDA in Scotland

One of the original beers on their portfolio, the key to this beer is just how refreshing it is – if ever there was a post-work reviver to be pulled from the fridge this is the beer. Hopped with Galaxy, Columbus and Citra as you might expect this results in a serious amount of zesty, pithy fruit on the taste – yet there is also a large whack of bitterness on the finish which really helps things along at under 4% ABV. A citrus showcase it carries a lot of tangerine and lemon sherbet about it, which makes for a hugely enjoyable beer and one that personally I’m glad I can still find.

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

Two more Scottish breweries to open bars


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.

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!

Saint Guinness Day


Happy Saint Guinness Day! Today, around the world, hundreds of thousands of dark pints will be churned out, knocked back and knocked over – all in the name of a long-passed, snake-managing missionary. It’s the biggest day of commercialisation in the beer world, bar none. Over the years, Dublin’s most famed export has become so synonymous with St Patrick’s Day that it has become equivalent to the general celebration of things Irish, and has probably now surpassed it. People go out to drink the black stuff, it having become the focus of attention on the 17th of March (aside from my Grandad’s birthday; he’s 93 today).

There’s no denying Guinness aren’t brilliant at marketing – is there a brewery who has embraced the dusky art more totally than them? You only need to go to the hugely impressive Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, and walk around – the whole thing is essentially a museum to their marketing prowess. Toucans, sea lions, charging horses, breaking through the surf. Even I used to have one of those giant foam shamrock hat-things in my flat, for goodness sake – until we found a mouse living in it (true story).

I’m not a Guinness hater. One of the best beers I ever had was a pint of it, in Belfast when I was 18. The mystique of the settling and topping-up is Ireland’s tea ceremony, and at least has a smattering more integrity than the ‘perfect pour’ nonsense of Heineken, or whoever it was that purloined the technique for lagery means. When you go to the museum and come up out of the lift into the Gravity Bar, as the barman starts flicking the tap for your arrival, it’s like walking into a commercial.

Yet, this is pretty much all Guinness has to offer. There’s a reason why they constantly promote the moment of pouring; that’s the highlight. There are so many more great stouts out there. Sure, you can go somewhere like Edinburgh’s Three Sisters, as they try to break the record for numbers of pints of Guinness sold in 24hrs (last year, they got through a staggering 10,486 in a single day). But Scotland has some stunning stouts available, made here, brewed with endeavour and imagination. There’s far more to stout than style – these five Scottish stouts save their best for where it counts; substance.

Cromarty 2Craig’s (2.0%)
A collaboration between brewers Craig Middleton and Craig Allan, it starts off roasty, but leads into a whack of grapefruity citrus from the Cascade, Columbus and Chinook. Cromarty Craig calls this an ‘unstout’ because it is hoppy and low-alcohol, but it deserves to be in this list, no question.

Highland Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout (4.2%)
If any brewer would get the most out of the dark arts, it would be Rob Hill. Highland are renowned for their golden pale ales (and now, thanks to son Lewis, their IPA’s), but Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout is deep, raisiny, chocolatey, and all-round fantastic.

Cairngorm Black Gold (4.4%)
One of the most consistent beers in the country, Black Gold seemingly wins awards in every beer competition it enters. It has to be the most under-rated beer in Scotland; a near-perfect blend of soft, subtle roastiness and slightly sweet chocolate on the finish.

Loch Lomond Silkie Stout (5.0%)
Silkie is very definitely the word for this beer – or rather; silky. Soft and rounded, Fiona gets supreme balance in her stout – always the mark of a good dark beer. I usually get a fair bit of coffee in Silkie, which comes across like a sweet mocha, rich and hugely easy to drink.

Fyne Ales Sublime Stout (6.8%)
Like Highland, another brewer that should turn their hand to darker things more often, Fyne’s Sublime Stout more than lives up to its name. With a slight reddish hue, you’d never mistake this for a Guinness. It verges into the Black IPA territory, but the dark berry fruits pull it back. A belter.

Of course, there are far, far more than five stouts in Scotland – which are your favourites? What have I missed off this list?

New (bottled) Brew Friday


As ever, it’s fairly tough to keep up with all the news coming out of the Scottish beer scene at the moment. However, by anyone’s standards, today has seen the presses whirring at double quick time (or the modern equivalent. Servers, I suppose). In a strange, yet rather lovely, co-incidence, the brewers of Scotland seem to have chosen Friday the 17th of January to go bottle crazy. Publicans needn’t worry (well, those who don’t have much fridge-space), the thirsty Scots beer fans will continue to leave home to drink; but for those moments in front of the telly/fire/fridge, there has been a sequence of news today to bring cheer to the hearts, and bottle openers, of Scotland.

First up, this Tweet appeared from Craig Middleton of Cromarty Brewing, heralding the imminent release of some serious-looking ordnance from the tip of the Black Isle…

Next, from even further North, the relative newcomers of the Lerwick Brewery announced (via Beer Today), a deal with the Cairngorm Brewery to bottle their products, so look for their beers to appear further onto the mainland soon…

Staying up at Scotland’s top end, Scott Wright from the Herald reported news of BrewDog’s next venture – ‘Bottledogs’ – a network of UK bottle shops, as the Aberdeenshire outfit expand into the off-trade. The first outlet is expected in the King’s Cross area…

Almost at the same time, a fourth bottle-related story popped up, as Alechemy Brewing validated my tipping them for something big (within a week of my blog post, no less); Iain from the Livingston outfit revealing this humdinging lineup…


All in all, not a bad day for Scottish beer (and it’s only 2pm)

The worst beer name in Scotland?


By and large, Scottish brewing remains reasonably free of teeth-grating beer names, documented so brilliantly by Pump Clip Parade. That’s possibly because of the plethora of small-scale, cask-only breweries in England, quietly releasing horrors such as this, or this. Scottish brewing, by comparison, is on a smaller scale (in terms of numbers) and tends to be less jokey than our near neighbours, with their stereotypical middle-English, rural, ruddy-cheeked brewer/drinker and resultant sense of humour.*

*Feel free to respond to this with character assassinations of your own

However, that’s not to say every Scottish beer name is decided by a committee of sensible types, mindful not to cause offence or embarrassment. BrewDog often delight in sailing close to the wind, although their beer names have lately just been plain incongruous, rather than attention-seeking (an exception being ‘Hops Kill Nazis’). Bridge of Allan’s Tinpot Brewery have also eased up, losing that eye-twinkling naming convention following the departure of Walter ‘Wattie’ Dunlop. The proposed ‘Genocidal Series’ never got off the ground (possibly thankfully), denying the beer drinkers of Scotland treats such as Tinpot PolPot and Tinpot Kim Jong Pils.

But, at the moment, there is one beer that truly stands out when it comes to the worst name in Scotland; and it comes from a surprising source. Aviemore’s Cairngorm Brewery are a real Scottish success story; since launching in 2001 their profile has increased steadily, turning over in excess of £1m and employing almost twenty people. Recent expansion to 20bbl has been long-awaited, as has the opening of their on-site bottling plant. In terms of their beers, Black Gold is arguably the best stout in Scotland; certainly one of the most under-rated. It and Trade Winds have won numerous awards over the years, and are tastefully packaged and marketed.

So, how does that reconcile with Cairngorm’s Sheepshagger’s Gold?

Described as a 4.5% exceptional continental style beer with good body and refreshing aftertaste; the ‘best beer baa none’. I’m just a bit surprised that a beer name like this was ever considered. Ok, I may have had a sense of humour bypass and most Highlanders might not mind – but why put it out there in the first place? Unless, the name is the key thing, tried with a snigger, sold with a smirk. How much would it sell if it was called, say, Cairngorm Golden Eagle? Would they export that to the Far East? Would it be remotely as popular? [see Update at end of post]

I’m wondering if there are parallels here to Slaters’ Top Totty – infamously banned last year from the House of Commons Bar following a complaint from Shadow Equalities Minister Kate Green. Although MP’s were denied partaking of the ‘voluptuous hop aroma’ after the fact Top Totty become Slaters’ top selling beer; however misguided you think the name was, it eventually became 50% of their entire output. Marketers have been using ‘a bit of harmless fun’ to generate sales for decades; in the case of Slaters, it undoubtedly worked.

The Telegraph ran a poll after ‘Tottygate’ asking if it should have been banned – almost 97% of respondents said no, it was only harmless fun. So, maybe I should lighten up about Sheepshagger’s Gold. The trouble is, I’m not alone in that fact. In writing this, I asked the proprietor of a well-known bottle shop what his opinion was of that beer, and whether he would stock it. The answer was no:-

I don’t like having to say the word ‘shag’ to a customer with the word ‘sheep’ prior to it. [We also sell] Arrogant Bastard, and Raging Bitch – the beer is good enough that if they are prudish we can reassure them that their taste-buds won’t be offended even if their sensibilities are.

So is the real issue here that the beer isn’t good enough to carry a mildly offensive name? I haven’t tried Sheepshagger’s Gold for years (and I’m unlikely to get any free samples after this), but I have had Top Totty and thought that as a standard, slightly crisp, golden ale, it was pretty anonymous. And maybe that’s the most important reason why these beers have names guaranteed to garner interest; the beer can’t do it by itself.

After putting this post together, I was reminded of Brewmeister’s ‘Black Cock’ (named after a type of bird, allegedly)…and also the infamous Houston Brewing Co’s ‘Helga’s Big Jugs

UPDATE 27/06/13
I have always suspected that Cairngorm ‘Gold’ and Cairngorm ‘Sheepshagger’s Gold’ may be the same beer, labelled differently for different markets. Since posting this, several people have confirmed this to be the case, and many that Sheepshagger’s outsells Gold many times over. So, like Slater’s, it seems this path has been productive for Cairngorm, as well…