Tag Archives: Cromarty

Beer of the Week – Cromarty Ghost Town

Beer of the Week, take two that is. Sadly I ran out of time to post one last week so this is a double-edition, and following along from Swannay’s outstanding Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout we remain on the dark side but flick over to its other half and talk about another porter. I say another, as this series has already featured the enveloping charms of Williams Midnight Sun and Black Isle Porter. So let’s make it a triumvirate.

Cromarty’s porter is a bona fide classic – in thinking why this might be it struck me that the ten-malt payload makes it very similar to one of my favourite beers of all time (and a slam-dunk for unsung beers of the UK – but that is something for another time) Summer Wine’s Teleporter. Cromarty’s is just as good, so it deservedly has a place in my fifty-two Scottish beers that need a little more love – and let’s face it, with less than ten to go, there aren’t many more opportunities for these beers to shine. So let’s shine a light on Ghost Town.

43. Ghost Town (5.8%)
Cromarty Brewing, Cromarty
Style: Porter
330ml bottle

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

Unexpectedly the first thing that hit me from this porter was liqourice, which I wasn’t prepared for at all. After that the flavours mellowed into the dryer, roasted elements from the different malts but the finish then revealed a bitter, resinous element which rounded things off in fantastic fashion. I know Cromarty already make a Black IPA (Black Hop Down) but this is as near to an IPA-Porter hybrid as you can get, and all the better for it. It’s an absolute masterpiece.

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

Beer of the Week – Cromarty Brewed Awakening

There are so many amazing beers emanating from north of the border at the moment that it can not only be hard to keep up, but nearly impossible to put everything into context. Scotland has some truly classic beers – whether recognised as such or those that fly under the radar. So in this weekly series I will be shining a spotlight on one in particular each Friday, giving you the chance to add one to your tasting cupboard if you’ve never tried it. For this fifth edition there is yet another unsung hero to seek out.

I say unsung because the output of the Cromarty Brewing Company has attracted plaudits from day one (not least from myself), and of course the hop-lovers gravitate towards the incredible AKA IPA (again, not least myself). Yet there are many other beers from the same stable that are just as worthy of your time and one of the very best of those is one of the first beers ever released by Craig Middleton as he began his career. A week shy of five years ago, Cromarty launched their beers to the public at the Kilderkin in Edinburgh, and one of the brand new releases then tastes just as good now as it did then – Brewed Awakening.

6. Brewed Awakening

Cromarty Brewing Co, Cromarty
Style: Stout
500 ml bottle

Talking of AKA, whilst hops get the headlines it is malt that really matters – irrespective of the aroma and bitterness, if a beer lacks body and depth then you’ll not head back for a second. For those who are unsure of what I mean by this, head for your nearest stout. The addition of different dark malts on top of the typical pale give so much to the mouthfeel – and beers like Brewed Awakening that also contain oats, wheat and the added extra of coffee really give you a baseline upon which to build. Hops are of the moment, but it is malt that carries the day.

And in Cromarty’s coffee stout they do so with abandon. The Inverness-ground beans give a massive espresso aroma to the beer, and also a corresponding flavour – but the balance of dark and roasted malt plus the slight creaminess from the oats really put this beer into a class apart. I’ve had many coffee beers where the final flavour is acrid or overly bitter, almost slightly burnt, but Brewed Awakening rises above with a hit of coffee flavour that really works. It is the roast that you can taste, and in a beer that perfectly encapsulates what the addition of coffee can do to a stout. Brewed Awakening is a true classic.

Pick it up here:
At Cromarty’s online shop (as individual 500ml 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

Coffee beers for UK Coffee Week


This week, amongst other things, is UK Coffee Week. Running until Sunday, it’s a celebration of all things jitterbean-related, and acts as a platform for Project Waterfall – a scheme, run in partnership with Water Aid, which aims to bring clean drinking water to some of the poorest coffee-growing regions of Africa. I only started drinking coffee a couple of years ago; I was convinced, for years, that I didn’t actually like it. Incorrectly, as it turned out; my tastes had changed since that distant, shuddering experience. Predictably, when I actually tried coffee again (a Sardinian espresso, no less – deep end), I loved it.

The amusing thing is that throughout this coffee prohibition, I discovered – and enjoyed – other coffee-flavour products. Coffee cake was a struggle, but I got there eventually – even if it did seem like a waste of icing or buttercream, tainted by the evil bean. Coffee chocolate was an easier sell – although I still draw the line at coffee Revels; but then, doesn’t everyone? They taste like several other people have eaten them before you. Actual coffee, though, I merely thought I didn’t like. How wrong can you be? What a waste of all those years. Still, there was always coffee beer.

Yes, before I rediscovered the capillary-widening flash of caffeine-fuelling, I was drinking coffee beer. I admit, this is pretty daft. Still, that’s me. Coffee works so well in beer – particularly (but not limited to) darker beers; as a beer writer I would have been even dafterer to not try them, despite my dislike. The flavours complement other ingredients beautifully as well – things like chocolate, coconut, vanilla. Who knows? Drinking coffee beers may well have been my gateway back into the real thing. Anyway, in the spirit of UK Coffee Week, here are a few of the UK’s best coffee beers. If you’d like to donate to Project Waterfall, you can do so here.

Kernel Suke Quto Coffee IPA (6.5%)
I last tried this beer on March the 26th, 2011, as part of the prep for this blogpost on a Coffee IPA battle between the Kernel and Mikkeller (a similar idea was had by a fresh-faced Hopzine Rob). At the time, I bought two bottles of the Ethiopian-laced Suke Quto – or rather, a bottle of each of the two batches – and still have one in the cupboard. Produced in collaboration with Square Mile Roasters, and featuring a Best Before of 01/12/2012 – how would it fare, all dusty and three years down the rails?

Pretty well, as it turns out. There’s a welcoming hiss when the grubby cap is popped, and a puff of foam from the bottle neck. As the foamy head layers up in the glass, there’s a palpable whiff of US caramel malt-style sweetness, alongside a touch of the cold cafetiere. Tastewise, things have faded around the edges – I remember, fresh, the IPA flavours charged out from the off, before the coffee arrived (unlike the Mikkeller, which went Coffee>Hops). But the dull flatness is rescued by the hop tinges that do remain, and by the coffee bitterness that has lasted for these three years, pulling through from the finish.

Summer Wine Barista (4.8%)
Barista was one of the first coffee beers I ever tried, I think, pretty much around the time I was experimenting with coffee IPA’s. A very different beast, this espresso stout pours blacker than a Pennine night, and has roasty coffee aroma from the off. As the flavours follow on in a similar fashion, they are joined by an ashy quality that really adds to the dryness. Leather, tobacco, all these bitter flavours wait their turn before arriving, and working beautifully.

Cromarty Brewed Awakening (4.7%)
Speaking of firsts, aside from the eponymous Happy Chappy, Brewed Awakening (coffee beers have great names) was probably one of the first I tried from the more remote of the Black Isle’s two producers. Locally ground Arabica beans result in a real deep roastiness, giving a fantastic backbone. There’s even a bit of caramel sweetness, before the mildly bitter coffee finish. A one-off cask with added sarsaparilla root passed swiftly into Edinburgh folklore when it appeared at the Stockbridge Tap.

Bristol Beer Factory Mocha (4.5%)
Produced as part of 2012’s ’12 Stouts of Christmas’ range, I pushed the boat out a little to include this one – it didn’t hang around for long. Brewed in collaboration with Extract Coffee Roasters, BBF Mocha featured Tanzanian Hope Project Peaberry Espresso, blended with Bristol’s base stout. The main talking-point was how much body it had, despite being ‘only’ 4.5%. The chocolate provided a bittersweet edge, which – of course – worked wonderfully with the big coffee roast. Great stuff.

BrewDog Dead Metaphor (6.4%)
Oh, how did this one get in here? I…er…

Elixir Cool Beans (5.0%)
Ending this list as it began – with a coffee IPA – unlike Kernel/Mikkeller the coffee was omnipresent, rather than merely the opening or closing half. In contrast to the ashen dryness of Barista, or the soft roastiness of Brewed Awakening, Cool Beans comes over more as a green, unripe, almost biting bitterness. If there’s a coffee equivalent of a raspberry, yet to ripen, this is it. Combined with the resinous hop element there too, it’s as different as all the others – proving how unusual and versatile this most magic of beans can be.

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)

Breweries to Watch 2013 – five months on…

At the beginning of January, just as the year started, I posted a list of British breweries to watch out for in 2013. Despite the ongoing financial pressures, the scene here is flourishing – more breweries are opening now than ever (in living memory, at least). Having said that, it’s still a tough industry in which to survive, of course – requiring long hours, hard work, and the ability to fend off constant demands of needy bloggers. Speaking of which, five months down the line from the original post, it’s time to check back with those eleven breweries, and see how they have been doing, as we approach the halfway point of the year…



Cromarty Brewing Co
I pegged Cromarty Brewing Company as the brewery to watch this year, and so far Craig Middleton hasn’t let us down. His latest effort rolled off the production line on the Black Isle last week – a 2%, triple C-hopped, ‘un-stout’ (joining in with one of the brewing trends of the year; beers between 2 and 3%). Keeping up with demand has been Craig’s biggest problem to date – so the recent arrival of two 32hl and two 16hl conditioning tanks is great news for Cromarty fans. Having effectively doubled capacity at the brewery, Craig should now be set to keep a regular stock in place, secure even more accounts, and rightfully become known throughout the UK.


Arran Brewery
Arran Brewery MD Gerald Michaluk went all-in for 2013, having announced a merger with the Isle of Skye Brewery, and a huge expansion plan that included a mainland bottling plant, distillery and series of bespoke bars. However, the wheels came off in fairly spectacular fashion when the Scottish Government turned down his FPMC grant application. After issuing a few withering press releases, Gerald re-grouped and is blazing ahead with parts of the project anyway – although the Skye merger is off, the Falkirk Brewery is set to continue. Also, Arran cider will soon appear, as will an historic Iron Age ale, and a whey wine. Distribution has begun to the continent, and Arran have also recently become the first UK brewery (to my knowledge) to begin producing sake. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ still holds sway on Arran, clearly.


Knops Beer Co/Archerfield Fine Ales
I predicted a massive leap upwards for Bob Knops this year, as back in January he was waiting for the Archerfield Estate project to come on-line in East Lothian (with some nervousness, no doubt). Five months down the line, the brewery is there, the people are rolling in, and the beers are heading in the opposite direction. As well as the core range, for the first time in a while Knops Beer Co released a new beer under their own label; the Spring-reveal of Knops ‘Premier Bru’. The creativity that had been kept in check for so long due to the vagaries of contracting has finally being released. With a stable base from which to build – and a huge amount of physical space in which to do so – Knops are really starting to kick on and should have a hugely productive year from here onwards.


Fallen Brewing Co
Speaking of contractor breweries, one of the half-dozen that operate in Scotland at the moment are the Fallen Brewing Company; another one-man operation getting beers out via the TSA plant in Throsk. At the moment, Paul Fallen is still in the process of getting his own brewery established – since the new year, the business plan has gone out and the multi-stranded planning applications are nestling in the appropriate pigeon-holes. Once everything comes together, expect a flood of beers to come from the Kippen plant – until then, keep watching Paul’s Twitter feed.


Alechemy Brewing
Livingston’s Alechemy Brewing Co blasted on to the scene last spring, and over the first few months of this year they show absolutely no signs of slowing down. Owner James Davies can’t get new fermenting vessels in fast enough, and has taken on new members of staff to help with the near-incessant demand. Currently, the expanded Alechemy team are busy sourcing kegging equipment to begin taking their beer in yet another direction (bottled beer having appeared a few months ago). With house beers and dedicated Alechemy taps appearing all over Edinburgh (the latest being the Bow Bar), and custom beers also increasingly prevalent – look for Alechemy’s beers to appear in England with increasing regularity. They have also even re-branded their Twitter feed


2013 could become the key year for BrewDog, as the grace period following the opening of the new Ellon plant draws to a close, and the legions of punks look for something tangible to result. Or maybe they don’t, as the enjoyable/infuriating marketing juggernaut rolls on – spearheaded by the recently re-announced BrewDog TV show. Will ‘BrewDogs’ catapult James and Martin into the mainstream they so desperately crave? Beer releases this year have been largely positive so far, and the subtle re-shuffling of lines has moved Alice Porter and Jackhammer more towards the forefront. Similarly, will the next few months enable BrewDog to move more into more established markets, to cash in on the success of their bars? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, yesterday’s tweet from James Watt hints at yet more to come – something concrete? Or PR fluff?



Buxton Brewery
Over the other side of the border, the pick of English breweries to look out for this year (in January, at any rate) was Buxton. That was largely down to their breakout 2012 – building up to a seventeen-strong lineup, with a double-figure number of standouts. Pound for pound (or barrel for barrel, really) there are few better British breweries out there. So, this year, there may have been cause for concern when they lost James Kemp, their head brewer, in April. But stepping into the Peak District Purofort’s is Colin Stronge, ex-Black Isle and Marble, and one of the most riotously inventive brewers out there. With Denis ‘Anorak’ Johnstone also recruited (from Scotland, as with Colin) to cover sales and marketing – Buxton have tied up key positions and are ready to up the ante again in the second half of 2013.


Arbor Ales
Arbor are a brewery very much with an eye on the future, and having released more beers than ever north of the border, since January I can see where they are going. Beer is all about experimentation – and the great thing about trying new producers – as I did when I sampled Arbor’s Impy Stout (produced in collaboration with Raw Brewery), is the feeling of warm recognition when other beers subsequently creep into your drinking field of vision. For Edinburgh beer-fans, the April takeover at the Hanging Bat widened that field enormously, with crackers such as Goo Goo G’joob and the brilliant Lime in the Coconut. We’re a long way from their south-west base of operations, but so far this year, Arbor are spreading to all parts – and that is very much a good thing.


London Fields Brewery
Since opening for business in 2011, the London Fields Brewery have been firmly part of the resurgence in brewing in the other capital. As there are dozens of new producers in the city, with several in Hackney itself (where London Fields are located), they have needed to raise their game recently, just to maintain position in the pack. Although the beers have been well received – Shoreditch Triangle IPA is a cracker, for example – a recent foray into hosting the London’s Brewing event did not go well, and resulted in a fair bit of negative publicity. However, the intention was honourable (stepping in on behalf of the London Brewing Alliance); whether it has dented their momentum, or their enthusiasm for hosting further events, time will tell.


Hawkshead Brewery
In the original post back in January, I mentioned Hawkshead as “having all the ingredients to become the kind of ‘big regional’ that everyone can aspire to.” I don’t know if that’s exactly what they have in mind, but for the time being, their size may preclude it. However, the compliment stands – Hawkshead produce some stunning beers, across the full range of the brewing spectrum. It’s been a quiet year so far for them (up here in Scotland, I mean), but I have no doubt there are some interesting beers coming out of their amazing Staveley beer hall. I suppose I should get off my backside and get down to their summer beer festival at the end of July, rather than waiting for them to come to me…


Great Yarmouth Brewing Co
Finally, I selected Great Yarmouth to be on the list purely because of the head brewer – Wil Wood, and what he had achieved at Fyne Ales. After taking the long journey from Argyll to East Anglia, I’d expected the beers from his new brewery to be just as good. However, what I wasn’t expecting was the reason behind the move. After only a few months, Great Yarmouth Brewing Co has (effectively) been wound up; it was a Trojan horse for the newly re-launched Lacon’s Brewery. This famous British company, a Norfolk institution, received a lot of publicity a few weeks ago, when the return was announced – but I’m not sure how many realised Wil’s new brewery was a directly-related dry-run. Well, Great Yarmouth’s loss is the whole of East Anglia’s gain – it looks like the suggestion to watch their progress was well-founded.