Tag Archives: Fyne Ales

Beer of the Week – Fyne Ales Vital Spark

After last week’s two-for-one edition, this time it’s back to just a single beer recommendation on which to end the week. With less than ten to go, you’d think I might be struggling to still find unsung Scottish beers to feature in this series – but the opposite is true.* There are so many amazing beers being created by the brewers of this country that this is a selection you could continue well into another year I think. Although I am not for one minute going to do that.

*The real struggle has been getting them in time to write one per week…

Anyway – here’s this week’s unsung hero of Scottish brewing, and this is a beer I had to feature, as it’s the single individual that prompted this entire exercise. The most under-rated beer this collection of windy islands and wind-scoured mainland can produce – Fyne Ales Vital Spark. Whether discovered on cask or bottle, this is a fantastic beer and one that is worthy of any and all exploration of exactly what Scottish brewing is and where it is currently at.

44. Vital Spark (4.4%)
Fyne Ales, Argyll
Style: Dark Mild
500ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At at Fyne Ales’ online shop (as 12x500ml bottles or 5 litre mini-cask)

Let’s begin with that style note – this is my pigeon-holing as Fyne themselves say it’s hard to categorise; floating between stouts porters and milds. It’s got the roastiness in there but with that deep ruby colour and balanced finish I’m going to call it a dark mild. Not that it matters in any way, Vital Spark is delicious and a perfect beer for the start of winter. It’s the best room-temperature beer in the country, too – don’t let this one anywhere near your fridge. Chocolate, a slight hint of liqourice and a whack of blackcurrant fruit – this is a masterpiece and one of the best beers to have emerged from Scotland.

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
43. Cromarty Ghost Town

Beer of the Week – Fyne Ales Hurricane Jack

The weekend is just about here once again, and as we hit the middle of July it’s time for a beer recommendation perfect for this time of year. Every Friday throughout 2017 I’ll be detailing a single release from a Scottish producer that deserves greater recognition due to how incredible it is. Not all linked to the season but this beer is right on the money.

Fyne Ales make more standout pale ales than any other brewery in Scotland – they are on a par with Thornbridge, Oakham and the Kernel in regard to light coloured beers with big hoploads (maybe the middle of those trio is the most apt comparison). Jarl, of course, is the standout – there’s no way I can attempt to say it is under-rated even if I would want to – but others in their line-up are equally worth seeking out, such as the incredible Hurricane Jack.

28. Hurricane Jack (4.4%)
Fyne Ales, Achadunan, Argyll
Style: Pale Ale
500ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At from Fyne Ale’s online shop (as 12x500ml bottles or 5L minicasks)
At from Beer Hawk (as individual 500ml bottles)

Hurricane Jack is one of the standout pale ales in the country, in my opinion – and alongside stablemates Jarl and Avalanche (the latter of which could also well have featured here) constitutes a trifecta of golden beers few other breweries can match. Hurricane Jack works so well because, well – to paraphrase an ex-US President ‘it’s the hops, stupid’. Relying on a combination of two classic pale ale heavyweights – Cascade and Amarillo.

The first of those is the hop that made Sierra Nevada a household name (and which features as the standout in Avalanche) but the addition of Amarillo gives a different kick of citrus to the equation. To me, Jarl (Citra) is pure grapefruit, Avalanche (Cascade) lemons and with the orange hit from Amarillo, Hurricane Jack carries a bigger and more balanced citrus hit that either of the other two. It’s peachy, soft from the added wheat and hugely under-rated. Just an all-round belter.

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

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)

Breweries to watch out for in 2017

Here we are, staring bleary-eyed at another year having rolled around. 2016 saw lean times on the BeerCast in terms of writing, but there was more than ever going on in the world of brewing in the UK. As this is now the tenth year I have been writing about beer, that is more than reason to fire up the presses once again.

Time to kick things off in the traditional manner by taking a look ahead at some producers in England and Scotland to keep an eye on throughout the course of 2017. I’ve done this every year since 2012 and you can have a look at previous predictions here; 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).

As ever, these are a few breweries who have interesting stories to keep an eye on and see how they progress – I’ll post a follow-up midway through the year to chart their progress…



SCOTLAND

Williams Bros – My overall pick to watch for Scotland would be the Brotherhood from Alloa. Williams Bros announced yesterday morning a planned expansion that’s short on concrete detail but includes a scaling up described as ‘radical’ and an overall aim of providing a bespoke packaging service for small-scale brewers looking to begin exporting. Williams Bros embraced canning last year, and waters thus tested they could carve themselves another niche pairing other can-curious breweries with exporters such as the Craft Beer Clan of Scotland (with whom they have an existing barrel-ageing programme). It’s barely two years since WB last expanded (to the tune of £1m); the fact that they are looking to re-up in 2017 is fascinating.

 

 

Bellfield Brewery – One of the increasing trends to follow over the course of the year could be ‘specialist’ breweries. The way the market is going, having a point of difference that works can boost producers into public consciousness way above (and irrespective of) the size of their business. Take Bellfield – Scotland’s first exclusively gluten-free brewery. The end of last year saw the Edinburgh producers secure their first UK-wide listing, charting a rapid increase in scope that their planned bespoke brewhouse will be able to supply. If this comes online and more beers are added to the portfolio (of existing Pils and US IPA) then look for both co-founders to use their media backgrounds to truly make Bellfield known up and down the country.

 

 

Fierce Beer – You may well have heard of Fierce Beer, but if you haven’t then chances are 2017 is the year in which you will. They blew onto the scene last year in a way not seen for a while – since the first brew in May, ex-oilworker homebrewers Dave Grant and David McHardy ratcheted everything up almost immediately. Within three months they had secured investment to expand into a brewhouse in Dyce, created a core line-up of ten different beers and launched into London by taking over the Rake in Borough Market. One of the great things about the industry at the moment is that brewers can create ranges with peanut/raspberry/habanero and it is in no way a gimmick. Fierce by name, Fierce by nature – look out, 2017.

 

 

Fyne Ales – One nugget that slipped out unnoticed towards the end of last year was the fact that the champions of Argyll had started a programme of spontaneous fermentation. Having obtained seven French wine casks a very special beer was encased within and is apparently going to remain there for at least two years. But instead of adding Fyne Ales to the 2019 brewers to watch list, they probably deserve keeping tabs on much sooner than that – their barrel-ageing programme is set to reveal all kinds of treasures (if you like Imperial Stouts, for instance) and when coupled with the fact that 2017 is the fifteenth anniversary of their first full year of brewing, expect one of the best breweries in the UK to get even better.

 

 

Dead End Brew Machine – Speaking of Fyne Ales, their sponsorship of the 2012 IBD Scottish Homebrew Competition resulted in Zombier, a porter created by Jake Griffin and Chris Lewis. Both now have microbreweries of their own, and to be honest either could be in this list. Jake’s Up Front had an amazing year last year – I can only hope that Chris’s concern has a similarly breakout twelve months. From debuting a passion fruit IPA (Dead One) in March, Chris brewed at a series of different places with every single result being outstanding. Glasgow has seen a surge of brewing talent arrive over the last year or so, which is fantastic to see. If Chris gets more brewdays in the bank over the next few months, be sure and track down anything he comes up with.





ENGLAND/WALES

Harbour – Moving into England, we start with Harbour Brewing Company. This time last year Eddie Lofthouse and his team were brewing on a 10BBL kit and pondering a few changes. That resulted in a new 30BBL kit, a new canning line and a new head brewer in Stuart Howe. A year of consolidation is far from on the cards however as they are soon to rip out that canning line for a larger one (a sure sign that aluminium is back and here to stay) and are planning on building an entirely new warehouse to free space for an enlarged brewery. Their second expansion in two years will see Harbour replacing almost their entire core line-up and refreshing the packaging to boot. So no signs of slowing down in Cornwall…
 

 

Camden Town – It’s just over a year since AB-InBev wrote the biggest cheque to be seen in British brewing for quite a while – the around £85m to buy Camden Town Brewery. Since then the packaging has been tweaked, fellow subsumers Elysian flew over for a collab (their shared AB-InBev parentage not making this ‘did you know?’ blog post), and new beers were released. Oh, and a colossal new brewery constructed in Enfield. Come the spring, the facility will be open and from then on it will be fascinating to see where Camden Town (and their beers) end up, both figuratively and literally. Only time will tell – but a lot of eyes will be turned to North London in the meantime…

 

 

Elusive – Andy Parker was on this list last year, and he’s going on it again. Back then it was down to the strength of his collaborations and the prospect of the upcoming brewery build in Finchampstead. Now, it’s because his brewery is complete and he has started production. Like Chris Lewis, I’m not quite sure Andy knows just how brilliant he is as a brewer (even with the homebrewing awards) – although a glance at a few Golden Pints roundups from across the beer writing world would make that immediately obvious. Andy is now advertising for a part-time brewer to join the team, and with more new beers hitting the shelves than ever, I’m genuinely excited to see where the next year is going to take him.

 

 

Lines Brew Co – Moving into Wales, the sudden demise of Celt Experience under Tom Newman was a real shame – but thankfully he bounced back pretty quickly with a new brewery specialising in Farmhouse Ales and with no beer brewed more than once. All of these things make Lines Brew Co worth watching, and their base in Caerphilly will undoubtedly be home to all manner of fascinating experiments in brewing, ageing and harnessing of the mighty yeast. With beers already out, expect word to similarly escape in 2017 about this particular Welsh brewery – certainly if the standard of beers they brought to IndyMan back in October are anything to go by…

 

 

Cloudwater – Finally, we have Cloudwater. They were the number 1 English brewery to watch on this list last year, and (although an easy pick) certainly came through to justify it. I wasn’t going to include them for 2017 – they are off on that upward curve already – but a few days ago the announcement was made that they are ceasing cask production and will be focusing on keg and bottle/can, with cans then taking a higher percentage of their beer. This is going to be one of the stories of the year to follow, as evidenced by the staggering outpouring of beer blogs that resulted. Have a read of the best of them here, here and here and then make a mental note to check back a few months from now to see if Cloudwater’s decision was a positive or negative for the industry.



And the place you can check back is right here, around June/July when I’ll be revisiting all of these stories to see how each of the ten breweries are faring. Let me know in the comments below if there are any other breweries who will have breakout years in 2017 or will have stories to follow!

Double Up

TurboJarl

Well, all those emails and calls certainly paid off. A tweet, linked to Instagram, plops into the timeline in the middle of the afternoon, with a mere six words of fanfare. In a single moment, that announcement carries the suggestion of a beer that many people have been wondering about for a long time. Fyne Ales are going to make an Imperial version of their all-conquering 3.8% Citra pale ale Jarl. Turbo Jarl. The legend, doubled.

Alright, it’s not the second coming or anything – but for a serious amount of time I’ve wondered what a ramped-up Citra hopped beer from Argyll’s finest would be like. Sure, they have Superior IPA – but that’s an India Pale Ale; and it has Cascade pitching in with the Citra. The sheer joy of Jarl is in its sessionability – it is the perfect first sipper. Any beer brewed to 7.4%, nudging under the duty threshold, can’t possibly have the same ideal as Scotland’s Summer Classic, can it?

But just think on for a minute. There are no better hands for this project to be in. Fortifying something that – since it first appeared at the debut FyneFest of 2010 – has been cemented as one of the outstanding beers of Scotland in recent times, winning SIBA awards and being crowned Champion Beer of Scotland in 2013. Maybe now is the perfect time to push out the longship boat a little and see where it lands.

Why the hell not? I know many roll the eyes at the craftification of brewing, and the rush for bigger, stronger, slower. Balsamic barrel-aged sour tomato beers and the like. But these things are all the product of experimentation, fed through the skill of our brewers – and that keeps the industry going, attracts great young talent and the interest keeps them there. If there is a market for the end-result – and by goodness, will there ever be a market for high-abv Jarl – then absolutely good on them.

Now, before I write something utterly ridiculous like high-abv beers are brewers’ Himalayas – here are five other Scottish beers that it would be interesting to see a ‘double’ version of…

Cromarty AKA IPA – While we’re on the subject of beers that captured the Zeitgeist – Cromarty’s tub-thumping IPA (no slouch at 6.7%) would be boosted into the stratosphere with an extra third again on the abv. Except, this one has already been done – Cromarty Man Overboard was released in January. People power!

Cairngorm Black Gold – The dark to Jarl’s light; a stunning and multi-award winning beer (not to mention the current Champion Beer of Scotland). At 4.4% it has fantastic depth – but what would it be like at 7.5%? Cairngorm rarely venture over 5% – for fans of bigger beer, this could be a real winner.

Stewart 80/- – Let’s push the flipchart here – an imperial 80/-? Ending up like a bastard lovechild of an old ale and a wee heavy, this might put the cat amongst the pigeons. Doubled up, at least Loanhead’s finest would know what to call it, even if Stewart 160/- would require an extra digit on the pump clip.

This. Is. Lager. – Well Ok, I guess I could whisper this upstairs but imperial lagers are few and far between and – when delivered well – really bring something interesting to the table. Avery, Brown, Dredge was a similar vein, but doubling-up TIL would raise a few eyebrows.

Pilot Ultravilot – Just to see how much of this Leith’s finest could take.

What other beers from the UK would have a totally different outlook placed on them, if they were doubled up?

Linger

Outdoors2

Why do people drink? For me, it fills the gaps between meals – but it’s a question that has been asked ever since beverages more tasty than water were invented. Ever since ‘Ug the curious’ discovered that you could ferment fruit and became the most popular Neanderthal on Earth, people have wondered just what it is about alcoholic beverages that attracts others, or (more pertinently) keeps them coming back. One of the important reasons is in that last sentence, of course – the fact that they have that mild toxic effect we return to time after time. Taking aside the social aspects of this question for a minute, the other main reason why those who drink do so – as if you needed a moment to even consider – is the flavour. That’s why there are different styles of beer; it’s why wine is infinitely more complex than red or white, and it’s why Advocaat exists. It shouldn’t, but it does.

Flavour is not just a single experience, a lone point, though. As anyone who’s attempted to judge beer has discovered, for our favoured beverage it is broken down into different distinctions. There’s general flavour – i.e. ‘what am I experiencing right now’, and there’s aftertaste – i.e. ‘what am I experiencing…right…now’. Each of these has further quantifiers. From the hop-forward power IPA that lights up the tastebuds before the glass has left the lips, to the long, drawn out finish of something beefier. In fact, if we want to break into another plane entirely, I remember the very first ever tasting notes written on the BeerCast were of (if you can believe it) Sagres Bohemia – a representative of the lesser-known Portuguese Dunkel style – which was summed up in April 2007 in the following manner…

Dark, Portugal, strong, subtle…has pre, current and after taste

Now, aside from being still the best tasting note I’ve ever seen (and a riot of oxymorons), it even borders on the metaphysical. A beer that has a pre-taste is one that is definitely worth seeking out, you would think. Of course, it’s the final words of that note that are important in that regard – the aftertaste is crucial in beer. It determines instantly whether you like what you have decided to take a punt on, whether you’ll be ordering another, and whether you’ll need to break into those polo mints on the way home or not. For me, without doubt it is the most vital component of a beer. And the most vital component of that is Linger. How long those flavours stay around makes or breaks a beer. Even those styles – like, say, mild – that don’t have a long aftertaste can still have an amazing linger; they can provide a base flavour you enjoy long after putting the glass back on the table.

Maybe it’s a simple progression – flavour > aftertaste > linger. Or maybe it’s just semantics on my part – but I always differentiate between those last two. Aftertaste coats the mouth as you swallow, and then linger is what you get after you count to five. I think I remember reading once about cigar smokers ‘rolling the flavours around in the mouth’ – and it’s maybe along the same lines (although I’ve only ever attempted to smoke a cigar once in my life, and it ended with me regurgitating my £2 pints of Carling into a bush outside Hull University). The experience of enjoying a lasting flavour is by no means limited to beer – the number one lingering sensation has to be garlic – but there are plenty of ales out there that give you an amazing result, long after you expect it.

MarbleA

Here are five of the best Scottish beers I can think of for Linger – with these, the rewards just keep on coming.

Tempest Unforgiven (5.4%)
A juniper rye ale with smoked oak, on cask this one goes on and on. Smoked and rauchbiers are (in)famous for their long, deep aftertastes, the addition of juniper gives this one a lift away from the full-on sausage-meat effect of some of Germany’s finest, towards a sloe-gin element that really works.

Loch Lomond Silkie Stout (5.0%)
This particular style is perfectly suited to yielding a long, rewarding linger – but the balance of malt right at the beginning is where it really pays off. Silkie is a stout that has a fantastic ashen dryness on the finish, that you can really taste for a while after. Proof that it doesn’t have to be hoppy to be moreish.

Highland Old Norway (9.0%)
Barley Wines are a prefect illustration of beers that leave you with a complex, enduring far-aftertaste. And like many of their beers, Highland’s is the best in Scotland for the style. Old Norway is a masterpiece, with a linger of figs, honey and warming, walloping alcohol.

Fyne Ales Vital Spark (4.4%)
I’ve never really been entirely sure what style Vital Spark is (a medium mild?), but it’s my favourite beer that they produce. This is largely down to the fantastic flavours that it leaves you with – the key here being the blackcurrant fruitiness that blends into the roasty finish.

Stewart Brewing Chilli Reekie (6.2%)
Another ingredient bound to linger, Stewart’s chillied-up version of their strong stout Cauld Reekie has a rising subtlety of heat which works really well with the base components of the beer. Chilli is easy to overdo, and this one gets the balance perfectly correct (unlike the worst beer linger I ever experienced)…