Tag Archives: Harviestoun

Beer of the Week – Harviestoun The Ridge

Friday means two things – firstly that the weekend is just around the corner, and secondly it’s time for another beery recommendation from the growing list of the most unsung beers in Scotland. On the cusp of every weekend this year I’ll be putting forth a suggestions of a beer that might well have flown under your radar but which should actually be front and centre next time you fancy uncapping a bottle of something interesting.

For this instalment we have what could be the quintessential beer to fit that bill. How many Harviestoun beers can you name? Bitter & Twisted. Schiehallion. Old Engine Oil of course. If your list ends there then here’s a classic that you also should append the next time you get a chance. From the small town of Alva comes a beer that on paper ties up an odd blend of hops – the two major components are Amarillo and Fuggles – and yet in looking for the perfect mid-Atlantic Pale Ale Harviestoun have created an absolute belter; The Ridge.

17. The Ridge (5.0%)
Harviestoun Brewery, Alva
Style: Pale Ale
500 ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At Harviestoun’s online shop (as a case of 8x500ml bottles)
At Scottish Real Ales Online (as individual 500ml bottles)

Harviestoun’s transatlantic mashup can be summed up in a single word – zingy. Named after the point in the ocean where one tectonic plate meets the other (see what they did there?) the beer knocks UK and US hops against each other. There is a slight herbal spicy element on the far aftertaste that might be the Fuggles and East Kent Goldings fighting back but make no mistake about it, this is a straight up citrus-bomb from their American counterparts. Amarillo is my favourite hop and the orange and lemon it delivers here make this the beer that Bitter & Twisted should be. It’s a fantastic pale ale and one of the most under-rated iterations of the style in Scotland. A fantastic beer in every respect.

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

Beer of the Week – Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve

As the week draws to a close it does so with the now-traditional send-off – the BeerCast Beer of the Week. This time around sees the 10th entry in the list of the most unsung Scottish beers you can get your hands on, both traditional classics and modern wonders that deserve a place in your mixed-case of brews from north of the border. With one a week there will be 52 in all, so as we hit the middle of March (not quite St Patrick’s Day) we are going to turn attention towards darker beers once again and highlight one of the very best.

When it comes to barrel-ageing beer in Scotland, Harviestoun are the forerunners and the true pioneers. Ever since the moment in 2002 when an experiment involving Old Engine Oil and Dalmore whisky casks resulted in the beer that eventually became Ola Dubh, Alva’s finest have been on the ball with both barrel-aged beers and strong dark stouts. We may well return to siblings from that particular family tree later – but for now it’s the most under-rated of their line-up that lies in the spotlight – the quite amazing Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve.

10. Engineer’s Reserve (9.0%)
Harviestoun Brewery, Alva, Clackmannanshire
Style: Old Ale
330 ml bottle

First we need to talk about the style – Harviestoun list ER as a ‘Blackest Ale’ and it lies on RateBeer as an Old Ale – but there’s lots of imperial stout and export porter in there as well. The real strength, with pun very much intended, about Engineer’s Reserve is that it straddles all of these closely-related families of beers and it does so almost effortlessly. Whatever pigeon-hole you want to shove it into, it won’t stay there for long as it is one of the most drinkable 9%+ ABV beers I think I have ever tried – it is a paragon of balance and smoothness.

The original Old Engine Oil will no doubt also feature in this list of 52, such has been its formative relationship with the other beers in the Harviestoun stable – but although the Engineer’s Reserve is less influential it is even more incredible. Firstly, it is the most liquoricey beer I’ve ever had, but there’s a fantastic depth of dark malt and almost peaty richness in there as well that truly delivers great flavour after great flavour. And yet even though it has that balance there is that ever-present hit of warming booze never far away. A true classic.

Pick it up here:
At Harviestoun’s online shop (as a mini-case of 3x330ml 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
8. Black Isle Hibernator
9. Isle of Skye Red

Chasing the burn: Hauf and Hauf tasting, part one

As a proud drinking nation, Scotland has many a liquid tradition, and one of the most enduring of these is undoubtedly the half and half – or, to give it the proper title, the hauf an’ a hauf. A beer and a whisky, drunk in tandem. A half and a nip. A wee chaser. Now, at this point I have to hold up my hands and say that it’s not something I’ve ever really gone in for (more on why, later). But it’s an institution with a long history, so when a suggestion was broached by Ewan from Alva’s Harviestoun Brewery of a multi-faceted hauf and hauf experiment, it wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up; particularly as the tasting was also going to be leant a touch of class from the rampaging cold steel of the Edinburgh Whisky Blog.

Ewan suggested a series of hauf and hauf tastings, with each of the three pillars of the Forth drinking community bringing the goods, at least once. So for the first outing, hosted by the good folks at Drinkmonger, Harviestoun supplied their beers, to be matched with a range of whiskies. An ‘away’ round for us, we pitched up, empty of hand and open of mind, to be greeted by a sturdy table groaning with tasting glasses, whisky bottles, and cases of beer. The four we were to try were Ola Dubh’s 12 and 18, Schiehallion and Old Engine Oil – the latter being the beer that kick-started the resurgence of Scotland’s love affair with beer and whisky, when aged in Dalmore casks back in 2002 (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise).

First up, the twin Ola’s – each paired with the respective vintage of Highland Park; the single malt used in its creation, nudging Old Engine Oil along. Ola Dubh 12 and HP12 certainly emphasised the smoky flavours in each, softening the beer, and rounding out the edges. The 18’s, though, were a different story. The Highland Park 18 rolled over the Ola Dubh. Despite still being perceptible, the beer took a seat further back with each sip. As someone not familiar with the hauf and hauf , I found this fascinating. The HP18 removed and replaced the element of the Ola Dubh 18 that the whisky had given it in the first place, as it aged (if that makes sense).

If anything, we’d have all expected the 18’s – both being stronger, fuller, more determined flavours – to complement each other better, but it really wasn’t the case at all. Equally interesting was the next comparison – Schiehallion and Glenfarclas 15 versus Glenfarclas Heritage, against Harviestoun’s Orach Slie (Schiehallion aged in Glenfarclas casks). The Heritage gave a strong whisky burn, wiping the beer out, making it porridgey. But the 15 was perfect; soft and lozengy, the sweetness made the beer zappier, and when going back to the whisky, the Glenfarclas took on a sweet, caramel, honeyed fig flavour that was absolutely incredible.

I think that was the moment when I realised that beer and whisky pairing can really work. In the past, I would never, ever, have considered doing a hauf and hauf. Why? Because I come at it entirely from a beer perspective. I know they can improve each other, but even if so, why would I want to change the flavours the brewer intended? To give full consideration to the work of the beermaker, surely you should at the very least get the complete, unaltered picture of how it should taste. Otherwise, how can you assess the success of the brewer, and the cellar-keeper? I guess that’s simply a close-minded attitude to how one of our national drinks can really let the other shine (and vice versa).

A case in point; the final hauf and hauf, involving Old Engine Oil. The 2002 batch of OEO aged in Dalmore was bought, en masse, by the US importer following a single, ‘Man from Del Monte-esque’ sip. Pairing it with Old Pulteney made the beer wheatier and bready, whilst giving a coconut sweetness to the whisky. When put up against Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve (which the Whisky Blog guys were hopping from one foot to the other about), it made the beer delicately smoky. I don’t know how expensive the Founder’s Reserve is, but it’s rip-roaring, that’s for sure. The colour of buttered toast, it’s walloping, and worked with the OEO, even if, I actually preferred the Old Pulteney pairing.

I guess the bottom line here is what do you want from a hauf and hauf? To get loaded, quicker? A US-style ‘Shot and a beer, Dolores’? Or to give a depth of flavour to each drink? It seems, judging from the conversation, that the way half and halves are being seen is changing, as a newer generation of beer/whisky fans indulge in the practice as a tasting exercise, rather than an end-of-shift exercise. A highlight, rather than a hit. Anyhow, it’s something I’m seriously glad I have now been able to experience, and it leaves me wondering quite why I had never considered it before. Clearly, getting out of the beer box every now and again is a good thing.

Next up, the onus falls on the BeerCast – we’ll be supplying four beers to be paired with whisky suggested by the Whisky Blog guys. The styles we have in mind are:-

1) Saison – something with lots of citrus, like Brew By Numbers Lemon Wa-iti
2) Big IPA – because, well, y’know…
3) Coconut Porter – How will the sweet coconut change the whisky?
4) Sour – a whisky sour? What’s not to love?

Whisky Blog/Harviestoun ; over to you…

Nicholsons Christmas Beer – Sleigh Driver


Christmas. One inevitable facet of the year-end festivities is that they bring people together. Families. Elbow-jousting shoppers. Baileys-fuelled office party-goers. Whether you like it or not, groups get together at Christmas, and (more likely as not) turn to drink. Quite obviously, the best place to be when this human urge to congregate occurs is in the pub – that very British gift to the world. To cater for this uplift in seasonal sales, many (if not most) breweries put out a festive special; something dark, spiced or otherwise. To allow for ample conditioning time and logistics, these decisions are made around the time the clocks go back; brewing manuals are thumbed and contact details of spice wholesalers Googled.

Pubs, too, realise the importance of providing a distinctive alternative to the mainstream at Christmas. Operating companies like Mitchells & Butlers know that alongside the general December rush, people who have a genuine interest in cask ale will be watching to see what arrives on their local taps. As such, they have, for the last couple of years, put out a special festive series of beers through the Nicholson’s chain, giving their drinkers something to sample once the afternoons become dark and sleet-flecked. For this year, Nicholson’s decided to involve their Cask Masters in the process – the 77 men and women tasked with looking after the cask ales served in their pubs up and down the UK.

At the same time, I was also asked to be involved, alongside fellow beer writers Melissa Cole and Ben McFarland. Each of us were paired with a geographical group of Cask Masters, and then dispatched to a local brewery for a day to formulate a recipe for the Christmas beer. Ben went to Adnams with his group, Mel to Brains with hers, and I made the short trip up the Forth to Alva, and Harviestoun Brewery. Other than the abv of the beer, everything was at the discretion of the brewery and the Cask Masters, and it was up to yours truly to keep everything flowing in the general direction of something festive and drinkable.

The Masters at Harviestoun (which sounds like it should be a prog-rock band) had made the trip from all parts of Scotland, plus Northern Ireland, Yorkshire, Lancashire and even as far afield as Birmingham (necessitating 4am starts, in some cases). The ideas – as well as the beer – began flowing almost immediately. Collaborating on projects is one of the best things about the brewing industry – it underlines the sense of respect and mutual appreciation that exists between people involved with all facets of producing, transporting and selling beer. Certainly, the Cask Masters I spoke to afterwards appreciated getting the chance to design a festive beer, from start to finish.

On the day, the brewing team at Harviestoun (led by Amy Phizacklea) had come up with a fantastic idea; showcasing our native hops by producing a purely British-hopped brew. Of all the points discussed during the brainstorming, agreement for this was unanimous. From that point, bags of hops were passed around, rubbed and sniffed, and a consensus reached. The beer would be dark, but not pitch black. It would be well hopped, but not overtly so. It would have orangey notes from the Admiral, with a good burst of herbal spice from the Challenger and Pilot (First Gold and Fuggles were also added).

Don’t take my word for it, though – Harviestoun Sleigh Driver is on now at Nicholson’s pubs across Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England, and as a (winning) guest ale in Nicholson’s pubs in the other two regional zones. Head along and please let me know what you think of it. Alternatively, you can win a case of 330ml bottles of Sleigh Driver for your very own self, dispatched direct from the Harviestoun brewery. Enter either through the Harviestoun website, or through the Nicholson’s pubs Facebook page. Best of luck, and here’s hoping our entrant comes out on top in the Nicholsons Christmas Beer taste test.

Many thanks to all at Harviestoun for hosting, and to those at Nicholson’s and Mitchells & Butlers. Full disclosure My attendance at the brewday brainstorming was paid for by M&B.

Harviestoun keep the plates spinning


Breweries – the good ones, that is – are seemingly never satisfied with how things are. Whether updating the core range, making room for new hops, or re-badging an existing line – nothing is sacred. Often, of course, these things are dictated by other powers – such as issues with supply, distribution or hop performance. But, on the whole, those breweries that like to be seen as progressive do not stand still for long, and are willing to shake things up every now and again, to keep things fresh.

One brewery that has been spritzing recently are Harviestoun. Long purveyors of cask and keg, recent attention has been turned to their bottled lineup. Rumours have abounded for a while that they may seek to launch their US-only Engineer’s Reserve into the home market – which would be a very good thing indeed. But, of more substance, they have also been tinkering with some of the more established classics. Firstly, Bitter & Twisted and Schiehallion were released in 330ml bottles for the first time (500ml versions will remain), with the latter having been re-branded in a fetching silvery sheen.

Ostensibly for the restaurant trade, Harviestoun seem to have recognised the lighter, hoppier numbers would be in demand from pairing-curious diners. With the adoption of the smaller bottle size, it seems as if they are really running with it – each month this year will see a special 330ml release of one of their cask beers. At the moment, following the festive Haggis Hunter, Natural Blonde is in the starting blocks. Alongside this:- small numbers of each batch will be bottle-conditioned.

This is something of a development for Harviestoun – and it clearly fits more neatly into Stuart Cail’s ethos. At the same time, the Alva brewery have been further experimenting. Firmly in the ‘nothing sacred’ pigeonhole, they have been looking at Ola Dubh. The barrel-aged flagship – one of the pioneers of the craft in Scotland – Ola Dubh is essentially high-gravity Old Engine Oil (brewed to 10.5%) which is then mellowed over time in Highland Park casks, coming in at 8% once the ageing process is complete.

Well, a while ago, Harviestoun’s Ewan McCowen hurriedly pressed a clinking case into my hands in a carpark (true story), before departing in a cloud of tyre smoke. On opening, the box revealed a dozen, 330ml, bottle-conditioned, trial bottles of the high-gravity Ola Dubh. Yes, the 10.5%er. And it’s fantastic. Given – it’s black, oily and viscous – but the bottle-conditioning gives it that extra depth, and lifts it. Sweet, smooth, oaky whisky on the finish as ever – it will be interesting to see how the flavours develop in the other bottles, tucked carefully away in a safe place.

Cail’s lore


This blog post was initially going to be very different – a pictorial of the Harviestoun Brewery, taken during a recent Guild of Beer Writers’ tour of their facility in Alva. Instead, in a complete switch of the usual ‘picture is worth a thousand words’ mantra, it’s going to be simply a series of quotes.

Harviestoun’s head brewer Stuart Cail has been around for many years, and is one of the best in the business. As the tour he gave us progressed, I stopped writing down the figures, put the camera in the back pocket, and just tried to scribble down as much of what he said as possible…


“Three or four years ago, we moved to silos of bulk malt. Our speciality malts – wheat, crystal, pinhead oats and so-on, we still weigh out by hand. But, price wise, bulk malt comes in considerably less than sack – and with Crisp Maltings up the road in Alloa, we have that connection. It makes sense to use it.”

“Our main competitor for malt is the big distilleries. Cereal has become a commodity now – which I think is disgraceful – trading foodstuffs on the market. Go and make money in gold or diamonds if you want, but not from food.”

“The joy of hops is that you don’t know until the beer how the hop flavour will come out. Some smell amazing on the rub, and you think it will transfer into the beer – but it just doesn’t. Others, the opposite is true, and they really surprise you. I love that.”

“The difference between big beer and that from smaller breweries is like a ready meal versus home-cooked food. The home-cooked will be better – but there’s room for both. Neither is wrong. Ready meals are consistent and can be good – whereas every time you cook a meal the quality can vary. But one day, it tastes better than you’ve ever made it. This desire to improve each time is what truly drives brewers.”

“If a pub serves badly, it’s the badge of the brewer that suffers. If a new drinker gets a great pint of real ale, it’ll spur them on to try more. If they get a bad first experience, they’ll never come back.”

“Most beer is built to be drunk young. Budweiser’s ‘Born-On’ dates were the best thing they ever did. The rest of the industry missed a trick not getting on the back of that. Instead, we have best before dates for supermarkets. When I started, it was three months – then six, nine, twelve, eighteen – soon they’ll be wanting two year shelf life. You’re talking higher filtration, bigger pasteurisation – you’re buggering the beer, basically.”

“We need better ranges of bottles in pubs. When the casks aren’t on form, people look to the fridges. Get great beer in the fridge, otherwise customers think ‘Well, I’ve got better beer than that at home, so why am I here?'”

“Rules are being re-written since I was at Heriot-Watt. Using lager malt, for instance. It’s just as good as distiller’s malt – do people think they make a different product for brewers? The difference between top and bottom-fermentation is another – these days, it’s more down to the shape of your vessel than the yeast. Certain aspects of brewing are changing quickly and moving. Others have never been questioned. Why is this?”

“The growth of craft keg is happening – and it will mirror the growth in the cask market, which is doing better because it’s better beer [these days]. The same is going to happen with keg. Good quality cask beer takes some beating – but we’ve got to get away from this ‘if it’s not cask, it’s shite’ mentality. All good real ale and craft keg brewers help the industry. Don’t blame the container. It’s not the container’s fault.”