In our recent preview of the 2008 Scottish Real Ale Festival I wrote that we were all looking forward to trying some new things, as it’s really the main reason for going along. Last year’s festival (the review of which is here) was something of an eye-opener to the BeerCast – we’d only just started out on the real ale path – so practically everything we tried was new. I remember the first beer I sampled then (picked totally at random) was Fyne Ales’s Pipers Gold, which I described as “like drinking an entire flowerbed”. It seems my baffling beer descriptions haven’t improved over the last twelve months.
Fast forward a year, and we turned up at the Assembly Rooms on Friday and it was suddenly all so familiar. The brewers, the brands, the styles of beer, the boozy queasinesses – we seemed like old hands striding around with our pint glasses at the ready. But of course the beauty of a beer festival is that even those who try and learn as much about local beer as they can will still be able to find something they’ve yet to experience. So here’s what I managed to pack into a few short hours on Friday afternoon…
1. Orkney IPA (4.8%)
Highland Brewery, Birsay, Orkney.
‘A refreshing well-hopped pale ale’ said the tasting notes in the festival guide, and what better way to start an afternoon’s research? I’ve long wanted to try this given the reputation of the Highland Brewery (reigning Champion Beer of Scotland winners for Dark Munro), but not yet seen it during our beery travels. As an IPA it’s characteristically hoppy, more in the aftertaste than up front, but a really good session ale.
2. Gold Rush (3.9%)
Harviestoun Brewery, Alva, Clackmannanshire.
Next I made a bee-line for the Harviestoun section, as their little-seen seasonal Gold Rush was pretty much the first thing that caught my eye when wandering around. If it’s even half as good as Bitter and Twisted or Schiehallion then it’d be a winner. As it was, it was just as good – zingy and packed full of hops, it reminded me a bit of Stewart’s Edinburgh Gold – which is probably my favourite beer. Great stuff.
3. Peden’s Cove (3.5%)
Windie Goat Brewery, Failford, South Aryshire.
‘Pale Bitter named after the area where Alexander Peden preached from’, apparently. After a quick Google, Peden was a 17th Century Covenanter repeatedly jailed for preaching about his Presbyterianism. As for the beer, the classic musty Fuggles hop smell really comes out of this very pale session bitter. It’s pretty good stuff, and makes me want to try more from this relatively new producer (they started in 2006).
4. Midnight Sun (5.6%)
Williams Brothers, Alloa, Clackmannanshire.
Residents of the Wee County are really spoiled when it comes to brewers – just down the road from Harviestoun are the Williams Brothers, another big favourite of the BeerCast. They also had one of their seasonals at the festival, Midnight Sun – a hoppy porter with added ginger. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it was ab-so-lutely fantastic. Smooth, dark tastes with the edge given by ginger (which was just in the very background), and pretty hefty at 5.6%abv, it was just great. My beer of the festival, and a real find.
5. Skullsplitter (8.5%)
Sinclair Orkney Brewery, Quoyloo, Orkney.
Recently named Scotland’s best Barleywine for 2008, Skullsplitter is a mighty concoction. We bought a collective half to sample (it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon) to see what the fuss was about. There’s certainly a distinctive ‘prunes soaked in vodka’ smell to it, although I didn’t pick up any of the suggested apple and/or plum. Very spicy taste, and surprisingly subtle, but to be honest one to sip in different surroundings than at a beer festival.
6. Dark Moor (4.5%)
Kelburn Brewery, Barrhead, East Renfrewshire.
Last year I went for a total random selection and ended up with Sulwath’s Solway Mist, a cloudy wheat beer I noted tasted like “lemonade mixed with antiseptic”. But I thought I’d give the idea another go, and plumped for Dark Moor, a ruby bitter from Kelburn. It was eminently more preferable – fruity and a lovely shade of red, a really nice session bitter.
And that was that, as we wandered out into the commuter-packed streets and went to a pub to draw breath*. Some really great finds at the 2008 Scottish Real Ale Festival (to give it the proper name), even given the high percentage of beers on offer we’re familiar with. Look out for other posts by BeerCasters who were there, and keep an eye out for future posts (and maybe podcasts) involving some of these new discoveries.
* I’m not ashamed to admit I had a pint of Kirin Ichiban, being totally real-ale’d out