Tag Archives: Swannay

Beer of the Week – Swannay Orkney Imperial Stout

So, the series ends here. All throughout 2017 I have been trying to cast a light on some of the beers produced by Scottish breweries that I feel deserve a little more attention. Whether they are under-appreciated, modern classics or just plain flying under the radar, every week I have listed a new entrant that I feel needs a little more love. And to round things off, two days before we hit 2018, I’m ending on a high. This is the singlemost under-rated beer in Scotland.

Of course it had to come from Swannay. Every year I mentally list the Scottish brewers who are at the top of their game and Swannay are in it every single year (that is no exaggeration) – way back to before they were even Swannay. This multi award-winning family-run business is one of the top three breweries in Scotland and has been for as long as I can remember. Of course, beers such as the mighty Orkney Porter are a huge reason for this – and there’s no way I could have that on my list of unsung beers as it’s arguably the best beer in the UK. But one that is right up there alongside it? Step forward Orkney Imperial Stout.

52. Orkney Imperial Stout (8.0%)
Swannay Brewery, Orkney
Style: Imperial Stout
330ml bottle

Pick it up here:
From the from Swannay’s online shop

Back before New England IPA and Sours and whatever came before that, Imperial Stouts were the thing. A brief flurry of high-gravity armchair beers appeared around five years ago and were quickly usurped by other styles. But the Imperial Stout is still king – and Swannay’s is right at the top of the tree. And for my year-long exercise in uncovering unsung brews, it also stands right at the peak. Let’s take a look as to why that might be.

Firstly, as I said in the introduction it has a more commonly-heralded stablemate. Orkney Porter is an incredible beer and the similar Imperial Stout is often left in the shadows as a result. Secondly, it isn’t seen that often aside from the Swannay online shop and a few incredibly fleeting appearances on cask in the larger Scottish cities (and if you ever do see it on cask, it is nigh-unbelievable and a must-order). Thirdly it comes from a brewery at the far end of the country, perched on a rocky islet who go about their business with a calm, respectful attitude. The only thing blustery on Orkney is the wind.

Added all together those factors make for a champion of the unsung. But you also need a beer worthy of the accolade. There’s no point in quietly whispering about something for people to try if it’s not worth their time. But Swannay’s Orkney Imperial Stout is magnificent. Massively approachable for an 8% beer it is deeply roasty, has layers of dark fruit in there and is dry and ashy – different to the opulent Porter but every bit (in my eyes) as good.

This is a true yardstick for Scottish brewing, a marker for how our men and women are creating beers every bit as good as those from anywhere else. Orkney Imperial Stout is the must unsung beer in Scotland and one of the very best. It’s the reason why I started this quest and the perfect way in which to end it.

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
44. Fyne Ales Vital Spark
45. Knops Musselburgh Broke
46. Orkney Red MacGregor
47. Cross Borders Porter
48. BrewDog Jack Hammer
49. six°north Hop Classic
50. Stewart Brewing Cauld Reekie
51. Williams Bros Nollaig

Caveat Emptor – Don’t Grab and Go…

Recently in the last couple of weeks something has happened to me – twice – that has never happened before. Maybe it’s a sign of my advancing years, I don’t know, but it certainly was something I never remotely considered back in the day. I guess it happens to every beer fan as they get older.

On two different visits to bottle shops, I bought the wrong beer.

When I say that, I don’t mean I had heard about the latest imperial chia seed and papaya weizengose and inadvertently selected one from a different brewery. I mean, I went in to buy one specific beer (that I know and love) and somehow picked up another and paid for it without noticing.

Just the other day I went to Beer Zoo here in Edinburgh to buy a bottle of Swannay’s Imperial Stout, and only noticed when I went into the cupboard to get it out that I’d actually bought Swannay Orkney Porter.

I know, Champagne problems, right?

The strange thing is that I realised my erroneous purchase only after picking the beer up, putting it on the counter, paying for it, putting it in a [Boots carrier] bag, taking it home, putting it in the beer cupboard and then reaching for it later. At no point during any of those moments did I twig that I’d mistaken one for the other. And it happened to me a few weeks ago as well. So what’s going on?

Well it could be one of two things – either I am getting more careless in my advancing years and don’t look twice at the shelf before snatching what (I think) I want, or the retina-blistering array of craft beer that shines from your average beer shelf just looks too confusing for frail old forty-somethings like myself. You only have to glance at a shelf of cans from Beavertown, Magic Rock, Drygate and Flying Dog to need a sit down.

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. I ended up with one of the best beers in the world so it’s all good. Maybe the inconvenience of having to drink every drop will make me think twice about looking away whilst grabbing a beer. Keep your eyes on the prize beer fans. That’s the lesson here. Caveat Emptor.

Beer of the Week – Swannay Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout

Another week draws to a close with a beery recommendation from me on a great Scottish beer that might be flying under your radar. Two, in fact, as last week I ran out of time to get one up so it’s a twofer this time around. And in an act of true symmetry the beers this week are a stout and a porter. The latter will be detailed in a second post, so let’s get to the stout. And what a stout it is.

Swannay are no strangers to this list; I’ve already featured the all-world Old Norway barley wine and their blink and you miss it Orkney Session – but they are masters of the dark beer as well. As I said about two weeks ago, there are so many stouts on this list – far more than I would have thought when starting out this adventure back in January – but maybe given the weather here that shouldn’t have been so surprising. So if you’re looking for another great Scottish stout, you have to get a little sneaky…

42. Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout (4.2%)
Swannay Brewery, Orkney
Style: Stout
500ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At Swannay’s online shop (as individual 500ml bottles)

This is a beautifully roasty numnber – as all the best stouts are. Dry, ash-bitter and chocolatey this beer is a triumph of roasted barley. Now there is another stout from a Celtic nation that prides itself on the use of this ingredient, but Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout delivers all that you would expect from a dark beer and then some. That extra push is down to dry-hopping, which just about appears to add a complementary input but never removing an ounce from the showcase of roasty flavour. It’s a joy to drink, particularly at this time of year.

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

Beer of the Week – Swannay Orkney Session

The weekend is once again upon us, and we are into August no less. It seems like the Easter Egg wrappers have just been cleared away but we are on the cusp of Autumn already. With time flying like never before there is less of it than ever to devote to great beer. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. So each and every Friday throughout 2017 I will be suggesting a single beer for you – a spotlight on a great unsung Scottish Beer of the Week.

With hundreds of beers from around 150 Scottish breweries producing at the moment, there’s just so much to keep track of. And that’s even if you ignore everything from south of the border and overseas. So be choosy – whittle it down into 52 easily found brews that if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying, will get you through the year in great shape. Like this one, the 31st recommendation. A fantastic session beer from Orkney.

31. Orkney Session (3.8%)
Swannay Brewery, Orkney
Style: Pale Ale
500ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At Swannay’s online shop (as individual 500ml bottles)

Rob Hill is the king of the session beer in Scotland. He might not see them that way, but there is no better producer of cask-friendly traditional pale beers in the country. And people know this – Scapa Special, Island Hopping, Orkney Pale, Orkney IPA – all have won awards and are rightly treasured. So when you think of Swannay and unsung beers (as I have, several times, for this series) then you have to look at the special releases.

Orkney Session is Swannay’s ‘session pale ale’ in everything but name – whether you have a few as part of a session is up to you. That’s because Swannay use buzzphrases like that through gritted teeth (which is great), and because this beer is named after the other kind of session found in pubs; music. Brewed for the Orkney Folk Festival it hits a series of high points of bitterness thanks to the unusual combination of hops used – Bobek, Cascade, Motueka and Simcoe. Something for everyone in there – but isn’t that the best thing about a session?

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

Beer of the Week – Swannay Old Norway

Time to kick off the work shoes and lace up those drinking boots – Friday has rolled around again. Last week I began a new series, shining a light on unsung Scottish beers that deserve to be in your cupboard or fridge (or cupboard, fridge and then glass). Seven days ago I started things off with a beer that started an entire brewery – Fyne Ales Highlander – and now for the second of my Scottish Beers of the Week we’re moving 250 miles north of Argyll and crashing ashore on the windblown islands that make up Orkney.

This is a beer I had last on New Year’s Eve and it hit me like the proverbial thunderbolt – and not just because it clocks in at 8%. The best beers in the world make your eyes open instantly to not just the skill but also the intentions of a brewer – and this particular beer encompasses history, tradition, location and one of the true unsung heroes of brewing in the UK – Maris Otter malt. It also reminded me just who the best brewer in Scotland is (in my opinion) – Rob Hill at Swannay. The second of my 52 Scottish beers to try (if you haven’t already) is the untold classic that is the mighty Old Norway.


2. Old Norway
(8.0%)

Swannay Brewery, Swannay by Evie, Orkney
Style: Barley Wine
330 ml bottle

There’s an aspect of brewing that is often overlooked by today’s customers – driven as we are by ingredients, pricing, packaging and F5’ing social media feeds every twenty seconds. I’m thinking of logistics. Unless your name is Eddie or Norbert there’s nothing sexy about getting things from A to B, so even less a reason for customers to stare at a shelf of beer and think ‘how did that come to be here?’. Apart from me, I guess. The fact that Swannay’s beers (and others from that part of the world) arrive from Orkney on a regular basis seems little short of a miracle – the ballache it must be to organise everything I can’t possibly imagine. Every brewer within five miles of a motorway has no idea.

Anyway, that’s a point for another time – the beers that make it on the Hill family’s private sloop from Kirkwall are among the best you can find anywhere, and when looking for one to single out then head for the seldom-seen barley wine Old Norway. If there’s a better example of the style in the UK then I don’t know what it is. This is a smooth, armchair beer of the highest order. Deep, almost lozengey-sweet but with a backdrop of leathery bitterness it is like drinking a sherry or a port – not in terms of flavour, but in terms of the mouthfeel and warmth it brings with each and every sip. There are apricots, honey, marzipan – but that’s just me, this is one of those beers everyone will get something different from but it will all be very, very good. A stone-cold classic, Old Norway is a true benchmark.

Pick it up here:
At Swannay’s online shop (as single bottles)

Beer of the Week Series:
1. Fyne Ales Highlander

Highland no more – Swannay Brewery launch

Swannay1

Name, logo, visuals. All are important when forming a company – it becomes your identity much more than whatever aspirations you hold when starting out. People can’t associate with the finer points of your ethos unless you are able to talk to each customer individually, so instead you have the natural extension that is your brand. Brewing is an industry with long associations in this regard – right from the days of the Bass red triangle (the first trademark ever filed) beermakers have focused attention on what’s on the front of the bottle as well as what’s inside. Having that individuality of character is how people tell you apart, after all.

Last night, one of Scotland’s most respected breweries began a transition from one identity to another. Re-branding can be a tricky business – at risk is the entire momentum of the company if people fail to get on board or recognise the new look. From subtle alterations to football teams changing colours, there have been recent examples of this going wrong – but Orkney’s Highland Brewing Company are the latest in a long line of companies to realise that they needed to update things a little and undergo what ponytailed marketeers would no doubt refer to as a ‘brand refresh’.

The new guise is more than that, however – Highland have gone all-in and changed the name of the brewery. Rob Hill and sons have thought long and hard about how to make their beer more synonymous with their home – Lewis Hill confirming what I have wondered for a while, which is that as Orkney isn’t actually in the Highlands they felt the name lacked connection. They can’t have picked a new name that was more apt – the brewery sits near the Swannay burn that feeds the freshwater Loch of the same name, on the northern tip of the mainland of Orkney. They are very definitely the Swannay Brewery.

Swannay4

Aside from the name change, there’s a new nautical-inspired twisted rope logo, and the pump clips feature similarly marine-esque designs. It all looks really rather good, and solves a recent problem Highland found for themselves – the adoption of a second line of beers spearheaded by Lewis. Bringing both into a similar vein (the recent arrivals and the older classics favoured by Rob) gives everything a flow to it as they move away from the old image.

I’ve said before that Highland are one of my favourite breweries – they are consistently fantastic in their output (last night confirmed this even more), so it’s interesting to see this new look as they stride out with a unified identity that, far more than in their old days, represents what the Swannay brewery are really all about.