Tag Archives: Top Out

Beer of the Week – Top Out Altbier

Friday means many things to many different people, depending largely on what you have planned for the weekend to come. For me it always means that the first item of business is to shine a light on another beer I feel is just not getting the full amount of love it deserves. That’s all relative of course, but this series is taking a look at the fifty-two beers I consider to be the most unsung in Scotland.

To round out the last full week of August – where does the time go – I’m going to talk about a German beer brewed just outside Edinburgh. One of the great things about the rise of craft beer, whether you choose to use the phrase or run a mile from it – is the fact that brewers now seem to have more freedom than ever to create new and different beers from all of the great brewing nations on earth. Except in this case, the connection is very real. The Beer of the Week this week is Top Out’s amazingly good Altbier.

34. Altbier (4.5%)
Top Out Brewery, Loanhead
Style: Alt
500ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At Alesela online shop (as individual 500ml bottles)

Alt means old in German, and these beers are true historic examples from the banks of the Rhine. And one of the great things about this particular example is the direct link between the country of origin and the man who created the beer. Top Out’s co-founder Michael Hopert hails from Germany and so you would expect would be able to nail one of his homeland’s quintessential beers. And you’d be absolutely right on the money.

Top Out’s Altbier is rich, doughy and well-balanced, holding that must-have clean smoothness that depicts the style. That’s because these beers are fermented with ale yeast, but at lower temperatures than for the majority of their counterparts, and extended lagering really makes them skim across the palate. So think a classic best bitter combined with a California Common but with spicy, bready noble hops and a bittersweet herbal edge. It’s such an easy beer to drink and an absolute pleasure from start to finish. This is an incredible beer on cask and a real find, if you happen to seek it out.

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

Beer of the Week – Top Out Schmankerl

Another working week grinds to a halt and heralds the start of another two-day sojourn from the day job. The other thing Friday signifies is the spotlight being swung onto a Scottish beer that maybe doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves. Each and every week I’ll be doing just that, and letting you know why I think that particular beer needs to be on your radar, if it isn’t already. Plus I’ll be letting you know how you can get hold of it!

For this particular iteration – the 24th in the series – we turn that spotlight on to a style not brewed with any great regularity north of the border (well, not compared to stouts, amber ales and IPAs that have featured heavily so far). German-style Hefeweizens bring a huge amount to the party, the most telling of which being their celebration of brewing’s most unheralded ingredient – yeast. And if you want a perfect idea of what they can be like – try Schmankerl.

24. Schmankerl (4.9%)
Top Out Brewery, Loanhead, near Edinburgh
Style: Hefeweizen
500 ml bottle

Pick it up here:
At Alesela online shop (as individual 500ml bottles)

Starting with the obvious question, which is just what exactly the name means, Schmankerl is apparently a word in the Bavarian dialect for ‘delicacy’ or ‘treat’. Seeing as the Bavarians get through more wheat beer than pretty much any other group of people on earth, they should know. The beer is a fantastic balancing act – a beer that improves inordinately when the yeast is poured into the glass and allowed to filter slowly downwards – it really unleashes all of the different, more subtle flavours into the equation.

When served ‘mit hefe’ in this way (so after the header photo was taken) the overall take home point is a big whack of floral highlights – particularly coriander. The clovey Bavarian yeast comes into play with a hint of citrus on the finish – this beer would go brilliantly with seafood. The grainy, slightly bittersweet herbal edge is there as well – in fact, Schmankerl is a who’s who of Hefe with maybe only banana not being present (but then, you can’t have everything). What you do have, instead though, is a stunning wheat beer and an absolute pleasure in every sense.

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

New Scottish Brewery – Top Out Brewing Company

TopOut2

At the start of the week, following on from my visit to Stewart Brewing in Loanhead, I also managed to stick my head through the door at their new, near, neighbours – Top Out Brewing Company. Top Out’s gunmetal-grey corrugated unit is only a few minutes’ stroll away from Stewarts’ black hangar, and (of course) couldn’t be more different. A piece of A4 in the door’s small window reveals that this is where Edinburgh’s latest brewery has set up shop, and inside co-founder Moo waits, supervising some urgent-looking drainage repair work going on, as two contractors crunch a corner of the floor into small pieces. The space Moo and Michael have is larger than I was expecting, although that could be down more to the understandable lack of clutter as they start out. The brewkit, bought from RedWillow in Cheshire, sits in the corner, backed in by pallets of bottles.

TopOut4

Bottling is where Top Out are concentrating their resources, for now – and despite it being one of the more cost-effective ways for a new brewery to get their beer out, this brings plenty of challenges with it. With pun firmly intended, the main bottleneck they have is filling and labelling the bottles, which all has to be done by hand. Moo, who has a background in both physics and construction, has engineered this quite brilliant hand-labeller from chunks of wood and a few nails, but it’s still a hugely slow process – even if they are only, at best, brewing twice a week. With interest already strong, Top Out are understandably keen to get as much out there as possible. The progression to contract bottling seems like an inevitable step for the near future.

TopOut3

As things take shape, the branding definitely stands out. Initially, Michael and Moo’s brewery was to be called Eclipse, until a trademark objection arrived at the last minute, from an overseas drinks producer. It was back to the drawing board – so the pair switched tack and came up with Top Out – a phrase borrowed from Michael’s love of mountaineering. As such, the labels now feature (genuine) detail from Ordnance Survey maps, reproduced with permission, and the abv of each beer at the top of their peaked logo. I think the dispute worked really well for them, creating a stronger brand, and a really interesting idea that’s meaningful to both of them. They now have three beers – a 5.6% Smoked Porter, 4% Staple Pale Ale, and an 8.9% Belgian-style Dark Abbey. Launching with a smoked porter was a brave thing to do, but Moo is adamant it was what they wanted to do from the very start, and it seems to have paid off.

TopOut1

The infectiousness I talked about at Stewart Brewing is also more than evident around Top Out. Moo talked me through their set-up, with that can-do pride you always get with new start-ups. The Top Out brewery is so different to that of their near-neighbours – Steve Stewart told me they are keeping their old kit, for now, having traded up (the ‘previous’ brewkit being 10bbl), and Moo told me exactly the same thing, pointing at their old kit; a stovetop homebrew kit. Steve and Jo have been helping out, where they can, selling Top Out’s bottles in their shop, as Michael and Moo only have a wholesale licence. In fact, Moo was hugely pleased with the attitude of co-operation that exists between brewers, reeling off a list of names of people who have helped out along the way, as they get started.

I’ve no doubt that Top Out will do well – pretty much for one reason. The inventiveness they have shown in getting around the potentially enormous number of problems. For example, aside from the cobbled-together equipment, as they lack a cold store to condition their casks, they have simply filled their one spare vessel with water and put the casks in (they have only twelve) – essentially the equivalent of putting beers in the bath at a party. Plywood sheets earmarked for their office have been co-opted into acting as a strengthener for the pallets of filled bottles, as they await labelling. They even made the lids for the brewing vessels themselves. Top Out are under no illusions about how hard it will be – every penny currently goes to pay bills or is re-invested in the brewery – but with this kind of ingenuity, and Stewarts’ around the corner as inspiration, Top Out are well on the way to success.



Top Out Brewing Co
Unit 3, 6 Dryden Road Loanhead (0131 440 0270)
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Reviews of Top Out’s beers from Steve at Beers I’ve Known