Tag Archives: Williams Bros

Great British Ales?

Gift packs are a relatively new phenomenon in the real ale world – multipacks of beers on a theme for easy purchase in supermarkets. Either several beers showcasing one producer, or a mixed pack giving a selction, they serve as a safe bet for people willing to go above the usual randomly-chosen bottles for that real ale fan. But are they any good? One such gift set is Great British Ales, which consists of two beers from England and one each from Wales and Scotland. Unfortunate for real ale fans in Northern Ireland then – maybe a true British Ales selection could include one from somewhere like the Whitewater Brewery? Anyway, be that as it may, this particular pack features four ales – here’s the BeerCast’s verdict…

Black Dog 3.6%
Elgoods Brewery, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire
“Our award-winning dark mild, full of roast malt flavour” says the back of the bottle – and we love an award-winning ale here on the BeerCast. A mild though? Our (admittedly limited) experience of that particular style of beer hasn’t been a good one until now. But Black Dog is really rather good. It is roasty, with a touch of the dreaded caramel and a dark molasses aftertaste – it’s almost like a shandy version of Theakston’s Old Peculier. It certainly has more taste than any of the milds I’ve had before – probably put together.

Fraoch Heather Ale 5.0%
Heather Ales Ltd, Alloa, Scotland
We’re no strangers to Fraoch, indeed it featured in our BeerCast #23 when we looked at beers with unusual added ingredients. It scored 50% that day – we’re immune to accusations of Scottish favoritism here – even though it is produced by the affable Williams Brothers, Bruce and Scott. Pronounced ‘fro-ik’, it has a “floral peaty aroma, full malt body, a spicy herbal flavour and a dry wine like finish” according to the label. There is a dryness there, but it couples with the floral taste from the heather really very well.

Double Dragon Ale 4.2%
Felinfoel Brewery, Llanelli
‘The National Ale of Wales’ according to the boast on the label, Felinfoel’s Double Dragon pours a rich dark brown and has a seriously malty aroma. This continues in the taste – malt malt malt all the way, with a sweetness at the end. It actually gets sweeter the more you have. This is in no way negative – it’s a very good brown ale, and certainly belongs in the pack due to the style. It gets a bonus for being named after a tremendous 80’s computer game, as well.

Spitfire 4.5%
Shepherd Neame, Faversham, Kent
Spitfire is also a British ale in the classic style, so no surprises to see it included in the selection. Amusingly it describes itself as ‘The Bottle of Britain’ – ho ho – yet it actually tastes pretty similar to the Double Dragon. Also a dark nutty brown colour, it has a consistent malty flavour. According to the tasting notes, a ‘generous aroma of tangy malt’ can be detected, and this is imparted on the taste as well – tangy is the word for this one. Average is another. It would be better if it was a bit stronger maybe, but it’s certainly drinkable.

Nothing stomach-churningly awful in the Great British Ales gift pack then – but what would we like to see in a similar set? We’re a British beer website after all. Despite my opening tirade, sadly we’ve yet to taste any beers from Northern Ireland so we’ll follow the country format of the original pack. Here are the BeerCast’s suggestions for a Great British Ales boxed set…

St Peter’s India Pale Ale 5.5%
St Peter’s Brewery, Suffolk
The first thing to package up is an IPA – just one of the many styles of beer we’ve given to the world. Admittedly several other countries have down a lot more with it since, but the 5%-ish India Pale Ale is one of the quintessential British beers. We’d be tempted to rock the boat with something like BrewDog’s Hardcore IPA, but as this is a mass-marketed boxed set, something classic like St Peter’s India Pale Ale, from Bungay in Suffolk. Hopped to survive lengthy voyages, it’s robust and really zesty.

Brains SA Gold 4.7%
Brains Brewery, Cardiff
Our Welsh offering is from the most successful brewery from the country – Brains. Their flagship beer is Brains SA, a dark coppery ale similar to Spitfire or Double Dragon (although none of the parties may appreciate the comparison). But they produce a fantastic golden ale which I enjoyed tremendously during a trip to the Welsh capital last year. Us Brits invented the golden ale – and pioneers like the wonderful Hop Back Summer Lightning and Exmoor’s Exmoor Gold are world-renowned. But they make great golden ales outside of the South West of England, too.

Yorkshire Terrier 4.2%
York Brewery, York
York Brewery was established in 1996 at the site of an old motorcycle showroom inside the city’s famous walls. Any foursome of ales from this part of the world has to include a premium best bitter – and Yorkshire Terrier certainly is that. Named after a small dog that used to be taken to work every day by it’s brewer owner, this one mixes well the lively hops and creamy malt. The Great British Ales set seems to be all about tradition, so there’s no chance we could put one out without a northern English bitter.

Dark Island 4.6%
Sinclair Brewery, Orkney
It would also be unforgivable to put out a best of British selection and not include a porter or a stout – and the very greatest exponent of that style is Sinclair Orkney Dark Island. Twice CAMRA Champion beer of Scotland, it’s an iconic standard bearer for traditional Scottish ales (their words, not mine). They never really refer to it as a porter, only a ‘very dark beer with a ruby tint’ – but however you pigeonhole it, Dark Island is wonderful. Chocolate, figs, dried fruit, it’s warming, malty and moreish, with hops on the finish. It’s at the very top of British beers.

BeerCast #23 – Hold the fruit!

If you want to get down to the very basics, beer should only really have four ingredients – the near-mythical German Reinheitsgebot purity laws state our favourite drink can only contain water, barley and hops (yeast became the final part of the foursome only when it was discovered). But as anyone who’s stood bemused in an off-licence can tell you, these days there are all kinds of different things in beers. Fruit is a very common (and not entirely unpleasant) addition to ale – whether a Belgian framboise or a pint of the fantastic St. Peter’s Grapefruit Beer. But increasingly, other things are added to the brew to give some interesing results – and some aren’t exactly new ideas, either. Today on the BeerCast we taste four traditional beers with an extra, non-fruit, ingredient. Our first of these is the rather herby Brother Anthony’s Rievaulx Abbey Ale, from Suddaby’s in Malton, North Yorkshire. We then move to Scotland and try two of the Williams Brother’s historical range – Fraoch Heather Ale, and Kelpie Seaweed Ale. Finally we return to Yorkshire for Naylor’s Ginger Beer, proving once again that you don’t need to have a modern style of beer if you’ve got the right ingredients. On the panel this week with Richard and Shovels is the returning Andy, of Andy & Jess.


1. Brother Anthony’s Rievaulx Abbey Ale (4.0%abv)
Suddaby’s (by Brown Cow Brewery, Selby, N Yorks).
500ml glass bottle

The Suddaby family name has gone hand in hand with the North Yorkshire market town of Malton for over a century – Suddabys having been voted “Rural Pub of the Year” by Scarborough CAMRA eight times in nine years. The Suddbay beers, however, are produced under license by the Brown Cow Brewery in Selby, as there are no production facilities in Malton. We sampled their 6% bruiser Old Bob in BeerCast #17, and it brought back a lot of bad memories for panellist Shovels.

Added Ingredient(s) – Honey, Lavender, Lemon Balm

What They Say“Brother Anthony’s Rievaulx Abbey Ale is brewed with the finest English malt, hops, borage honey, and yeast with a subtle hint of herbs. It marks the 875th anniversary of the founding of the famous Rievaulx Abbey” [Label Tasting Notes]

What We Say
Andy – I would recommend it to people with a sweet tooth 7
Shovels – As far as honey beers go it’s not bad, down the middle 5
Richard – Smells like cream soda, the herbs are far too subtle 3

2. Fraoch Heather Ale (5.0%abv)
Williams Bros, Alloa Scotland.
500ml glass bottle

In 1986 a Gaelic-speaking man wandered into Bruce Williams’ homebrew shop in Glasgow and began telling him about a recipe for traditional heather ale – “Leann fraoich”. Once the Mr Miyagi/Yoda character had left, Bruce took up the challenge and revived this ancient Scottish beer, testing the results on the visitors to his shop – calling the concoction ‘Fraoch Heather Ale’ (Fraoch being Gaelic for heather). Once he started a brewery with brother Scott, it was an obvious choice for the first product. Heather Ale Ltd eventually became the Williams Bros Brewery – we tried their wonderful Williams Gold way back in BeerCast #2 – but how does this ancient drink compare?

Added Ingredient(s) – Heather

What They Say“Fraoch has a floral peaty aroma, full malt body, a spicy herbal flavour and a dry wine like finish” [Label Tasting Notes]; “The unique taste of heather flowers is very noticeable in this beer. A fine floral aroma and spicy taste give character to this drinkable speciality beer” [Good Beer Guide]

What We Say
Richard – Beer then heather comes at you from all directions 6
Shovels – Tastes like a wheat beer mixed with something else 5
Andy – Strong flavour but not a strong character 4

3. Kelpie Seaweed Ale (4.4%abv)
Williams Bros, Alloa Scotland.
500ml glass bottle

The third of the Williams Bros Historic Ales to feature on the BeerCast (as BeerCast #2 also featured Ebulum Elderberry ale) is Kelpie. Named after a mischievously deadly water spirit fond of taking the form of a beautiful white horse, the inventive Alloa siblings mash seaweed into the malted barley. This has some historical significance, as Scottish coastal farmers traditionally planted their crops in seaweed beds, giving an unusual taste to the resultant beer they produced. But will we like it?

Added Ingredient(s) – Argyll seaweed

What They Say“Kelpie is a rich chocolate ale which has an aroma of fresh seabreeze and a distinctive malty texture” [Label Tasting Notes]

What We Say
Richard – It’s very nice but you just can’t taste the seaweed 7
Shovels – Smokey, chocolatey, gets better as it warms up 7
Andy – Fantastic colour, it’s more coffeeish than seaweedish 6

4. Naylor’s Ginger Beer (4.4%abv)
Naylor’s Brewery, Keighley, West Yorks.
500ml glass bottle

The old Yorkshire textile town of Keighley is known in beery circles as being the home of the hugely successful Timothy Taylor brewery, but there are others nearby too. The Naylor’s Brewery are based in the nearby village of Crosshills, having started in 2005. They recently launched a range of six beers called Pinnacle, named after a local landmark which features on the label. Their traditional ginger beer isn’t one of these – but the tower still appears on the bottle. It’s a classic British drink, but what does a proper ginger beer taste like?

Added Ingredient(s) – Root Ginger

What They Say“A mid amber beer, our brewer’s choice Ginger Beer has the addition of fresh ginger root to give a subtle spice flavour” [Label Tasting Notes]

What We Say
Andy – Would be a great cleansing after dinner drink
Shovels – Subtle ginger spicyness at the end, it’s summery
Richard – Nice but not sure how many of these you could drink 5

BeerCast panel verdict
Kelpie Seaweed Ale (20/30)
Naylor’s Ginger Beer (19/30)
Fraoch Heather Ale (15/30)
Brother Anthony’s Rievaulx Abbey Ale (15/30)

Panellists – (from bottom right) Andy, Richard, Shovels



We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with our second BeerCast brewery showcase – from the Arran Brewery. Stay tuned for details…and please leave us comments on the blog or iTunes, or emails. Cheers!

Scottish Beer Festival 2008

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

BeerCast #2 – Beer and Labels

For Episode 2 of the BeerCast we opted to remain in Scotland and sample four more regional beers. When setting up the blog and podcast we always wanted to start with the adopted base, and quickly realised there are far too many great Scottish ales to shoehorn into a single edition. So for the second half of our debut two-parter, our panel expanded to four and we concentrated on some more local delights. Always trying to put out a good mix, we sample beers from north and south, light to dark, ancient to modern – and all in brown glass bottles with interesting labels; because for the totally dedicated beer drinker, what’s on the outside counts too…

1. Williams Gold (3.9%abv)
Williams Bros Ltd, Alloa.
500ml glass bottle

The Williams brothers – Bruce and Scott – started producing traditional recipe beers in the central Scottish town of Alloa in 1993. In 2004 they took over larger premises and formed a new line of distinctively labelled beers to run alongside the historic ales (more on those later). Traded under the brand ‘Williams Bros’, the four newer staples to their range are simply titled ‘Red’, ‘Black’, ‘Gold’, and ‘Joker’. Their 40 barrel brewery bottles these hoppy beers for retailers across central Scotland. Alloa itself is six miles east of Stirling, and due to it’s location on the Forth estuary was once a bustling centre for shipping and manufacture, which at one point supported nine breweries. Sadly, the majority of these have gone – but the Williams brothers still fly the flag.

What They Say“A refreshing and full bodied sparkling golden ale, brewed using a blend of seven malts. Undertones of vanilla and fruit are offset by the citrus aroma of fresh hops, suggesting grapefruit and orange.” [Williams Bros]

What We Say
MrB – Smells fantastic, and is damn tasty, I rate this very highly 9
Shovels – It tastes really good, and the bottles are well designed 8
Richard – This is very fruity, almost lemony 7
Alison – As a non-beer drinker, not for me but it goes down easily 6

2. Nimbus Strong Pale Ale (5.0%abv)
Atlas Brewery, Kinlochleven.
500ml glass bottle

Located in one of the most stunning parts of Scotland, the Atlas Brewery gives itself the tagline – ‘The small brewery with big ideas’. Founded in the small Highland town of Kinlochleven, Atlas took over the site of a 75 year old Aluminium smelter when production ceased. Another of the new Scottish breweries quickly establishing a reputation, Atlas have an enviable location at the eastern end of Loch Leven, a few miles from Fort William. The mountains of Glen Coe are also nearby, and give their name to another of Atlas’s popular beers, Three Sisters. Kinlochleven is a magnet for tourists, and is a well-used stopping point along the West Highland Way.

What They Say“Nimbus Strong Pale Ale resembles the famous Kölsch beers of Cologne: pale in colour, soft in mouthfeel, but strong in alcoholic content. Our rendition has a rich, warming hop and a memorable malt character. A small addition of around 5% malted wheat to the grist gives this beer much of its body and softness. The aroma is of pronounced fresh-fruit hops, together with a sweet nuttiness. On the palate this beer has a verdant, almost vegetal, hop presence. Nimbus also exhibits lovely malt character of fresh bread and almonds.” [Atlas Brewery]

What We Say
Alison – Bread and fruitiness, it could turn me into a beer drinker 9
MrB – It smells of sherry but is very nice 7
Shovels – Can taste the sherry too, it’s different to the first one 7
Richard – It’s malty and has a nice aroma to it, I really like it 7

3. Scottish Oatmeal Stout (4.2%abv)
Broughton Ales Ltd, Brougton, Tweeddale.
500ml glass bottle

A change of direction with our third beer – Broughton’s Oatmeal Stout. Situated between the Border towns of Peebles and Biggar, 25 miles south of Edinburgh, this rapidly growing brewery are also reasonably young. In 1980 the premises opened just outside Broughton, and now produce a healthy range of 11 bottled beers and 18 cask ales. Their ‘beers with character’ come in distinctive bottles with portraits on the labels, and are mostly named after historic characters. One of the few exceptions is the specific beer the panel are tasting today, which is so called because of the distinctive Scottish ingredient added during production. On the label is Robert Younger, master Edinburgh brewer and the great grandfather of the Broughton founder.

What They Say“Oatmeal from the Scottish borders and the finest malt and roasted barley combine to make this a most refreshing and nourishing stout. Using Fuggles, First Gold and Challenger hops, oats are added to enhance the flavour of the black malt and roasted barley – giving a rich dark colour and strong complex flavours of coffee and dark chocolate.” [Broughton Brewery]

What We Say
MrB – It tastes of coffee, and it grows on me the more I drink it 7
Richard – Can’t really taste the oats, but lots of things going on 6
Shovels – Lingers a long time, yet it’s quite light for a dark ale 6
Alison – Looks like Barr’s Cola with a coffee taste I’m not keen on 2

4. Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale (6.5%abv)
Heather Ales Ltd, Alloa
330ml glass bottle

Having come full circle, we’re back with the Williams brothers in Alloa. As explained before, they started out producing traditional beers to ancient Scottish recipes, like their award-winning Fraoch Heather Ale. Also in their stable of oldies is Grozet Gooseberry beer, Alba Pine Ale, Kelpie (with added seaweed), and Ebulum. Welsh druids arrived in Celtic Scotland in the 9th Century, and with them came elderberries, used as a natural remedy. The crafty beardies also added these berries to a strong ale, and it’s this Ebulum brew the panel finish on. The exact druidic recipe no longer survives, but the Williams brothers produce Ebulum from a domestic beer record of the 16th century, and give it a celtic-themed label to match.

What They Say“Ebulum is made from roasted oats, barley and wheat boiled with herbs then fermented with ripe elderberries. A rich black ale with fruit aroma, silky soft texture, soft roasted flavour and gentle finish…” [Heather Ales]

What We Say
MrB – Looks like red wine and tastes of beer 7
Richard – Deep red colour, not too bad tastewise 6
Shovels – Strong and soft in the mouth, a good after-dinner beer 6
Alison – Tastes of dark chocolate, it’s smooth and easy to drink 5

BeerCast panel verdict

Williams Gold – 30/40
Atlas Nimbus – 30/40
Ebulum Elderberry Strong Ale – 24/40
Broughton Oatmeal Stout – 21/40

Panellists – (from top left) MrB, Ali, Richard, Shovels



We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with Episode 3 – four beers from the North of England. Stay tuned for details…!