You know you love it!

Catherine deftly balances a giant pint glass

Catherine deftly balances a giant pint glass

After a great beer festival earlier in the year at the Coach and Horses in Dronfield, we’ve decided to give it another go, albeit in a very toned down way for New Years Eve.

I’ve been lucky enough to have briefly lived in Scotland, where I began my micro-brewing career at Fyne Ales at the head of Loch Fyne. The beers were fantastic, from their ridiculously drinkable multi-award winning Highlander through to the light, citric twist of Pipers Gold or a relatively new addition to their stable, the awesome Avalanche. They produce, somewhat understated in my opinion, a fantastic range of great, extremely drinkable brews. It was a real shock to the system, having come from a brewery that would brew around 120 000 litres of wort in a day, to land in the middle of a towering glen, using water collected from the local burn and brewing a mere 1640 litres three or four times a week. But under the watchful eye of Malcolm Downie, Fyne brewer if ever there was one, I began to learn the ways of the craft brewery and it was a great opportunity to take what I knew from brewing with the big boys and began the process of sliding it sideways into the exquisite joy that is microbrewing.

While in Scotland I had the chance to try many a fine brew and it has been an annual pilgrimage for myself and Catherine to head up that way to sample a few of the local brews. Whether it be a delicious Black Cuillin up in the Isle of Skye, which now has a couple of breweries, a pint of the good stuff at the Ben Leva Hotel in Drumnadrochit (where I first tasted and fell in love with the joy that is Stornoway black pudding) or sharing a Zephyr with the Brewdog guys up in their brewery in Fraserburgh, it’s always a choice drop. It probably wasn’t until Catherine and I went up to judge in the Beer of Scotland competition last year that we realised how diverse and interesting the craft ale scene is up in the far North. We were hooked! (well, I suppose it could be argued that I already was…)

A little suggestion from Tuggy, the owner of Fyne Ales and a good chat with Malcolm about what beers to get in and the New Years Eve festival was well on it’s way. It’s not going to be a big one like we did in May with marquees and barbecues and bands-a-blaring, but instead we’re aiming for something a little quieter, a bit of live music inside, haggis, neeps and tatties for the hungry amongst us and a great selection of good old hand-crafted ale.

For the thirsty… we have beers from Fyne Ales, Harviestoun, Isle of Skye, Orkney, Highland and of course Thornbridge!

I thought I’d add the tasting notes for the beers here, just in case you’re curious… The festival itself runs throughout the week (or until the beer runs out… maybe it will be New Years Eve?), should be a good’n!

From Fyne Ales

Avalanche 4.5% Dry and delicious, this straw coloured golden ale has a fragrant lemon foretaste, and a hint of grapefruit in the finish. Refreshing, delicate, beautifully balanced. Winner of the golden ale section at the World Beer Awards 2009 & bronze medallist at the 2009 International Beer Challenge.

Holly Daze 5% An antidote to Christmas. No fancy spices just a really good stronger ale with a crisp hop flavour and plenty of malt. A refreshing beer to clear the palate.

Maverick 4.2% A fine, robust fruity ale with reddish mahogany colour and warm roasted malt flavours. A full ‘mouth’ taste and fruity hop aromas generate a distinctive character to this beer. 

From Harviestoun Brewery

Bitter & Twisted 4.2% A sharp, blond beer with a superb, fresh hop profile combining aromatic Hallertau Hersbrucker with spicy Challenger. It is finished by late hopping with Styrian Goldings, which gives sharpness like the twist of a lemon. A truly refreshing & strangely moreish beer.

Mr Snowball 4.5% The colour of dark copper with a nose that is hoppy and spicy, a balanced palate and a long, hoppy finish. There are crystal and chocolate malts in this tawny beer – it’s full bodied with a delightful hop character from Challenger and Styrian Goldings.

From Orkney Brewery

Dragon Head 4% Dragonhead is dark, intense & full flavoured, Orkney’s tribute to the Vikings & their cultural legacy in the area. On the nose, there is a smooth roasted malt aroma giving bitter chocolate, dark roasted coffee, and smokey notes balanced by hints of spicy Goldings hops. On the palate, the dark roasted malts combine to give a rich, rounded palate with chocolate, toast & nut flavours with the Goldings featuring again with a hint of spice.

Northern Light 4% On the nose, this straw-coloured beer offers appealing citrus fruits, apricot & hop-resin aromas. These fruits combine on the palate with a delicate malt character to give a hoppy, zesty approachability.

Dark Island 4.6% Hints of bitter chocolate, figs & toffee feature on the nose of this dark beer. These resolve in to a silky smooth, coffee & chocolate flavours, followed by figs, dates, & dried fruits. The aftertaste has a lingering sense of the fruits & hop bitterness.

From Highland Brewing Company

Scapa Special 4.2% Golden & sparkling in the glass, with hints of fruit esters and malt, with light hop notes on the nose. Brewed with Maris otter Pale Ale Malt & a blend of four hops from America, Germany, New Zealand & Slovakia. Each one selected for their spiciness and aroma and all giving that certain something to back up the wholesome maltiness provided by the Maris Otter. Champion Beer of Scotland 2008.

Dark Munro 4% Soft chocolate malt ‘coffee’ notes are evident on the nose with the slightest hint of hop. Depending on at what stage you are drinking this beer, fresh the chocolate malt is crisp and may have a hint of phenols when fresh, when well vented or halfway through a cask, the chocolate is soft & velvety with a perfectly balanced hop and a hint of fruity fermentation esters. Becomes dryer and ever so slightly hoppier as it ages. Champion Beer of Scotland 2007.

From Isle of Skye Brewing Co.

Red Cuillin 4.2% The Skye Brewery’s much-praised flagship ale. Reddish-hued, slightly malty and nutty in character, smooth to the taste. A multi-award-winning ale, named after the well-known hills of the Isle of Skye.

Black Cuillin 4.5% A distinctive dark ale brewed with roast barley and rolled roast Scottish oatmeal, giving an almost stout-like bitterness, smoothed through the addition of pure Scottish heather honey. It is believed that this is the only ale, as distinct from stout, which uses rolled roast oatmeal.

We’ll also be having a good line-up of our beers, namely Ashford, Pearl, Jaipur, Kipling, Lord Marples, Wild Swan, Brother Rabbit, Merrie, Raven, Saint Petersburg and Seaforth. We also might just have something a little special… Early in 2009 we did a couple of collaboration brews with both Dark Star Brewery and Birrificio Italiano. With Dark Star we brewed a fantastic Old Ale which is still happily maturing away in our stainless maturation vessel. We also brewed a Barley Wine with legendary Italian brewers Birrificio Italiano which is now ageing away quietly in a couple of ex-Burgundy and ex-Bordeaux barrels, previously used by Nyetimber (winners of the IWSC trophy for the best worldwide sparkling wine not once, but thrice!).

I managed to put aside a small pin (4.5 gallon cask) that contains some of the unoaked barley wine and a little of the old ale, so fingers crossed it makes an appearance sometime in the first week of January. Yummy!

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