EVEN BETTER, he is a Scot. Stewart Main spent 13 years at the Drybrough brewery in Craigmillar, but nowadays is a key man at Kent’s Shepherd Neame brewery.
Sainsbury’s organises the Great British Beer Hunt, in which the excellent lager/IPA hybrid Caesar Augustus, from Alloa’s Williams Brothers, secured a runner-up spot last year. The 2012 competition is now under way, and four regional winners will go into selected stores for three weeks in September, with the biggest sellers qualifying for October’s grand final. Eventual winners secure a six-month listing in stores throughout the UK.
The Edinburgh heat was held recently at Easter Road, where visitors voted for their four favourite beers. One striking facet was the sheer diversity of beers available and how far the UK has come from the days of large-scale, homogenised commercial brews. This breadth and variety was underlined when Double Espresso Premio Caffe Birra emerged among the top four from Scotland. Although not a tipple for beer purists, it has won a lot of friends with its unmistakable coffee flavours, six per cent alcohol and dry, malty finish.
Among the more traditional versions, it was good to see Williams Brothers do well again – this time with the aromatic, sprucey and slightly sweet Prodigal Sun. Another winner was Wild Hop Gold, a spicy, citrus-style beer with a savoury twist at the end from the Harviestoun Brewery. Completing the winners from this heat was the rather tasty Bavarian-style wheat beer White Lady, from Aviemore’s award-winning Cairngorm Brewery.
The less ephemeral components of Sainsbury’s beer list also have some stars, such as Taste the Difference Kentish Ale (£1.69 a bottle), which is gentle and smooth with touches of lemon and digestive biscuits. Fans of a darker beer may prefer Taste the Difference London Porter (also £1.69), with its intensity and mellow coffee flavours. Both are from Stewart Main’s Shepherd Neame brewery, where the porter is given extra flavour by charred malts and sticks of liquorice during production.
At the heart of all good beers, though, are the hops. They adds aromatics and preservative qualities to the finished beer but, most of all, are behind the bitterness that makes beer so distinctive. Just as grapes give the winemaker a massive range of flavours with which to experiment, so hops provide a similar service to the brewer. Pretty remarkable for a plant that (until the monks of old started to use it in brewing) was largely noteworthy as a second cousin of cannabis and as a cure for insomnia.
Rather like the winemakers of Bordeaux, most brewers use a blend of different hops to create the taste they are seeking. More recently, however, interest has grown in the use of single-hop varieties. Marstons has gone a step further by making a limited edition monthly brew with different hops each time. As the firm’s assistant head brewer, Simon Yates, says, “By using the same basic recipe, with only the hop changing, we will be allowing the unique tastes and qualities of each hop to shine through.”
I compared the light, herbal, flowery version that uses Marynka from Poland with its equivalent, based on an English hop, Sovereign, which is much less aromatic but provides more substance and that classic bitter finish.
Morrisons supermarkets are currently selling some of these beers in its Scottish stores, so track a few down and give them a try.
2011 Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc, Craggy Range Martinborough, New Zealand, 13.5 per cent Brilliant sauvignon for just over a tenner is too good to miss. Luxuriate in the vibrant peach and lemon fruit that give length, depth and substance to the primary gooseberry flavours it opens with, and to its grassy acidity. £10.99 (as part of a mixed case of six), Majestic
2010 Minarete Ribera del Duero Roble Spain, 13.5 per cent A fantastic value and nicely balanced red with concentrated cherry and blackcurrant fruit, rich texture and an appealing savoury, mineral-centred finish. £5.49, Aldi
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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