A PROLIFERATION of real ales has hit the market. Some people like to call them “craft beers” – while others squirm at this trendy term.
Whatever you call them there are some fantastic new brews in our shops, emerging from small one barrel plants to larger traditional brewing concerns. All are now trying to outdo each other with ever-fancier flavours, from Cornish sea salt to bergamot, pomegranate and peanuts.
Our panel tasted more than 40 real ales from across the UK – divided into three categories: lagers, ales, and stouts plus porters. Overall, they were particularly impressed with entries from Kelso-based Tempest Brewery and London-based Camden Brewery. Our star buys show the panel’s highest scorers in each category:
Lagers were first invented by Bavarian brewers aiming to make a clearer brew – fermented and conditioned at low temperatures – the term “lager” in German means “to store”. Lager has now got a bad name, synonymous with “boring” – but they don’t have to be. These two offerings are light, fresh and zippy, making for ideal aperitifs.
LONDON CAMDEN TOWN BREWERY INDIA HELLS LAGER
(£2.90 for 33cl can, Luvians, Cupar and St Andrews, 01334 477752, www.luvians.com; £2.95, Great Grog, Edinburgh, 0131-667 2855, www.greatgrog.co.uk)
This was the clear winner in this category. This unfiltered lager with an amazingly fruity, hoppy taste is made using magnum, simcoe, chinook and mosaic American hops; it is dry hopped twice during its time in tank. It’s pale gold with citric notes; zippy, fresh and beautifully balanced. Alc 6.2 per cent STAR BUY
DERBYSHIRE THORNBRIDGE TZARA KOLN STYLE
(£3.59 for 50cl bt, Great Grog, Edinburgh)
This is an unusual hybrid beer from Bakewell: it’s a lager style, fermented like an ale, so it could have been in the ale section too. However the panel thought it tasted more like a lager with a light summery feel and a soft finish; very refreshing. Alc 4.8 per cent
A huge category – but our basic criteria was “top fermented” beers brewed from malted barley at a warmer temperature than lagers – and using ale yeast, resulting in a sweeter fruitier taste. In our tasting we included pale ales, saisons (the modern pale ale term) and bitters.
TEMPEST LONG WHITE CLOUD EXTRA PALE ALE
(£3.50 for 50cl bt, Great Grog, Edinburgh)
Kelso-based Tempest brewery did really well in our tasting – all its entries scored highly. Owner Gavin Meiklejohn used to work in New Zealand (as a chef), so this pale ale made with Kiwi hops is homage to his time under the long white cloud. Alc 5.6 per cent
YORKSHIRE BAD SEED SAISON
(£2.70 for 33cl bt, The Beerhive, Rodney Street, Edinburgh, 0131-558 9255, www.thebeerhive.co.uk)
I loved this unusual saison, as it actually tastes like a beer, but with interesting undertones. This characterful spiced brew hails from Malton, where ginger, honey and seeds of paradise are included in the ingredients. It smells slightly peppery with definite honeyed notes on the palate. Refreshing and well made, said the panel. Great price too. Alc 6 per cent STAR BUY
BORDERS TEMPEST FESTIVE FARMHOUSE
(£3.40 for 50cl bt, The Beerhive, Edinburgh)
Proof that Tempest really likes its “big” flavours. Pale gold, slightly cloudy and with interesting light spicy notes, this is a farmhouse saison-style ale with added clementines and almonds – although I would not have guessed the extra ingredients. It is a very well made beer which smells quite Christmassy. Alc 5.1 per cent
FIFE LUCKIE BEST BITTER
(£2.80 for 50cl bt, Luvians, Cupar and St Andrews)
I am very partial to Kirkcaldy-based micro-brewery Luckie ales. Stuart McLuckie is a one-barrel kit man, so very, very micro, but he knows how to brew a good old traditional bitter (historic recipes and trad ales are his thing). I was pleased to see that this one did very well in our tasting against stiff competition. It’s a reddy golden colour and nutty, with a hint of bitter, so well balanced. Alc 5 per cent
(£1.99 for 50cl bt, www.hooky.co.uk; Tesco; Waitrose; Bookers; Majestic Wine)
Banbury-based Hook Norton, at the other end of the scale size-wise, is my favourite brewery in the UK. Its Old Hooky is delicious – a rich, dark bitter with a beautiful creamy texture to the palate – and suggestive echoes of crystal malt. Alc 4.6 per cent
STOUTS & PORTERS
For those who like their beers dark, full-on and intense. Porters are made from brown malt – the term porter was first developed in London. Stouts were the strongest and darkest of the porters, with a roasted malty taste – but now stout is a better known name than porter – with a proliferation of styles from dry to imperial.
EDINBURGH STEWART’S ELYSIUM IMPERIAL STOUT
(£6.50 for 33cl bt, Cornelius Beer and Wine, Easter Road, Edinburgh, www.corneliusbeers.com)
Wow – this is amazing. It reminds me more of a wine than a beer; it was bottle conditioned using champagne yeast. It’s very dark, very malty, roasted, nutty, treacley, sweet, dense and very alcoholic for a beer. Well done Stewart’s Brewing. Alc 12.5 per cent STAR BUY
SOMERSET WILD BEER YANKEE SANDWICH
(£3.20 for 33cl bt, The Beerhive, Edinburgh)
When I read the label which stated that this was made with peanuts, I thought I would hate this beer – but it is rather good. A dark stout, this has a rich malty taste, with cocao nibs and oats giving it a creamy body. The peanuts add an interesting saltiness and the chocolate a contrasting sweetness. The result is particularly good in an ice-cream float – believe me – I tried it. Alc 4.7 per cent
SWANNAY’S ORKNEY PORTER
(£7 for 33cl bt, The Beerhive, Edinburgh)
This is an original Orkney Porter aged for 18 months in Arran Bere whisky casks. Swannay Brewery has given this brew a strong whisky note, but there are also interesting elements of liquorice, coffee and burnt malt flavours – plus it’s very smooth. Alc 10.5 per cent
Join Rose’s Beginners wine classes on 11, 18 and 25 February at 28 Queen Street, Edinburgh, from £36, www.rosemurraybrown.com