Although this blog is generally about wine – every so often I think it’s fair enough to go “off piste” (an unintentional pun – but I’m leaving it in).
So this post is all about beer.
I was raised on real ale – there is a picture of me somewhere as a two-year-old trying to neck the dregs of my Dad’s pint jug outside the Bird In Hand.
Growing up near Henley-on-Thames, everything on tap was generally Brakspear’s – brewed in the town centre. Going to college there, I learned to love the smell of hops wafting across the town when coming out of lectures. The brewery was bought up by a big drinks co and brewing moved to Manchester and while the pubs continued to serve it, the new improved version had a slight tang of eggs (it never travelled well) and despite attempts, for me, they never really got that old pint back.
I reminisce about this as I’d moved away from this somewhat – and probably more likely to have a glass of wine in hand than a pint and it was a welcome surprise to go to an impromptu beer tasting at a friend’s house.
The majority of the beers were from the Eden Brewery near St Andrews – based at the former paper mill and only on site for about five months or so.
It featured their St Andrews Ale, a light fizzy beer with a grapefruity aftertaste; a special Christmas beer – that had shades of cinnamon and tasted like a Christmas pudding; and a dark and rich porter.
The highlight for me though was the three different Edradour beers which were made in whisky barrels – a limited edition because once they’re used once, the barrels will never produce the same beer again. There were three varieties, one with a Sauterne finish, a sherry cask and my personal favourite – Claret.
This 6.9 per cent alcohol beer had been stored for 50 days in Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux barrels, which had held Ballechin whisky for seven years. It had such a distinct flavour – the smoke and peat of a good whisky and a finish of a good Bordelais wine.
In Scotland and now further afield, one of the big movers in microbreweries has been Brewdog. The company originating in Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire has made a lot of noise with its range of strong, well-marketed and colourfully labelled beers – it promises the drinker something different from the “yellow fizzy lagers” – but also sets itself apart from the Campaign for Real Ale and its image of fuddy-duddy old men with beards.
I’ve found the image a bit of a turn-off to be honest, but more than that, never really liked the beers I’d tried. But with one of the last two offerings in the tasting I had to eat my words.
Both from their Abstract range and a whopping 12 per cent alcohol, special editions sent out to people who’ve taken up the offer to buy shares, the first had a delicious rich port taste