It happened again. When the box arrived I was so jump-up-and-down excited to open it that I could barely contain myself. A box of surprise beers sent down to me in the spirit of sharing good beers. Ripping open the box the note on top told me my sender: Robbie (this is what he blogged about sending). A box from Scotland. Pawing through the packaging, the dry newspaper, the course card and the scratchy shredded paper, I found the cool touch of a bottle. Then another. Then a can. I pulled everything out, triple-checking I hadn’t left anything important inside, until I had six beers.
I’ve said it many times before, but I think Scotland have some fantastic breweries making some really excellent beers – Orkney, Cairngorm, Tryst, Highland Brewing, BrewDog, Harviestoun, Fyne Ales, Williams Bros – so this was an exciting box, especially as I hadn’t previously heard of a couple of the breweries.
Houston Crystal is made with ‘crystal clear Scottish water, crystal malt and crystal hops’. It pours an amber colour with aromas of bread, mango and peach. The mouthfeel is a winner and it’s rich and full without having that dry crystal malt bite. It’s fruity but that’s all peripheral and unobtrusive, then it finishes bitter and dry, quenching and encouraging you to drink more. Finely balanced and well brewed – I now have a new Scottish brewery to look out for. Anyone had any other Houston beers? If so, how are they?
Fyne Ales’ Avalanche is a zingy pale ale, light, a little biscuity malt beneath then the hops come through with lots of fruit – apricots, lemon, gooseberry. This is one of those beers to stock the fridge with for the summer, perfect to just pull out and drink on a warm afternoon or great with a Thai curry, as I've written here.
The Colonsay Brewery’s 80/- label stands out straight away; a sense of provenance, a burst of colour then a detailed description on the blurb explaining the local water. Bread and berries fill the glass to begin and it ends with a chalky, dry finish with a distant wisp of smoke (I think, unless the mind is tricked by the blurb). The beer looks great in the glass throughout and a raspberry fruitiness pervades at the edges, mingling with the faint bonfire water. I liked it a lot – the terroir of the water really adds something different.
Traquair House Ale next, a ruddy-coloured, dried fruit-forward ale with a lingering almost-savoury earthiness at the end. It tastes really green (BBE Dec 2017?) and the bitterness wasn’t something I expected. The sweetness and bitterness seemed a little disengaged as if they hadn’t had enough time together to marry, but then this is one of those beers which will last handsomely in the cupboard for a few months and it’s a bit of a classic.
Next was South Side Mint, which, after searching for more details, I can only guess is one of Robbie’s homebrews? It’s a 4% pale ale brewed with mint ‘for added refreshment’. It pours a great golden colour, the aroma is immediately of hops but then lingering beneath is the herby mint - think the aftermath of a glass of Pimms. The beer has an excellent bitterness to it, quenching and calling you back to drink more, and it’s very well brewed, but the mint adds a flavour I’m not used to in beer - a smack of pungent herb and something deeply vegetal like nettles. It’s not toothpaste minty, it’s herb minty and maybe it needs a little more sweetness to balance it and make it something that you could drink lots of bottles of. If you like fresh mint then you’ll love this, if not then maybe it’s not your thing...
I’m fairly sure the can of Sweetheart Stout was a tongue-in-cheek wildcard, added thanks to my active championing of canned beer. I like the look of the can in a retro kind of way with the 50s pre-pin-up design, but I knew nothing about the beer except that it’s a 2% ABV stout (Robbie has written about it, or more precisely about, he's written about the babe on the can). It looks normal when you pour it out – a coca cola brown with the faint blush-coloured lacing of head. It’s sweet on the nose, like raisins soaked in water. Take a mouthful and it’s more like raisins soaked in glucose. It’s sweeter than any beer I’ve ever tasted - pure cane sugar which is powerful enough to hide the fact that it has no body or typical roast flavour. But at the same time it’s strangely interesting and I’d finished half the can without even thinking, just sitting there gulping and chuckling to myself about how sweet it is. Strangely drinkable.
Cheers for the beers Robbie – they’ve only gone to make me more interested in the Scottish brewing scene. I can now fly to Edinburgh from Manston airport and I see that the Scottish Real Ale festival is next week (and the beer list looks good)...