Scotland is teeming with craft breweries based everywhere from remote island warehouses to city-centre garages. We tasted our way through 36 new bottled beers on the market from producers including Campervan, Pilot and Edinburgh Beer Factory alongside the latest bottlings by old favourites like Tempest, Fyne and Luckie. Two breweries stood out from the crowd - Lothian-based Top Out and Orkney-based Swannay.
Styles of ale in our tasting varied from light lagers to heavy stouts, with flavourings from oysters to chillies and marmalade – but what we were looking for were well-balanced all-round drinkable brews. Here are 12 of our favourites to enjoy this Burns Night.
Top Out Altbier Lager/Ale ‘Ben Wyvis’ Hybrid
A real favourite with our tasters. Medium bodied with burnt caramel notes, creamy, hoppy, touch of sweetness but refreshing with a good length.
Very good. Top Out, a small brew house in Loanhead, really impressed at our tasting for all-round balanced brews. We loved their labels too, each depicting their favourite mountain contour climbs, all of which the head brewer has ‘topped out’ on. Alcohol: 4.5 per cent
£2.85-£3 for 50cl bt, Cork & Cask, Cornelius Beer & Wine, The Beerhive, Drinkmonger, Great Grog, Appellation Wine, Villeneuve
Wine, Royal Mile Whiskies, Vino Wines, Edinburgh; £1.99, Aldi
The first brew from the new Edinburgh beer factory run by veteran brewer John Dunsmore of S&N. Based on historic Munich style created with Italian brewing technology, it got the OK vote at our tasting.
Mealy aromas, with biscuity hay undertones, floral notes, quite creamy, hint of caramel with an earthy finish. Alcohol: 5.2 per cent
£2.50 for 33cl bt, The Beerhive, Vino Wines, Edinburgh; www.edinburghbeerfactory.co.uk
A complete facelift for the smallest island brewery IPA both in taste and label. More refreshing and balanced, this is a delicious match for crab. Quite citric, slightly bitter IPA, but some found it too dilute on the finish.
This independent brewer currently brews three styles: Pigs Paradise, IPA and 80/-, but IPA is their best to date. If you fancy living on an island and know how to brew, Colonsay brewer Chris Nisbet is looking for a new assistant. Alcohol: 3.9 per cent
£3.20 for 50cl bt, Drinkmonger, Edinburgh, www.drinkmonger.com; www.colonsaybrewery.com
Swannay Island Hopping Hoppy Session Beer
A pale malt using New Zealand and American hops, this won votes for its smooth balanced taste, creaminess, sweet lemon notes, fruitiness and good length. “Just how I like my beer to taste,” said one of our tasters.
Very good effort from Swannay Brewery, the new name for the Orkney-based award-winning Highland Brewing Company. Alcohol: 3.9 per cent
£2.95 for 50cl bt, Cornelius Beer & Wine, Appellation Wine, Beerhive, Edinburgh; Valhalla’s Goat, Glasgow; Luvians, St Andrews
Tempest Marmalade On Rye
In our last tasting, Borders-based Tempest Brewery scored highly with their original Kiwi-inspired Long White Cloud.
This time we loved brewer Gavin’s fun seasonal marmalade special: a double IPA dry hopped with fresh oranges, a cracking blend of heavy hops (armarillo, North America and waimea) and sweet fruits. Loved the bittersweet orange notes, spicy gingery undertones – a good tangy toasted ale with a hefty alcoholic kick. Alcohol: 9 per cent
£3.20-£3.50 for 33 cl bt, Cork & Cask, Great Grog Shop, Edinburgh; www.tempestbrewco.com
Loch Lomond Bravehop Amber IPA
Preferred brew from the range of family-run 10-barrel Loch Lomond Brewery (not a new bottling). Tasters liked its good, hoppy, spicy bite.
Bitter citric, grassy, made using American citric hops with plenty of sweetness. A pleasant brew. Alcohol: 6 per cent
£3.30 for 50 cl bt, Great Grog Shop, Fine Wine Company, Edinburgh
Campervan Mutiny On The Bounty
The ultimate ‘garagiste’ Paul Gibson set up this impressive new brewery based in a garage and a 1973 VW Campervan. The brewing process begins and ends in the campervan, brewed on battery power if need be – whilst the fermenting, conditioning and storage is done in the garage.
We loved his revolutionary sweet milk stout, whose roasted creaminess and fine balance very much pleased our tasters. Paul uses roasted coconut at the conditioning stage, giving this a rich dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavour, with vanilla undertones. A fireside sipper – one of our high scorers. Alcohol: 4.2 per cent
£2.80 for 33 cl bt, Cornelius Beer & Wine, Appellation Wine, The Beerhive, Drinkmonger, Edinburgh
Fyne Naughty Black Ale
Jet black in colour, rich fruitcake, full bodied, cocoa and chocolate notes with a chilli twist – it is spiced with ancho chillies.
Not as spicy as you would expect, but tasters thought this well-made complex brew from this family owned Argyll-based brewery would make a great fireside sipper after the haggis. Alcohol: 5.2 per cent
£2.60, The Beerhive, Edinburgh
Swannay Island Old Norway
Another very good one from Swannay which scored really well with our tasters. The Old Norway calls itself a ‘barley wine’; a deep amber coloured brew with a very malty sweet honeyed taste and hint of resiny bitterness and toffee from the cascade hops. Alcohol: 8 per cent
£3.45 for 50cl bt, Cornelius Beer & Wine, Appellation Wine, Beerhive, Edinburgh; Valhalla’s Goat, Glasgow; Luvians, St Andrews
Old Worthy A Midnight Caper Smoked Amber Ale
Biggar-based Old Worthy Brewery creates beers to be drunk with whisky. This particular one was actually conceived one Burns night in Skye when Old Worthy brewers were out drinking with the distiller from Tomatin Distillery. An interesting lightly smoked amber ale with a percentage of Tomatin malt and made using a mix of challenger, nugget, cluster and wakatu hops. Alcohol: 5.5 per cent
£2.50 for 33cl bt, The Beerhive, Edinburgh; £3.15, Drinkmonger, Edinburgh
Pilot Christmas Beer Vintage 2015
Big powerful monster from new Edinburgh-based Pilot. Quite yeasty nose, cloves and dried apricot flavours with pruney undertones. Made using orange peel, raisins, cocoa nibs, lactose and mulberries alongside speciality malts: didn’t get in the flavours but it certainly makes for an interesting mouthful. This one certainly divided the room.
Alcohol: 10 per cent
£7.80 for 66cl bt, The Beerhive, Edinburgh
Luckie 1885 Stout Resurrection Series
Deep dark stout with a strong burnt malt, bitter roasted coffee and liquorice taste, very rich, soft, creamy texture and lingering finish. Seriously intense brew, more for sipping than quaffing.
Made by the very enterprising and accomplished Luckie Ales of Fife who resurrect old brands, which is a great idea. This recipe comes from the Usher family’s Aikmann Brewery established back in 1831. Alcohol: 4.5 per cent
£3.20 for 50cl bt, The Beerhive, Edinburgh; Luvians, St Andrews
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