When travelling Scotland in search of great beer, you’ll come across some of the best scenery and ales this wonderful country has to offer.
Many of the greatest of these breweries however, aren’t consigned to the mainland and accessing them can entail a short trip ‘across the water’.
Taking a journey by ferry to any of Scotland’s islands can often be a breath taking adventure in itself.
There are few better feelings than standing on an open deck, soaking in the stunning coasts of Scotland, all while enjoying some of those wonderful beers you are enroute to discover.
So why not take an adventure and discover some of the amazing scenery and activities these beautiful islands have to offer?

Arran

Perhaps one of the more famous breweries on this list, Arran Brewery’s beers are now sold across much of Scotland and the ever enterprising Gerald Michaluk is always looking for ways to expand the brewery’s operations.
Situated on the west coast of Scotland, Arran is easily accessible from the mainland and is one of the more beautiful Scottish islands. With its mountains, lowlands, glens, lochs and royal castles, is has become affectionately known as ‘Scotland in Miniature’.
The brewery itself is a 3-star visitor attraction, and the grounds have an abundance of wildlife such as pheasants and red deer, as well as gorgeous surrounding scenery, perfect for enjoying while you try Arran’s excellent selection of beers in the brewery bar.

Star beer: Arran Red squirrel – Chestnut red session ale with a nutty aroma, toasted caramel hints and a deep malty palate.

While you are there: Start in Brodick, stroll along the beach before taking a walk through the mystical fairy glen, or if you’re looking for something more relaxing then why not visit the ASPA at Auchrannie, Scotland’s first island destination spa.

This article was produced in partnership with CalMac. Book your trip to the Scottish islands >>

Colonsay

Situated in the Southern Hebrides , Colonsay brewery employs around 10 per cent of the island’s working population, Chris and Bob.
One of the remotest breweries on this list, Colonsay’s beers are like the island that gives the brewery its name, rugged and traditional but undeniably beautiful.
The brewery itself doesn’t have a visitor’s centre but the boys are more than happy for visitors to come and see the brewery, with opening hours largely dictated by the stage of brewing the beer is at on any given day. The Brewery isn’t hard to find, you are pretty much on their doorstep when you step off the boat.

Star beer: The Colonsay IPA – a wonderful hop monster, with subtle hints of citrus and fruits.

While you are there: With the sea breeze and unpolluted air, the dramatic scenery and the seals, otters and golden eagles, there can be few better places to simply enjoy a great beer. However, if you are looking for something more unique, then a wander through Colonsay House’s beautiful walled gardens is not to be missed.

A selection of suggested Scottish island beers

A selection of suggested Scottish island beers

Isle of Mull

The Isle of Mull brewing company was established in 2005 in the picturesque village of Tobermory.

Star beer:  The strangely named Terror of Tobermory (4.6abv), trust us, this wonderful beer inspires no fear in us. A dark, malty beer with hints of fruits and spice, definitely one to savour.

While you are there: the wonderful village of Tobermory has to be seen to be believed, the famously colourful houses have appeared in many television shows including the children’s show Balamory. Trust us you’ll know them when you see them.

There’s also a chance to see the island’s resident population of white tailed eagles, majestic creatures who fish and hunt around the island’s coast.

Take a boat trip to the magical Isle of Staffa, a description just wouldn’t do it justice.

Islay

Islay as an island is more synonymous with the production of Scotland’s national spirit, whisky. However, Paul Capper, Walter Schobert and Paul Hathaway decided to create something different and set out to set up the island’s first brewery in 2003. The project was a success and fit almost hand and in hand with the established infrastructure of whisky production on the island. The brewery now supplies most of the island’s hotels and bars and their beers can be found just as readily on the mainland.

Star beer: Coming in at 4.5%, the Black Rock ale is a wonderfully nutty brown beer with a sweet fruity finish.

While you are there: Apart from some of the most beautiful beaches and coastal scenery you’ll come across, if you are visiting Islay, you have to visit the whisky distilleries. Islay is the spiritual home of whisky and has some of the oldest and best known distilleries in the country. Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bruicladdich, Laphroiag – the hardest decision will be choosing where to go first.

Skye

Using all of the freshest ingredients sourced mostly from the island itself, Isle of Skye brewery offers some truly excellent beers. Created when a group of friends drinking in a local bar decided that the beers available on the island weren’t good enough, the resulting brewery project has gone from strength to strength. Situated next to the pier at Uig, the gateway to the western isles, the brewery is run by three brewers, each of whom are also trained chefs, giving them an interesting insight into flavours and really shows in their beers.

Cuillin Brewery took a long time to come around but was finally created in 2004. Situated in the former site of an old pub at Sligachan Hotel, the brewery currently has a four cask set for a core range as well as producing special editions.

The new kid on the block is Old Worth Brewing company, a brand new brewery aiming to blend the island’s whisky heritage with its beer. Named for the ‘local worthies’, Islay distillery men of exceptional skill and legendary for their hard work, Old Worthy is run by Nick Ravenhall under contract at Isle of Skye brewery.

Star beers: Isle of Sky(e) – Cuillin Beast is definitely not beast by nature, its soft fruit and caramel flavours make it surprisingly drinkable given its strength (7 % abv). The only danger lies in how easy it is to drink!

Old Worthy – Scottish Pale Ale, brewed with honey and peat smoked malt.
This is a real amalgamation of whisky style flavours and traditional beer, not to be confused with Innis & Gunn, which is aged in whisky casks, this is truly a unique tasting beer.

Cuillin Brewery – Blackface ale, the darkest of Cuillin’s beers Blackface comes in at a very drinkable 4.3% and has hints of chocolate and honey, creamy and delicious.

While you are there: Of all the islands on this list Skye probably has the most to offer in terms of outdoor and indoor activities.
Walk in footprints left by a dinosaur family over 160 million years ago on Staffin beach, visit the fairy pools in the wondrous Fairy glen, drive the Quiraing Loop and see some of the best scenery Scotland has to offer or are a foodie visit the Oyster shed and try some of Scotland’s freshest seafood the way nature intended. And if you (still have the taste for a dram are not already bored of whisky after your trip to Islay then a visit to Talisker is always worth it.

Shetland

One of the remotest breweries on this list, Shetland’s Valhalla brewery pays homage to the island’s norse roots with great beers that the Vikings of old would be proud of. Situated on Unst, the brewery is Britain’s most notherly and was set up by Sonny Priest to originally cater for the island’s need for quality beer. Luckily, some of those bottles escaped the island and now Sonny has expanded operations to meet the demand from the mainland.

Star beer: The first ale created by the brewery, the Auld Rock is a full bodied, dark Scottish style ale, with a well balanced hop and malt nose and an abv of 4.5%, well worth travelling to such a distant place for.

While you are there: Shetland offers some of the best places to discover and enjoy wildlife anywhere in Scotland, from seals and sea birds to the animal which named after the island, the Shetland pony, Shetland is a wildlife lover’s paradise. Plan your trip at the right time and you’ll get to enjoy the unique Up Helly Aa; for 24 hours, on the last Tuesday of January, the town of Lerwick goes a little crazy with a massive fire festival to celebrate the island’s heritage. Great fun and definitely not to be missed!

Isle of Lewis

The only brewery in the Outer Hebrides, the Hebridean Brewery Company was set up by Andrew Murdo Ribbens, who, as a boy would spend his summers at his Grandfather’s croft at Aird Tong. Falling in love with the island, Andrew made it his dream to combine this love with his passion for brewing.

Star beer: Based on a 150 year old recipe, the Beserker Export is a punchy IPA is a hair curling 7.4%. Malt and hop flavours battle for supremacy before ending with a crisp bitter finish.

While you are there: All of the islands on this list have wonderful beaches in abundance but few are as ruggedly beautiful as Uig Sands. White sands, blue skies (obviously dependent on the weather) a walk along this beach is the perfect way to enjoy this stunning island. If you have time, Carloway Broch is one of the best preserved brochs in Scotland, this fascinating structure offers a short climb to some amazing views.

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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