Friday, 27 January 2012

Winter fuel: the good and the not

Funnily enough, our two national alcoholic beverages go down better in the dark months. Scotland has a good reputation for whisky and winter - at least in terms of events. Starting with St Andrew's Day and continuing through the old winter Solstice festival - now known as Christmas - and then to Hogmonay before finishing with Burns' Nicht, Scotland is the place to be for barry booze in the dark months.

The quality of our beer has been somewhat more mixed though. Recent years has arguably given us an explosion of sorts in the number of ales, porters and lagers available from local or small enterprises. Some of it is every bit as good as anything from Belgium or Germany. Some though is as every bit as bad as what the bodach used to make in his garden shed.

Here's a sample...

  • Innis & Gunn. Wow! Not only is the standard supermarket range expanding but there's always one or two extra special releases at this time of year. The Highland Cask is superb - bursting with all the flavours you'd expect from a beer aged in casks that once held 18 yo whisky. This year has seen several supermarket offers on the Original, Rum Cask and Blonde which cleared the shelves in no time. All of them superb and start at a healthy 6.6% abv.
  • Ola Dubh. 8% abv. Darker than an Auld Reekie close on a January night. The standard is matured in casks that formerly held Highland Park 12. This is a meal in itself from Harvieston Brewery. Usually retails at around £3 but some offers recently had it for a decent £2 odd.
  • Paradox. By Brewdog. Aged in ex-Isle of Arran casks and similar to the Old Dubh above but with a whopping 10% abv. Mouthfilling and satisfying stuff. Try it with veggie haggis. The best product I've tasted from the Brewdog kennels.
  • McEwans Champion. Very malty and with some serious dark fruits in there. Comes across as a traditional bevy that my grandfather might have enjoyed down in darkest Gorgie Dalry. 500ml of 7% Scots ale. Has a slight bitter aftertaste but goes well with scran once again. Widely available at supermarkets and the price has fluctuated somewhat between £1.25 and £2.
The sheer amount of ales and porters available now makes it easy to snag a fair amount of driftwood too, if you pardon the nautical theme. Williams Brothers in Alloa are one of the better ones and their Midnight Sun 'dark and spicy' porter is as good as any other on the market. Traquair House and their Jacobite Ale at 8% abv is another hero.

Some of micro-breweries can produce the odd guid yin though its fair to say that maybe some should stick to home brewing for their pals. As much as I like the islands, some of the 'local' brews there are underwhelming to say the least. Colonsay make some palatable if uninspiring brew. I've also had the misfortune to taste two of the Islay Ales and the less said about that the better though thankfully Islay's more traditional 'cottage' industries are still producing stunning malt whisky.

Whisky is for another day though it's only fair to namecheck some that have kept the hame fires burning this winter...
Laphroaig 13yo 60.6%, October 2011 bottling from Cadenheads.
Bunnahabhain 20yo 49.7%, January 2012 bottling from Whiskybroker
Longrow CV 46%, distillery bottling from the Springbank family
Glen Scotia 12yo, 62%, 'Immense, manly, meaty and peaty -93.48' from SMWS
Invergordon 18yo grain, 'Extraordinary taste intensity - G5.3' from SMWS

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