Stu from Real Beer gives you some good advice for Burns Weekend...
January 25th was Burns Day, and for someone with a proud Scottish heritage it is pretty much a national day (certainly more so than the official St Andrew's Day). It's certainly a good excuse to come together on the nearest weekend for haggis, Burns's poetry, single malt whisky and bagpipes - and we Scots don't need much prodding to get involved in something like that. One can't (or "canny", as we like to say) drink whisky all day long, so before the prized single malts come out (and the debates rage as to which is the finest) we'll be sure to warm up with some Scottish ales.
Scotland has a brewing history as proud as any other nation, with it's fantastic brewing water and long period of lower malt taxes giving it a great export advantage over it's neighbours. Recent years have seen the same kind of "consolidation" that we've seen in most other nations, and a similar re-emergence of craft brewing. Traditionally ales from Scotland are generally brewed to a similar malt-balanced style and go by names such as "light", "heavy", "export" and "wee heavy" in ascending strengths. They are also commonly known as 60/-, 70/-, 80/-, 90/- (where "/-" means shilling and denotes an old British pricing system that rose alongside the strength of the beer).
In NZ you are unlikely to come across much from the smaller craft breweries, although the wonderful Harviestoun, Orkney and Traquair beers can be found from time to time. We tend to mostly see the major breweries export or wee heavy examples (or the pantomime donkey filtered Tennents Lager).
Two beers I'm partial to pick up when I get the chance are Belhaven's Wee Heavy and Caledonian's 80/-.
Belhaven's Wee Heavy, with it's distinctive lion rampant label, pours a deep ruby red and is malt rich and relatively simple (as is traditional for Scottish-style ales). The beer displays a subtle perfume reminiscent of caramel, dark rum and Christmas cake. These luscious aromas follow through in the clean flavour, which also displays a very lightly warming alcohol note and a lingering sweetness after the lightly bitter finish. It's a kind of beer that most New Zealanders can easily adapt to, due to the low hopping levels, and you find it in a lot of good supermarkets and bottle stores.
Not to take anything away from the very good Belhaven beer, but in my opinion Caledonian's 80/- is even better. (That's their brewery over there on the right.) It's a harder beer to find but will certainly reward the keen hunter. It pours a paler brilliant copper colour and looks a treat with it's creamy white lacing. The delicious malt aroma has underlying hints of marmalade and toasted fruit bread. The flavour is balanced slightly in the favour of malt, again, with roasty grain shades of smoke and wood creeping out from the caramelly base. There are dark fruit undertones in this mostly clean beer and the woody notes invite further drinking by lingering in the finish. Quite complex, perhaps because of the brewery's rare gas-fired copper kettles, and most certainly very sessional (i.e. I think I'll have another one of these, thanks).
Burns day comes at a perfect time for me. Just as the summer is heating up, and the popular hop-fuelled pale ales and lagers are becoming a bit ho-hum, I sit back and refresh my palate with an easy session of mellower, scrumptious Scottish ales. Try some yourself; most people enjoy the fact that they're neither overtly bitter or too fizzy (two things I know that put a lot of folk off "beer").
Have one or two for Robbie Burns this weekend.
Slainte mhath, Stu
LINKS: Scottish beer - Wikipedia
Burn's Night - Wikipedia
SOBA - Society of Beer Advocates
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