02 October 2009

The high road

Session logoWe are encouraged to go east for this month's Session. Well that shouldn't be too hard. For all the variety of decent bottled beer in Ireland, the vast majority is coming from the UK, Belgium, Germany or the US -- all east of here but one. It would be nice to have something interesting from Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Italy, Australasia or the like to write about, but we're mostly left to our own devices to get hold of that lot.

Tempting as it is to pick some random crap Asian lager imported at enormous expense for idiots trying to relive their holidays, to rot skunkily under the fluorescent lights until it's sold off a year later for 50 cents a pop, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stick with the country that's so barely east of me that tracts of it are to the west: the UK.

Scotland to be precise, a country whose beers need very little introduction in the contemporary beer blogosphere, which sometimes gives the impression that Caledonian beer starts and ends these days with BrewDog. Other breweries do exist, believe it or not, and they don't all follow the American approach to designing and selling beers (not that there's a damn thing wrong with that). Both of these were donations from Dave and Laura, brought back from their summer trip to Scotland.

Laura had been talking up Red MacGregor and I was expecting big things of it, with a head full of sumptuous American reds like Three Floyds Brian Boru and Red Frog. But it's not one of those. Pouring a beautiful shade of deep rosewood, it's actually quite a light 4% ABV sessioner. The nose makes it clear that it's not a bland quaffer, however, with some lovely mandarin notes coming out. On tasting, you get sharp and slightly metallic English hops, but this mellows to a succulent fruity -- vaguely American -- hoppiness. Barley barely gets a look in, but when it does there's a laid-back biscuity caramel flavour, giving directions while the hops drive. The body and carbonation are both unobtrusive, which would make it a sublime session beer, but I only got the one. Oh well.

Second up is an oatmeal stout, a style I'm still quite wary of. That heady, glutenous, marker-pen taste I get from the stronger ones does nothing for me, but Glencoe doesn't have this. It's much smoother and very easy drinking, with proper toasty, oaty aromas. Yes, the phenolic thing is there, but it works for a change. There are a couple of worrying enigmas, not least of which is the fact that it comes from the mysterious Traditional Scottish Ales company about whom I've grumbled before -- I want more than a postcode as beer provenance -- and then there's the "organic wild oats". How does that work? How do you know there haven't been drive-by pesticidings while no-one was looking? However, none of this detracts from what is an all-too-quickly-disappearing quality stout and one I'd happily have again.

Our host requests stereotypes of us from the chosen beer country. While I'm fairly sure fruity hops are terribly unScottish, you can't go far wrong with oatmeal though, eh?


  1. Nice reviews Beer Nut. I’ve had the Clencoe Wild Oat Stout before on draught and it was lovely, I don’t normally like the very oily texture oats gives beer. I’m not sure how they claim the wild oats are organic. Wild oats are a problem for most arable farmers, so I’m guessing that these have just been picked from an organically certified bit of land that has something else growing on it. The oats, just being a weed, are probably cheep as well.

  2. Interesting, Tommy. Thanks. Must be a pain having to gather enough of the weeds to make a batch of commercial beer though.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the beers. I really like the Red MacGregor a lot. The Glencoe stout was tasty as well. I think there's a lot more cool brewing going on in Scotland than just Brewdog.

  4. Glad you enjoyed the beer. Have you tried Orkney beers? There seems to be a rule in Scottish beers. Picture of an old dude->bad. Picture of scenery->good.

  5. Yes, I've had Skullsplitter and Dark Island and loved them both.

    Your label theory is asploded by Lomond Gold, IMO. And Skullsplitter, for that matter.

  6. Anonymous7:33 pm

    my mates brought me a case of red mcgregor last year, very very nice beer and definitely sessionable.
    that glencoe sounds interesting too must keep an eye out for it next time i'm over.

  7. Traditional Scottish Ales is the former Bridge of Allan Brewery -- they've moved to bigger premises, but outside the hamlet of Bridge of Allan, hence the change of name. I reckon the stout is far and away their best.