23 June 2014

Beer in Lothian

I spent a long weekend in Edinburgh back in April, revisiting a few old haunts and ticking off some new ones. The area's beer scene is brimming with quality these days so I made a concerted effort to keep it local as much as possible. Here's what I found.

On the edge of the city there's Stewart Brewing, a brewery which is becoming nearly omnipresent about town. In the convivial surrounds of the Stockbridge Tap I found one of their more traditional beers: Pentland IPA, 3.9% ABV and pouring a perfect clear gold. It's simple and lagery, with a nice dash of golden syrup malt. The hops don't have much to say for themselves, but then it's not that kind of beer. It's a downable, sociable conversation IPA.

Stewart's more craft-ish offerings tend to come in bottles, though Ka Pai is one I noticed on cask as well. This is a  5.2% ABV "South Pacific IPA". While the hops are certainly louder than in the Pentland, it's still a little understated. Yes there are some pleasant peach and mandarin notes, and a whiff of Nelsony cattishness in the aroma. The bottle-conditioned bottle did have an added yeast bite that wasn't present in the very well-kept cask pint in The Blue Blazer. Overall a pleasant beer though far from the ideal showcase for southern hemisphere hops.

Which leads us neatly on to First World Problems, a Belgian-style IPA of 6.2% ABV. There's proper hop action in this dark orange number, a powerful bitterness cutting right through the slightly sticky malt and warm fruity yeast. The latter runs interference against the hops, throwing out a distracting funk and an earthy sharpness which prevents the hop flavours from really shining. I'm sure I'm not the first to point out how much of a first world problem this is.

We finish up on Radical Road. 6.4% ABV and this time definitely not messing around with the hops: five kettle additions and double dry-hopping, though still a modest 50 IBUs. The result is a big blast of fresh orange from the aroma and a zesty citric refreshing quality on drinking. Again, not an eye-popping bitterness bomb, but nuanced and very grown-up.

Another local(ish) microbrewery is Alechemy in Livingston. I found their Five Sisters on the handpumps at the Cask & Barrel on Broughton Street, a pleasant neighbourhood pub near where I was staying. It's billed, excitingly, as a "red IPA", and it is indeed a coppery red colour, but the flavour is much more about crunchy oatmeal biscuits than big hops. Just a bitter acridity on the finish signals the hop involvement. It doesn't really gel together as an IPA, a pale ale, a red ale, or anything much else, unfortunately.

Alechemy's Ritual is another odd one. This is a dark gold pale ale at a sessionable 4.1% ABV. There's a stimulating bitterness though not much by way of hop flavour. Instead you get a big marzipan sweetness, presumably down to some alchemical combination of malt and hops. I found it rather enjoyable, in its weird bitter cakey sort of way.

It was Anzac Day on the Friday of my visit and the Bow Bar had a few thematic offerings in, including Alechemy (St)Ella Burst, a 5.3% ABV kegged golden ale which offers bubblegum up front followed by a dry and slightly tart red berry fruit effect. The promised burst of Australian hops doesn't quite materialise and the flavour is a little less intense than the strength and name might suggest, but it's decent simple fun.

The main event, however, was the Anzac Pale Ale from Elixir, a two-man operation which shares Alechemy's brewkit. The hook is that it's brewed using ingredients from the iconic Anzac biscuit: oats, golden syrup and coconut. It arrived accompanied by a couple of the biscuits and is a dark brown-amber colour with the aroma of New World amber ale: caramel malt thoroughly infused with spicy grassy hops. At its core is a massive oaty biscuit flavour, dry and almost crunchy, and this is followed quickly by a rising bitterness as well as a phenolic smoky quality. Then there's a sudden burst of fragrant orange blossom and juicy nectarine. This is a big and complex beer, making full use of its 5.9% ABV, but for everything that's going on in it, it's still perfectly balanced and very drinkable.

I'll be casting the net a little wider in my next post from Edinburgh.


  1. Does every new craft brewery in Ireland and Scotland produce an IPA? Is that essentially a global staple now?

    1. Not every brewery, just the ones with enough diversity of output to show up in beer blogs. And it depends on whether Deuchars counts.