04 May 2015

Extension to the mouse house

Once an excitingly different craft brewery, 32 year-old Harviestoun of Alva is near enough part of the scenery at this stage, turning out reliable classics like Old Engine Oil and Bitter & Twisted. So I was pleased to be offered these new ones, sent as samples to Steve and passed on to me. Good as the core beers are, they could always do with some company.

The Ridge is an Amarillo and Fuggle pale ale, named after the pointy bit in the middle of the Atlantic. It arrives the purest shade of spun gold and while it looks light and breezy, 5% ABV gives it enough gravitas to be more than a sunny day quaffer. The aroma is mild, offering the earthy metallic qualities of the English hop as well as the zestier notes from the American one. The double act continues its routine in the flavour: there's the assertive bitterness I associate with a certain sort of old-fashioned brown English bitter, accompanied by the spritz of grapefruit and softened with the bubblegum malt which shows this up as the golden ale it really is. Ultimately, the old world qualities win over the new, but The Ridge is no less enjoyable for that.

There's a bit of a haze to Broken Dial, a 4.5% ABV amber ale, and while the label boasts of Simcoe I get more of a Cascade-meets-crystal funk from the aroma. The carbonation is caskishly light and the mouthfeel almost creamy on the first pull. Burnt caramel vies with mango and boiled spinach, finishing on an intense oily lime astringency. I think I prefer my amber ales to be a bit more jolly than this, but if you're in the mood to have one slap your palate around a bit then this is for you. Whatever about the harsh flavours, the silky texture kept me coming back until, hey presto, the glass was empty. A brave beer, and one that's destined to shock more than a few with its "Fruity - Malty" strapline.

The curveball in the set was Òrach Slie, a whisky-aged pale lager. I was already wary, but the alarm bells really started when I saw it was 6% ABV. It looks innocent enough: a pure clear gold, while the aroma is subtle and interesting, carrying a gentle air of malt whisky, like a lowland distillery coach park on a cold day. The awful woody sickliness I feared never actually materialised, though it is definitely sweet and you can taste the barrel for sure. But it's tastefully done, especially when consumed at appropriate lager temperatures. There's an overall effect of honey on porridge which I thought worked surprisingly well. I guess a certain other Scottish whisky-aged beer brand has spoiled the concept for me, but this is an example of how it can be done well.

Finally, an extension of a classic: Old Engine Oil Engineer's Reserve. This is sort-of the opposite of a barrel-aged beer as it's the 9% ABV base used to make the whisky-matured Ola Dubh series. Obviously it's an opaque pitch-black and tarry in both texture and taste. The big surprise for me was that it's not sweet. Instead, the aroma is dry and rather harshly acrid, while the flavour is crisp and crunchy, from the use of very highly toasted grain, I guess. Given a little time to play on the palate there's a hint of soft red berry in the taste, but really I can see why this isn't usually sold as-is: it's an unrefined quarry of raw materials, ready to be smoothed and shaped by time and wood and whisky. An interesting accompaniment to some Ola Dubh for reference, but not much of a beer in its own right.

Nothing here really has the beatings of the Harviestoun classics, but they do show a brewery confident in its strengths and very much playing to them. There's every chance they'll be seen as classics themselves, given time.

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