So much to do and so little time. So many ales in the kitchen to get through, it's a hard life! Tonight it is the turn of another of the ales from Christmas, Sulwath, and after some brief debate with myself I plumbed for what I thought would be a golden ale. I was wrong, it's amber. It is The Grace, being named after the Selkirk Grace, believed to be written at the Selkirk Arms in Kirkcudbright (pronounced "Kid-cuddie"). So, there you go.
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First thing of note is that this pours very amber indeed, reminiscent of really old Iron-brew from when I was but a callow youth, before they renamed it with the incorrect spelling and before trading standards prevented the boast that it was made in Scotland from girders. Second thing is the stunning lack of carbonation, which is a definite plus in this offering, and the limited but persistent head. The bottle claims three hop varieties are in this ale, but I shall be honest and say that the aroma is dominated by the malts, Crystal and Maris Otter, but not unpleasantly so. A fresh edge is discernible from the hopping, which is welcome, but it is the malt that carries that first clash.
Caramel was another boast made and this one holds true. It's not a little unlike the caramel wafers from the corner shop back where I grew up, I believe they're made by Tunnock's now, and that's not a bad thing. Not the sticky and runny stuff you get in Cadbury's, of which I've never been a huge fan, but more the sort of toffee softness that sometimes hung around on summer days with ice-cream or when a mars bar had been in the fridge and left out a bit. It's a good base. We start with that caramel, followed quickly by the malts that sparkle and then onto a bittering hops hit that lasts but a few seconds before washing away. A full mouth feel with good punctuation but a definite feel of sweet chocolate over the whole - think the sort of chocolate that isn't allowed to be called that in Belgium or the USA - heavy on the vegetable oil. End of the taste metamorphoses into a different beast entirely, a bitter tang that mellows into a more dark chocolate feel.
I really like the fact that though this is far from flat its carbonation is still very slight. It really lets the malt do its job, though it does rather hold back the hops. If you want something hoppy and mad this is not the ale for you, look to my reviews over the summer for things like Hop Bomb (here), Hip Hop (here) and Dr Hardwicke's Double IPA (here).
At 4.3% ABV this is no slouch and it does let you know the strength, providing the warmth of the last vestiges of the taste and the feel, but it also isn't going to ruin your evening's conversation. I can see how this would be complemented by being on tap, the gases would allow a smoother creamy texture to come to the fore and that would work well with that caramel toffee overture. Having said that, it has a certain element of Scotland about it too. There's a gruff and bitterness beneath that welcoming and open softness that greets you. An accent born in whiskey and heather, filtered through hundreds of years of harsh living and poverty on the moorlands of the Borders and then tempered like steel through conflict before surfacing into the modern era with democratic deficit and betrayal at the hands of those they viewed as saviours. Culminating in brews like this one.
It is a nice tipple, I can see why they have linked it to Burns himself and the idea of a Grace. I can see why they have placed the malts above the hops to gain the amber coloration and I can see why you'd want to have this again. It is enjoyable.
As you ride north, pursuers gaining on you both as people too young to marry, you would stow this in your luggage, pulling it out for courage and to toast the future as you near the destination. Then, as you step out of the carriage and into the small courtyard outside the blacksmith's shop, famously serving as final destination for those who wished to make use of the different law in Scotland, you would share the remnants with your partner in crime. Laugh and joke being in Gretna and know that the parents would be too late to stop you. The sun would slowly die on the horizon, lighting the world with a bronze and amber glow not unlike the ale you have shared. Smile.