Sunday, 22 January 2017

Burns Nicht

It isn't actually Burns Nicht yet, of course, (it's 25th January) but I thought that if I were to review ales to be having (which is something of a grey area as it's supposed to be whiskey) with your neeps and tatties and haggis then I ought to really review them in enough time for people to make a decision and get them in. Well, assuming anyone buys beer based on the reviews of a beer blogger that is. I have some in for the night itself too. In the meantime, time to settle in for a cultural exchange (there have been too few of these lately) and have me some ales.

Also, it's the time of year to be trying some stuff that is brewed in Scotland where the winter is deeper and longer and colder. I am nevertheless surprised that the ales on offer are mainly light and airy rather than deep and dark. Must be a desire to see the winter end. I'm not going to argue. Would ye like tae ken muir?

First on oor list is the eponymous Rabbie Burns hisself born again in a blonde ale form; 4.2% ABV.
This opens with a good hiss of carbonation and pours into the stoneware mug well and with a decent head that fizzes and then dips below the edge of the cup. I'll confess, the dry and strangely juicy smell of this one meant that I leapt in before taking my customary photo, which is a generally good thing. The taste is a proper blonde, nice and dry, leading with wet hops that aren't as juicy as the aroma would suggest, rising to the middle with a good bed of dry malt and then fading into the final part of the taste with a sort of cheery wave, the kind of smile worn by the men of the batable lands - at once welcoming but brooking no disrespect. This would pair well with some spicy haggis and a reading of 'the Mouse'. Like the character in the poem, this is a wee sleekit, cowrin' tim'rous beastie of an ale that sneaks up on you and then makes you aware that it has done its work and done it well. A dry aftertaste, the sort that would slay the burn of pepper and sweetmeat balanced perfectly, and allows for a finishing of the meal and a move to the dessert (that would likely include some whiskey anyway). I enjoyed it and it was one that I could take reasonably slowly without throwing it down. Not the best blonde I've had but this has been thoughtfully brewed to accompany Burns Nicht fayre and there's no doubting its pedigree.

Next up is Guid Ale frae th' Isle of Arran. 3.8% ABV from Arran Brewery.
Opens well and instantly starts filling the nostrils with scents of warm malt and dry fizz. there's a touch of yeast there to add spice and give life to that warmth, and only the faintest touch of hops. I was surprised to take a good lungful and not have the usual hop-heavy effect that I am used to with pale ales, as this appears to be, but it is brewed on the Isle of Arran and far be it from me to question their skills and aims. Not a bad head on the pour, fades quickly after the first taste breaks through, and once again I used my stoneware mug so I don't really have anything to say about the colour. Looked pretty clear though, I could just about make out the bottom. It opens with a slurry of activity, like a wave crashing in from the Atlantic, awash with the salty breath of a far distant storm in the wind and then crashes down behind the teeth with white spume flying forth and the cawing of wheeling seabirds. Good malt and some hoppy citrus on the top of this one but a warm yeast sensation is the main takeaway I get from this one. I imagine this doing less well with haggis and being more an opener as you recite things like Address to a Haggis before the meal. A groaning trencher there ye fill, your hurdies like a distant hill - a wave of ale and then on - your pin wad help to mend a mill, in time o'need, while thro' your pores the dews distil, like amber bead. This is your amber bead methinks.

Finally, no Scottish ale night would be complete without Fraoch by William's Bros Brewers at 5% ABV.
Up in the morning's no for me; up in the morning early; when a' the hills are cover'd wi' snaw, I'm sure it's winter fairly. Which, of course, means it's time to open and pour the ale and ruminate on the fact that I'm often up in the morning. Nae hills cover'd wi' snaw, for I'm in Derbyshire. Anyway, yes. Once again, that smell of heather from my garden growing up with a big head and some malt on the nose that puts one in mind of toasted bread beneath the grill. A bit richer than the white toastie loaf I use in the kitchen, more like something with a bit of oil or else some herbs baked in, but reminiscent of a morning in winter. Honeyed sensation remains on the tongue, in stark contrast to the drier and more delicate flavours of the other ales imbibed in this session. Instead, this seems drenched in something thick and gloopy so that it sticks to the palate and hangs around in the cheeks long after the middle has schott through. Still that odd olive aspect at the end with the aftertaste that hangs around and calls for another sip. This comes back to the lowlands and the Borders after the others swing to the stark moors in the Cairgorms, almost, and, with it, brings ghosts of the conifers and evergreen woodland. It is an interesting brew, subtly changing over the course of the bottle so that by the end one feels that it has done a better job of being companionable. I'm not sure this would be a good choice for the meal as it would overshadow the haggis somewhat but that dry white finish, that I once compared to ciabatta, allows it to precede or to follow such fayre nicely.

Of the three I would probably choose the Fraoch to stand alone on a Burns Nicht but they work rather well as a group too. The Guid Ale would go well with the main meal of haggis (and it has to be haggis) to be followed by the Rabbie Burns and then finish with the Fraoch and recite a few of Burns's poems in candlelight before a roaring fire. As the English have the Bard, the Scots have the Baird, and that always calls for an ale if you ask me.

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