By Rose Murray Brown MW    

A proliferation of real ales have hit the market.  Some like to call them ‘craft beers’ – whilst others squirm at this trendy term. 

Whatever you call them there are some fantastic new brews in our shops emerging from small one barrel plants to larger traditional brewing concerns.  All are now trying to outdo each other with ever-fancier flavours from Cornish sea salt, bergamot, pomegranate and peanuts. 

Our panel tasted over 40 real ales from across the UK – divided into three categories: lagers, ales, stouts and porters.   Overall, they were particularly impressed with entries from Kelso-based Tempest Brewery and London-based Camden Brewery.   Our star buys show the panel’s highest scorers in each category:

Lagers were first invented by Bavarian brewers aiming to make a clearer brew – fermented and conditioned at low temperatures – the term ‘lager’ in German means ‘to store’.  Lager has now got a bad name synonymous with ‘boring’ – but they don’t have to be.  These two are light fresh and zippy making ideal aperitifs.

(£2.90 for 33 cl can Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews 01334 477752; £2.95 Great Grog, Edinburgh 0131 667 2855)
This was the clear winner in this category.  An unfiltered lager with an amazingly fruity hoppy taste.  They use magnum, simcoe, chinook & mosaic American hops; it is dry hopped twice during its time in tank.  Pale gold, citric notes, zippy, fresh and beautifully balanced.  Alc: 6.2%   STAR BUY
(£3.59 for 50cl bt Great Grog, Edinburgh 0131 667 2855
An unusual hybrid beer from Bakewell: a lager style, fermented like an ale so it could have been in the ale section too.  However – the panel thought it tasted more like a lager with a light summery feel, soft finish, very refreshing.  Alc: 4.8%               

A huge category – but basically ‘top fermented’ beers brewed from malted barley at a warmer temperature than lagers – and using ale yeast, resulting in a sweeter fruitier taste.  In our tasting it included pale ales, saisons (the modern pale ale term) and bitters.

(£3.50 for 50 cl bt Great Grog, Edinburgh 0131 667 2855
Kelso-based Tempest brewery did really well in our tasting – all their entries scored highly.  Owner Gavin Meiklejohn used to work in New Zealand (as a chef), so this pale ale made with Kiwi hops is homage to his time under the Long White Cloud.  Very elegant fruity ale.  Alc: 5.6%

Bad Seed SaisonYorkshire, England: BAD SEED SAISON
(£2.70 for 33 cl bt The Beerhive, 24 Rodney Street, Edinburgh 0131 558 9255
Loved this unusual Saison as it actually tastes like a beer, but with interesting undertones.  This characterful spiced brew hails from Malton, where they use ginger, honey and seeds of paradise.  Smells slightly peppery with definite honeyed notes on the palate.  Refreshing & well made.  Great price too.  Alc: 6%  STAR BUY

(£3.40 for 50 cl bt The Beerhive, 24 Rodney Street, Edinburgh 0131 558 9255
Proof that Tempest really like their ‘big’ flavours.  Pale gold, slightly cloudy, interesting light spicy notes.  This is a Farmhouse saison-style ale with added clementines and almonds – although I would not have guessed the additives – it is a very well made beer which smells quite Christmasy…hmmm.  Alc: 5.1%

Fife, Scotland: LUCKIE BEST BITTER                                 
(£2.80 for 50cl bt Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews
I am very partial to Kirkcaldy-based micro-brewery Luckie ales.  Stuart McLuckie is a one-barrel kit man, so very, very micro, but he knows how to brew a good old traditional bitter (historic recipes and trad ales are his thing).  Pleased to see that this one did very well in our tasting against stiff competition.  Reddy golden colour, nutty, hint of bitter, so well balanced.  Alc: 5%

Oxfordshire, England:  OLD HOOKY
(£1.99 for 50 cl bt; Tesco; Waitrose; Bookers; Majestic Wine)
Banbury-based Hook Norton is the other end of the scale size-wise, but probably my own top favourite brewery in the UK at the moment.  Their old Hooky is just delicious – a rich dark bitter with a beautiful creamy texture to the palate – and suggestive echoes of crystal malt.  Alc: 4.6%

For those who like their beers dark, full-on and intense.  Porters are made from brown malt – the term Porter was first developed in London.  Stouts were the strongest & darkest of the porters with a roasted malty taste – but now Stout is a better known name than Porter – with a proliferation of styles from Dry to Imperial.

(£6.50 for 33 cl bt Cornelius Beer & Wine, Easter Road, Edinburgh)
Wow – this is amazing.  It reminds me more of a wine than a beer: it was bottle conditioned using Champagne yeast.  Very dark, very malty, roasted, nutty, treacley, sweet dense and very alcoholic for a beer.  Well done Stewart’s Brewing.  Alc: 12.5%  STAR BUY
(£3.20 for 33 cl bt The Beerhive, 24 Rodney Street, Edinburgh 0131 558 9255
When I read the label announcing it was made with peanuts, I thought I would hate this beer – but it is rather good.  A dark stout has a rich malty taste, with cocao nibs and oats giving it a creamy body –  the peanuts give it an interesting saltiness and the chocolate a contrasting sweetness.  The result is particularly good in an icecream float – believe me – I tried it.  Alc 4.7%

(£7 for 33 cl bt The Beerhive, 24 Rodney Street, Edinburgh 0131 558 9255
An original Orkney Porter aged for 18 months in Arran Bere whisky casks.  Swannay Brewery have given this brew a strong whisky note, but there are also interesting elements of licquorice, coffee, burnt malt flavours – and it’s very smooth.  Alc: 10.5%

This article was published in The Scotsman Magazine  24 January 2015 

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