Hello. It’s been a while. A very long while. Long enough for WordPress to change their UI quite a bit leading to the inevitable initial confusion which will fade into ‘what did it even look like before?’ The past few months have been mad. Balancing a rather demanding full time job with writing is hard enough but the past month or so has been even more chaotic. At the moment I’m based in London but I’ve decided to make the move back up to Scotland in December. London is a fantastic city, I love it’s vibrancy and the amazing food and beer scene, but the howling winds and the heather hills of my homeland are calling me back. I imagine this is what having a racy affair while you’re married would be like. The excitement and newness wear off after a while and you begin to miss your old dependable spouse. You begin to get irritated by the things that you once found a novelty and really miss everything you took for granted.
Anyway, one thing I definitely miss about Scotland is whisky. There’s nothing better than having a wee dram before bed. Or a hot toddie to battle off a cold. On Thursday I was invited to the launch of Jura’s 1984 whisky. Orwell wrote the book 1984 whilst staying at a friend’s estate on the isle of Jura, next to Islay (obviously my favourite of the islands), just off the west coast of Scotland. He had travelled there from London to escape the fame he’d received from Animal Farm. He wanted to have some freedom and space to be creative and write the story of Winston Smith and the dystopian world of totalitarianism. He certainly would have had freedom and space since Jura is bloody remote. Nowadays there are only around 2,000 inhabitants…and, most importantly, a distillery!
The invitation to the 1984 launch was very cryptic, giving very little away so I had no idea what to expect. The event was held in some railway arches near Waterloo, on a street where graffiti is permittable so there was a strong smell of spray paint fumes. We had to queue up while a guard barked at us when we were allowed to go in, only 1 or 2 at a time. We were then given an identity card and had to press our fingerprint on to it. A very shouty lady told me I must keep it on me at all times. Considering I lose absolutely everything, I was quite scared at this point. We were then given some ‘government issued whisky’ which was really just water and another guard shouted the rules we were allowed to drink the whisky under. The actors were really good and you did begin to feel like you were in the world that poor Winston was part of. We were then led down some stairs into an amazingly laid out room. This was Jura. Or ‘Utopia’. There were old leather sofas, stag heads on the wall and a lady playing the piano. It was an amazing transformation to some warehouses that I think usually host raves that go on till most people are up again after a full night’s sleep.
Anyway, to the most important part. THE WHISKY. 1984 was casked in 1984 and bottled in October this year, making it a 30 year vintage. There are only 1,984 bottles available and each of them cost £750. Wow. It’s matured in American white oak, Amoroso and Apostoles Oloroso sherry butt casks and is quite sweet. I find describing whiskies quite difficult so forgive me for the less than adequate ramblings you’re about to endure. I tend to drink petey malts so this one was a bit different than what I usually go for. However, it kind of made me rethink my defaulting to the petey-est thing on the menu. It was light and not too overpowering, you don’t need to worry about your face puckering up! It was definitely sweet – maybe honey? And I could taste cherries quite strongly as well as some other fruits, peaches were the first thing that sprung to mind. As well as the 1984 we got to try all the other Jura whiskies, including some whisky mojitos! Prophecy was my favourite of the staple range. It’s rich and petey, smoky and spicy. All my favourite tastes!
Tuesday has always felt like a bit of a black sheep amongst the days of the week. As a homage to Tuesdays, I’ve decided to do a slightly different kind of post today.
Heverlee is a Belgian pilsner style lager which has taken Scotland and Ireland by storm. It’s the baby of Joris Brams, a Belgian man who’s been living in Scotland since 2000. I was lucky to have a chat with Joris to find out more about Heverlee and why it’s become so popular over here. Even more luckily, I’m going out to visit the brewery at the beginning of next month. I can’t wait!!
Heverlee is brewed at the Abbey of the Order of the Premontre which has gone through some massive developments in recent years. It’s had around €14 million in investment to restore it to its former glory, including a fully working mill. The abbey was founded in 1129 and its workers focussed on farming and fishing. They built the original brewery to cater for these workers and they brewed a really light, low alcohol beer to keep them hydrated. Belgium is famous for its dark, high alcohol beers but these are more associated with the Trappiste abbeys who had onsite breweries which were to make profit so they had time to roast the malts and make higher alcohol contents. However, it wasn’t the highest interests of abbeys like the Premontre to spend time and money roasting malts…and plying their workers with 8% beers! Unfortunately the brewery closed down in 1550…. until now that is…
Joris grew up about 2 miles away from the Premontre Abbey and used to play in the surrounding fields as a child. When he moved to Scotland, he wasn’t a huge fan of British ales and was frustrated with the lack of Belgian lagers available. This was the catalyst that fuelled him to bring his favourite drink – Belgian lager – to Scotland. He returned to Belgium and began to research the original recipe brewed at the abbey way back when it was originally open. Whilst chatting to Joris it became very clear that authenticity was very important to him. He wanted to keep the recipe as close to the original as possible, he even has plans to restore the original brewery! The current recipe uses a mixture of malt and maize and the renowned Saaz hop. Joris also wants to keep the monks heavily involved. They actually run the brewery and receive royalties from Heverlee sales to further fund the abbey. He’s also very adamant that while Heverlee isn’t widely available in Belgium, and it’s biggest markets are oversees, it will always be brewed in Belgium so it 100% lives up to its title of a Belgian lager.
Heverlee is widely available throughout Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but Joris is hoping to branch further into England, as well as the USA and Brazil! Let’s hope that Heverlee does as well in Brazil as Belgium did earlier in the year (Sorry USA…)!
WELL HELLO THERE.
I have had a verrrry busy week. I was in Glasgow on Thursday for the launch of Menabrea, an Italian beer, then attended the Brewdog Writer’s event on Friday and then down to Edinburgh for the last weekend of the festival. Throw in some illness and a 9 hour train journey with no seat and you have a pretty exhausting weekend indeed. I’m writing this from my bed as I still feel very ill. I didn’t get to see very many shows during the festival either because I wasn’t feeling well. Terrible timing. Anyway I’ll stop feeling sorry for myself. I’ve written about my time at Menabrea and Brewdog on my Herald blog so please be sure to check that out – http://www.heraldscotland.com/author/diary-beer-girl although I think this might get published before they do so be patient dear child. I might actually do another Brewdog one on here too as there’s just so much to write about.
Brew By Numbers. A very interesting concept which has torn family and friendships in two. Do you think it’s confusing and unnecessary or a clever and interesting way to label beers? I’m in the second camp. Let me explain what it’s about if you don’t already know. Skip a few sentences down if you do. Brew By Numbers give each style of their beers a number, so for example, Saisons are 01, Golden Ales are 02 and Porters are 03 etc etc. Each beer they brew in this style is then given another number which they call the recipe, so you get something like 03|02, with 02 being the Liberty. In the porters section, there is also the recipes 01 – Original and 03 – Traditional. Anyway, I think this is a fantastic concept for encouraging repeat purchases. We all like trying beers by different breweries, but if you’ve tried an 03|02, then you’re naturally going to want to try the 03|01 and 03|03 to compare all three. Clever, isn’t it?
Clever is all and well but it’s verging on annoying if you can’t prove your worth (also if you try a numbered beer and it’s a bit shit, you’re probably not going to rush out and buy the others since they’re likely to be a bit shit too). Well, don’t worry, Brew by Numbers can get away with it. They’re like Stephen Fry. They have the potential to be very irritating know it alls with their fancy paper labels and new way of naming their beers, but they’re really bloody good, so they earn it. And, that makes you like it.
Liberty isn’t too strong for a Porter, coming in at 5.7% ABV but it packs a punch. Mixing the, rich chocolate and coffee notes with a bitter and floral hoppiness is a fantastic combination. They use Liberty hops (who’d have guessed it?!) to mirror an American style hoppy porter. I was quite surprised by the lightness of the beer despite the flavour which I really liked. I’ll be going back to try the 03|01 and 03|03. Clever, isn’t?!
Our landlord has decided to sell the flat we’re currently renting which has its ups and downs. Downs being we have to keep it really tidy at all times, but the ups include the garden being completely revamped, which has been excellent! I love being outside and the weather has been so sunny and warm, perfect for sipping a beer in the garden after work. Caesar Augustus by Williams Bros is a fantastic summer garden beer. They call it a ‘lager/IPA hybrid’ because it’s brewed at cold temperatures like a lager and uses lager yeast, but lots of IPA style hops are added to give it a much deeper flavour than a classic lager.
It was really crisp and refreshing with a hoppy, bitter finish. The ABV is 4.1% and it comes in a 500ml bottle. If you’re looking for something light and thirst-quenching while still remaining full of flavour, then this is a great beer to try.
Hitachino Nest are a Japanese brewery who use Japanese brewing techniques but with a Eurpean twist which is a very interesting concept! Japan is more famous for it’s whisky than beer but the Hitachino Nest brewery has proven to be quite popular. I tried the Classic Japanese Ale which is a bottle conditioned ale using English hops. It’s quite strong at 7% ABV but the bottles are quite small at 330ml.
It had quite a creamy head and was ambery/coppery in colour. It’s aged in cedar casks which is a traditional Japanese technique when brewing sake. You can taste the woodiness from the cedar and it’s quite sweet and caramelly (I don’t think that’s a word, neither is ‘ambery’ or ‘coppery’ but let’s go with it). This was quite an interesting beer so I’d definitely recommend checking out some of the Hitachino Nest beers. I really want to get my hands on their Red Rice ale so I’ll be doing a review on that as soon as I do!
When I’m choosing beer, I don’t usually pick up whichever one has the nicest label BUT on this occasion, I went against my own rule. How could I refuse anything that has ‘Gin’ written across it in huge letters?! I don’t think it would be physically possible for me to say no to a gin and tonic. It certainly hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, once my brain had started thinking properly, rather than just saying ‘gin gin gin’, I began to wonder how that would work? I’m a big fan of beer brewed in rum and whisky casks, but I just couldn’t imagine how a gin-flavoured beer would work.
You’ll be relieved to know it isn’t actually gin flavoured. It is made using the gin botanicals from the City of London Distillery. This gives it a very floral taste along with fruity and citrussy notes. The aftertaste is quite odd and peppery, it took me a few sips before I properly began to like it so I recommend giving this one a proper shot rather than having a sip. It’s a very light ale and has an ABV of 4.1%.
Gin is brewed by Peter Haydon who has his own project at the Florence brewery called ‘Head in a Hat’. Gin is the only beer from Head in a Hat that I’ve tried but I’m really keen to taste more, especially Camembeer, which I will definitely pair with a fully stocked cheeseboard as intended. Mmmmm.
Another Scottish beer today. This time it’s from The Loch Ness Brewing Co. who are a small brewing company attached to a hotel. The hotel and brewery are owned by two brothers and they have brewed a selection of different ales which generally include ‘Ness’ in their name.
The Light Ness is a summery golden ale which has quite a low ABV (3.9%). It’s very light and refreshing with a citrussy grapefruit aftertatse. It’s quite a hoppy pale ale which I really like but it could be a bit bitter if you prefer sweeter ales. This beer just reminds me of summer and the sun so is perfect for the current weather!