March 19, 2009

2JB Interlude: Scotland

Nahum and I are enjoying a short (and rare) break between batches, but that doesn't mean there is no beer news to report. Last week, I took a 5-day trip to Scotland with my friend Lee. He was going on an art-related trip and invited me along...which I took as a sign to make it a beer-related trip, too.

A quick bit of back-story: I've lived in Scotland for periods here & there, and I visit when I can. In fact, my time in the UK is where my "beer palate" did most of its maturing. I was very excited to return, not least of all to have some of my fave Brit Brews and try some new ones. I documented all of my Scotland beers, and present a wee travel diary:

3/11/09: Arrived in Edinburgh for the first time in about 5 years. After a quick nap, I headed to one of my old haunts, the Royal Ettrick Hotel, for a proper pub lunch. (How I missed you, pub lunches!). I quenched my jet-lagged thirst with a pint of Tennant's lager, brewed in Glasgow.

It's a cold, clear lager with carbonation roughly akin to champagne. It made me happy all the way down to my toes, and paired with the lasagna perfectly. Actually, I have no idea if it went with the food...the whole experience was just heavenly, though.

Later that evening, Lee arrived and it was right back to the Ettrick for another round of Tennant's. I wouldn't want to keep it all to myself, right?

3/12/09: After a long day of travel through the Highlands, Lee and I arrive in Ft. William (up the west coast of Scotland). Ft. William is at the foot of the tallest peak in the UK, Ben it's no surprise that the Ben Nevis pub offers one of the nicest views in town. I started with a McEwan's 70, which is a smooth, creamy ale with a medium color and light carbonation.

McEwan's is a longtime Edinburgh brewery that was later bought by Caledonian...but I believe it is still made right in Scotland. Speaking of Caledonian...Lee had the Caledonian 80 and spoke so highly of it that I joined in for a second round. The Callie was even creamier than the McE, and a bit darker. (Neither was particularly hoppy...these Scottish brewers seem to be more into the malts, which I guess shouldn't be too surprising).

Oh, and dinner was a steak & ale pie. What goes with steak & ale pie? Some McEwan's ale, that's what!

3/13/09: We spent the day doing quite a bit of trekking, and even had a near-miss with some aggressive Highland bulls.

After some nice locals in a way out-of-the-way town gave us a lift to a slightly bigger town, we waited for the train at the Marine Hotel's bar. The pickings were slim, so we went for half-pints of Guinness.

I should note that there is a promotion of sorts with Guinness that was new to me: Guinness Extra Cold. It's a separate tap, with its own logo and everything. It's just like Guinness...but colder. Still delicious, though.

For dinner, we headed to the Grog & Gruel, which aside from a bizarre Tex-Mex menu (In the Highlands? Really?) boasted of a large selection of Scottish cask-conditioned ales! How was I going to pass that up? Well, I didn't.

It was a bit of a tease, though. The menu listed about 25 beers from 5 local brewers, each with descriptions that made the mouth water. I'd picked out the Orkney Dark Island beer from the Sinclair Brewery...when the waitress informed us that the list was just a representation of all the beers they might have. The board behind the bar showed that, in fact, there were 4 to choose from.

I was a bit disappointed, but that all went away when I sipped the pint of Black Cullin from the Isle of Skye Brewing Co. The ingredients included chocolate, oats and other stouty markers, but the beer was decidedly not stout-like. More like the darkest ale you've ever had, with a light body and a ton of flavor. Lee went with the Callie 80 he'd liked so much the night before, but learned the hard way that the hand-pump tap they had at Ben Nevis made a big difference in how the pint went down. Still, better than a can of Coors, right?

For round 2, we ordered the other beers: Young Pretender, also from Isle of Skye, and William's Joker from the Williams Brothers Brewing Company in Alloa.

The Pretender was a very light ale with a crisp flavor and barely any body (but still quite good). The Joker, on the other hand, was heavy, malty and very strong: a bit over 5% alcohol. The overall effect was actually too much for me, and Lee and I had to share responsibility for dealing with the Joker.

At the end of the night, we each had a Tetley ale while bowling 2 games in a black-lit alley. No, I'm not making any of that up. It was the only decent beer they had at the bowling alley, and it went down easy, like a cuppa tea!

3/14: We traveled south again, toward the city. On the train I was busying myself with a crossword puzzle...and wouldn't you know that that answer to 62 across was "beer."

It was our last night in Scotland, back in Edinburgh and staying with our friend Chris. We bought him a 4-pack of McEwan's Export, but ended up going through a couple of bottles of wine before getting some sleep ahead of an early-morning flight.

It was a bit odd to end the trip with wine rather than beer, but I certainly can't complain that I didn't get a sufficient number of Scottish pints. It was great to drink them again, especially now that my 2JB experience allowed me to deliniate some of what was going on in each beer I tried. Nahum and I are in a pretty good spot when it comes to US brews, but we've still got a long way to go to top the centuries of malt & hops goodness to be found in the Scottish cities & Highlands.

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