Stock and Barrel

2018-01-12 16.45.16I am a dyed in the wool sceptic when it comes to the use of fancy barrels for your limited edition overpriced beers. Far too often they are used to add value to an otherwise underwhelming beer. Worse still, is when a brewery takes an existing brilliant beer and decides to gild the lily by shoving it in a bourbon (or whatever) cask. Even when this works it rarely adds much to the beer beyond a dash of alcohol, a touch more vanilla on the nose and an extra couple of quid on the price tag.

Occasionally, I have one of these top shelf, barrel aged beers beers that does succeed in knocking my tiny socks off.

As is the case with the Blended Stock Ale from Burning Sky.

Hailing from just outside Brighton, Burning Sky have carved a wee bit of a niche for themselves in the UK beer scene, knocking out the very best UK interpretations of classic Belgian sour styles. So I was intrigued by their latest release which blends an old-fashioned heavy, malt driven English old ale with a Rodenbach-style Flanders red, then throws the whole caboodle in a Pinot Noir cask to develop with some funky wild yeast cask.

It’s a very attractive beer; being a lovely hue of burnished, ruddy copper or polished oak, topped with a modest, but persistent and creamy head. The palate is big, mellow, rounded and warming. The 6.2% abv hitting the sweet spot of boozy, but not too boozy. It smells kind of rustic; It was probably knowing that it was aged in burgundy casks that led me to pick up the associated, mulchy, farmhouse, straw and horseblanket aromas but they are definitely there (if balanced with more typical pine, biscuit and citrus notes)

The dominant flavours are of warm, buttered sourdough toast, fudge, molasses and fig. The Flanders red comes in at the finish, with a quick burst of vinous acidity and a gentle slightly sour edge of candied peel.

This is a stunningly good beer and although it’s not cheap (about eleven quid for a 75cl bottle) it manages to be challenging enough for the typical sour beer drinker, yet still recognisably “beery” which makes it approachable for boring old farts like me.

The added bonus is all that funky, yeasty, Belgian-style goodness will develop nicely in the bottle over the next year or so. (I’m definitely going to squirrel one away for “research”)

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Keep Them Sweet

downloadIt’s probably news to you, unless you’re part of it, but a small kerfuffle (with possible big implications) ran through the beer industry through the latter half of 2017. A complaint to the Portman Group (the alcohol industry body that regulates/oversees marketing) led to the censure of Wales’ Tiny Rebel brewery and rebranding of their flagship beer (at an estimated cost of thirty grand)

The anonymous complainant was unhappy that the beer.

  1. Was available in a brightly coloured can.
  2. Which had a teddy bear on it.

This obviously meant that the 4.6% abv, hoppy red ale was being marketed to children

The simplicity of this argument is hard to satirise and there was something a wee bit iffy about it, but the complaint was upheld. This led to a lot of panic amongst similar sized brewers and across social media that the industry giants had found another stick to beat them with (this is almost certainly bollocks – these sort of things happen to the big guys all the time, they just keep quiet about it)

Truth is, if our moral guardians wanted to warn against the infantilization of beer, they could make a much better case if they worried less about the packaging and more about the contents.

A quick peruse of the shelves of your nearest offie, will provide ample evidence that the current crop of brewers are a fairly sweet toothed bunch and that they operate with all the restraint of a bunch of five year olds at a birthday party. There’s nothing particularly new about chucking a bunch of adjuncts in your brew, but many contemporary IPA’s would make Carmen Miranda blush. As well as smelling/tasting like a tropical fruit smoothie, thanks to the modern fad for brewing in the “New England” style- now many look just like a fruit smoothie.

Not only do we have to contend with a small grocers basket worth of citrus fruit in our pale ales-but our stouts have gone all “Willy Wonka” and now come with a tuck shop worth of chocolate and sweeties.

Typical ingredients found in a top-shelf imperial stout may include- cacao nibs, vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, fruit, chilli, liquorice, peanut butter, salted caramel, almonds and marshmallow.

Now, these are clearly beers that demand restraint, being both very rich and exceptionally boozy, but it’s hard to deny that some of them are VERY sweet and deliver a pretty intense sugar rush.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, of course and some of these beers are amongst the very best in the world.

But (to get all reactionary about it) why can’t we have beer that tastes like beer?

At the very least “traditional” styles of beer shouldn’t be seen as in any way inferior to these new interpretations. Even if they can sometimes be a little bit harder to swallow.

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Get the beers in.


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Just a quickie.

The guys over at Alechemy will be undergoing a rebrand in the new year and have asked us if we’ll help them shift some of their old stock. To that end we are now selling wee slabs of their Photon IPA for £18 a pop

That’s just £1.50 a tin for a mighty fine session IPA- we’ve Q.C.-ed quite a few tins now and can confirm that they are tasting bloody great. So if you’re having guests over the next fortnight or so, you might as well shove as many in your fridge as you can manage.

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Mexicanned Beer

imagesI don’t eat pineapple: Not that I really have anything against it, it’s just that it’s hardly the most user friendly fruit: Being too large, covered in spines and rather pricey. Which means I very rarely have one of the prickly bastards squatting in my fruit bowl. I’m also not really a fan of pineapple juice, finding it simply too tart and acidic for breakfast and too strong a flavour as a mixer.

So it took me a while to crack into the Tepache from the Wild Beer co. Tepache is a Mexican drink, fermented from pineapple peel and spiced with cinnamon. I am unfamiliar with genuine Mexican Tepache, so I have little to compare this West Country interpretation to. I could see how Pineapple could work as an addition to a sour beer and the Wild Beer Co certainly know their way around wild yeasts and funky, adjunct packed brews, so I thought I’d give it a shot on a late summer evening.

It pours a pretty, amber/brown with a decent head of fluff. The nose is slightly fusty, with aromas of boiled sweets, bread and proper scrumpy.

The palate is tart- but not too sour and has a fair whack of both pineapple & other tropical fruit: A bit like a cocktail made of six parts Lilt and one part cider vinegar. Thankfully, I can detect precious little of the threatened “spice” beyond a dusting of ginger. The finish is lengthy and vinous- in fact if the beer was just a little flatter, I’m sure it would be a hit with the “natural wine” crowd.

The brewery recommends you try mixing it with tequila. Not having any to hand, I chucked a healthy slug of Pickerings Gin into it- with very pleasant results.

Like all sours, this comes with a big caveat emptor, but if you can handle a wee bit of acid (and pineapple) then it’s well worth your while picking up a bottle or two. It is a limited edition, but at time of writing, it is still available at a sensible price through all the usual outlets.

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Shore Thing


There was no parade, or announcement in the local press, so it may very well have passed some of you by, but LEITH HAS GOT ITSELF A NEW BREWERY!

When Paul Gibson of Campervan Brewing found he could no longer meet demand operating out of the back of his garage in Comely Bank, he invested a wodge of money in new facilities in a Bonnington industrial estate. His new premises is just round the corner from the renowned Pilot brewery, making this little corner of Leith something of a brewing hub.

As well as a shiny new brewery, Paul now as himself a fancy little taproom where you can go and sample his wares for yourself. He has relaunched with half a dozen new beers, but if you do find yourself down there, make sure to grab yourself a glass of Leith Juice, his new flagship brew.

It looks like beer: I know that sounds crass, but it’s a slightly hazy straw gold colour with a moderate head and minimal lacing, a google image search for “beer” would result in countless identical drinks. It’s on the nose where it really lives up to its billing as an “Orange Session IPA”

Intensely bitter, with a rather “Christmassy” aroma of ginger, pine and lots & lots of orange pith. The palate continues in this vein with the flavours nicely balanced between oily, hop bitterness and more lifted, sweeter citrus fruit notes. It has a lot more weight than most beer at this sort of strength and style and a pretty decent length too.

In fact, despite it’s sensible (4.7% abv) strength, it might have a little bit too much character for a session beer. I’ve had two this afternoon and I look forward to having a third once I get home, but I can’t see myself downing pints of it in the pub. On the other hand, it would be a brilliant match for all sorts of food. I was lucky enough to pair it with a chicken kebab the other day and the beer elevated what was a take away of dubious quality into something resembling fine dining

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Up The Swannay



There are no Scottish breweries that deserve success as much as Swannay brewing up in Orkney: Yet despite brewing Scotland’s best dark beer (Orkney Porter) and Scotland’s best drink of any kind (Scapa Special on cask), they never seem to feature in any of those “what’s hot” listicles or colour supplement features. This is partly because it’s still a small outfit and the head brewer Rob Hill doesn’t seem to be a fan of self-promotion, leaving all the hard sell to his son Lewis. But it has to be said that the range of beer from Swannay is rather …, staid.
Not that I consider that in any way a failing. I’m glad that there is at least one brewery left who seem unaffected by fashion and still makes pint after pint of solid, drinkable beer, (they even do a mild!) but it’s easy to see how they are often overlooked by a market that constantly craves the newest, rarest murk bomb in a gaudy tin.
But times change, and even a reliable “old school” brewery like Swannay can make the odd tentative step toward modernity. The latest release is the Ban Yan pale ale, a heavily hopped, sensible strength, session pale (in a gaudy tin)
Any decent pub or offie, will already have a few beers in a similar style (Fyne Ale’s Jarl and Brewdog’s Dead Pony spring to mind) but Ban Yan is every bit as good and has the added benefit of being newer- and we love new things, don’t we?
Like all true session beers, it is clean, light and morish. Which can make it tricky to write about, since it’s quality is quite ethereal. It has a gently hazy appearance and soft, creamy carbonation. The delicate nose offers gentle aromas of buttered shortbread biscuit and mild citrus notes. Swirling some around your mouth in an undignified manner reveals a gentle palate with flavours of sweet lime and a hint of peanut. The finish has a fair whack of bitterness, but is very refreshing and very crisp.
It is a typically flawless example of the style and has earned itself a permanent spot in my fridge at home. Being moderate strength (3.9% abv) and keenly priced (about £2.20 a tin- off sales) only makes it more appealing.
I urge you all to give it a shot, but for God’s sake buy at least two tins (you’ll thank me when the first one’s empty)

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Mistletoe and Wine

download (7)I’m writing this at the beginning of October, so forgive me if it’s a wee bit premature, but we really need to start thinking about Christmas. Primarily because in December we’re all going to be too busy to sort out any of this nonsense, but also because we’ve had an idea that might need a bit of planning.

Normally we end the year with a tasting of our favourite wine and a slap-up meal, but this year we’ll go to town and do it TWICE!

Join us on the last Sunday of November for a fancy meal at The Walnut It’s the usual deal: £35 for loads of booze and loads of (very good) food. The three of us have selected three drinks each for the occasion, with the vague theme of old school classics – think Bordeaux, Rioja and the like. Tickets are available HERE (SOLD OUT)

And the very next week we’ll do it all over again, this time showcasing a bunch of quirkier wines that have come to our attention over the past year. Tickets for our meal on the first Sunday of December are available HERE (handful of tickets left)

I hope it isn’t too early to suggest talk about this, but our tastings always sell out quickly and these are going to be lots of fun. So I hope you can make it to one (or both!) of them.


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Port Y’All

images (1)Just over a year ago we were lucky enough to have Marta Mateus from Marta wine visit us to give the rundown of her varied (and frankly rather fantastic) Portuguese wines. The event turned out to be our fastest selling wine dinner ever.and a bloody good evening to boot.
Well, she’s visiting Edinburgh again in September. Which means we’ve obviously booked her for an evening at The Walnut . It’s a smaller venue than last time, so if a liver full of Vinho Verde and Touriga Nacional appeals to you, you had better get your skates on.

Tickets are £35 and are available HERE (or in the shop)

For that you get:

Two courses+cheese of the Walnut’s superlative busting food,
Seven glasses of wine (including some fortified goodies)
Great Chat
That’s it

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Golden Balls



It is an intractable part of human nature to compartmentalise and categorize. Placing useless information in an arbitrary order helps us make sense of the sheer volumes of “stuff” that assaults our ageing and booze addled synapses.

In the world of beer, this amounts to deciding whether to assign bottles to shelves marked “IPA” or “Saison”. But, as in any system of classification there are some very grey areas; after all, one persons “Cascadian Dark Ale, is another’s “Black IPA” or “Dry-Hopped Stout”

But, if there is one category of beer that is almost universally recognised and understood, it’s lager.

Lager: The great leveller, the drink of the global proletariat, the king of beers. Surely, there can be little confusing or uncertain about the world’s most widely drunk booze?

As you probably know, there’s a little bit more to it than that and the drink known as LAAAGERR encompasses a broad selection of bottom fermented beers: From delicate, pale Bavarian Helles, to evil, dark, grainy Doppelbocks.

One bloke who knows his way around a glass or two of lager is James Dempsey, head honcho (and only employee) of Eyeball Brewing in East Lothian. Last year he took the big step up from homebrewer to commercial production. And his beer is now reasonably available throughout Auld Reekie.

He has limited himself (for now) to a range of lagers which he claims are German inspired. But despite finding his beers well made, cheap and rather tasty, I find them quite different to the classical German styles.

Take, for example his flagship brew, the Yellowball Lager, which he claims is a pale lager. It pours a deep, burnished, buttery gold – far more colour than you would expect from a true Helles. It offers a soft, creamy head, but is only moderately gassy. Frankly, it’s an attractive, yummy-looking beer, but it doesn’t look very “lagery”

It’s fragrant, with very pleasant aromas of warm croissants, honey and melted butter. The palate is quite sweet and crunchy like ginger nuts or baked apple. James is clearly laser focussed on the malt component of the brewer’s art and it has resulted in a medium-to-full bodied beer with great length and complexity-not a clean Friday night chugger.

And fair play to him: These are great wee beers, that are keenly priced (£2.20-£2.60ish) from a small, local producer. I’ve been chucking them down my neck for a few months now and enjoyed every single one. They may not fit snugly into your preconceived notions of what lager should be, but you owe it to yourself to give them a shot.

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Tin Tin Dinner


Still on a high from the previous nights wine dinner at the Walnut, Joe of James Clay tweeted at us suggesting we do a beer dinner with him. As we were in good spirits and clearly not in our right minds we agreed*. Joe suggested a Belgian extravaganza and after checking that the Walnut would have copious quantities of Moules we agreed.

We’ve put together a beer list of our favourite superstar Belgian classics that we know will go with the food at the Walnut. Joe has kindly thrown in a free Belgian themed gift for every customer and will regale us with his expert beer knowledge and anecdotes from his many trips to Belgium.
The “Tin Tin Dinner” will take place on the 20th of August at 8pm at the Walnut. For the price of £30 you will be treated to 6 Beers, a 3 course dinner and some great beer chat. Tickets can be booked through eventbrite , just let us know if you’re veggie!

See you there!

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*We were very happy about this, always keen to drink beer and hear Joe’s chat.

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