A Hoppy Accident

2017-07-21 12.28.09Beer should be a lot less reliable: It is a product subject to the whims of the market, the talents of the brewer and the provenance of the ingredients. Brewing itself, being one of those disciplines that sits slap bang in the middle of the Venn diagram between Science and Art.

These competing factors, make the consistency of our daily pint something of a miracle: Whether it’s a top shelf, new release from an ultra-reliable brewery who you are happy to pay through the nose for, or the “Big Maccyness” of a pint of your favourite cooking lager, which tastes exactly the same from pub to pub.

Creating a consistently good product at at competitive price is a much underrated talent, but it’s one that The William’s Brothers of Alloa have proven very adept at. Over the last couple of decades they have quietly (and with little acclaim) pumped out beer after beer after beer- all to a ridiculously high standard and at an unfashionably modest price. So it comes as some surprise to hear them confess to cocking up one of their signature brews.

If they are to be believed (and I’m not sure they are) The Scorpion & The Frog came about when some darker malts slipped into a batch of their Double Joker IPA. What leads me to somewhat doubt the veracity of this, is that the resulting beer is up there with the best things they’ve brewed.

They are calling it a “Mid-Atlantic Brown Ale”- which translates as a malty, yeasty beer with the hop profile of an American IPA.

It pours a deep walnut brown, topped with a generous amount of creamy, “Mister Whippy” foam. The aromas are lush, and fruity, with abundant amounts of spice cake, oranges and caramel. The palate is full and complex with a fair bit of sweetness. The rich fudge flavours slowly dissolve to give way to some astringent hop bitterness at the back of the palate. The aftertaste being one of enjoyably boozy warmth.

What elevates this beer from “must try” to the giddy heights of “buy all you can” is it’s price: A 33cl tin of this 8.9% abv beer comes in at under two quid. (which is basically tramp juice prices)

If we do believe them and this is a serendipitous one off, I advise you to fill your boots before the word gets out.

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Bread and Better

2017-07-21 12.26.40Well, this is going to be tricky:
I’m sitting in my office on a warm spring day, knocking back a beer (for qc reasons obviously). I’m going to try to sell you the beer, because I think it’s really bloody good. The only problem being, all the similes and descriptors I have scrawled in front of me make the beer sound bogging.
It pours flat, soupy and with the clarity of bilgewater. After a while the haze clears and leaves a liquid which looks like the jug of grapefruit juice you get at the buffet breakfast in a cheap B&B.
Grapefruit is also the dominant aroma, but again, not fresh, ripe pink grapefruit, but skanky ass, mouldy grapefruit.

I also caught a fair whiff of tomato leaf, and dettol. Yum.
The palate is full bodied and complex, with the tart acidity of a really aggressive scrumpy, soor plums, loads of “breadiness” and I kid you not, a fair whack of sauerkraut.
Somehow, this horrible sounding gloop makes for a really quite delicious beer. Not only that, but it’s clean, sessionable and at a healthy to glug 2.4% abv.
It’s so neckable that I’ve drunk two bottles whilst writing this and I’m just starting my third.
It may look like it was homebrewed by an inmate in a particularly rough prison, but it’s actually a collaboration between Aberdeen’s 6ºNorth brewery and Leith’s very own Twelve Triangles bakery.
The unconventional appearance and flavours are down to it being a completely unhopped beer. Instead it gets it’s character from a sourdough starter yeast- all those funky, sour, flavours are derived from that yeast. They also threw a wholemeal loaf in the fermenter just for the hell of it (I’m going to assume that’s what gives the beer it’s texture- after all you would expect a low abv, sour beer to be a darn sight thinner)
Although I’m a big fan of this beer, I’m not daft enough to think it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea. However, it is keenly priced for an experimental sour (well under three quid) and it might just be worth a punt if you’re in the mood for something a wee bit funky.
Try blending with tinned Schofferhofer. A customer recommended it to me a while back and makes a truly wonderful grapefruit shandy thing.

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Insert Bad Dalkeith Pun Here


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I’ve just posted a couple of old blogs about beery things at the more extreme end of the spectrum and to be honest, it’s quite easy to bang out a few hundred words about your full-on, top shelf, adjunct-packed, esoteric beers: there’s just so much to talk about.

But sometimes, I feel the need to discipline myself and actually talk about the stuff I drink on a day to day basis: The unshowy, unhyped, underpiced stuff which you have a half decent chance of finding in your local.

One of the newest of these under the radar, “sensible” breweries is Crossborders brewing, a couple of young (not actually young, but younger than me) blokes operating out of a not very sexy industrial unit just outside glamorous Dalkeith.

They have been in operation for just over a year now, but the quality of their (competitively priced) beer has gained them plenty of listings among Edinburgh’s better boozers and offies.

I’ve gotten into the habit of always having a couple of tins of their Braw in my fridge for emergencies and their IPA is lush: but I thought I better tell you about their porter, for the very good reason that I have a glassful of it in front of me.

It’s a pretty beer, opaque without being quinky-dark (certainly if I squint I can discern an almost purple tinge to it). It has a decent effervescence and a moderate, but persistent head. The aromatics are sweet and roasty: mild coffee, rye bread and bourbon biscuits. The palate is medium bodied and supremely quaffable with the grippy, glutinous mouthfeel of a stronger beer. The palate has a definite hit of those spiced German biscuits (that the internet tells me are called pfeffernusse) and a decent finish. It only packs 4.2% abv, so it won’t damage your liver too badly and a 33cl tin should set you back a moderate £2.50 or so.

It’s a fairly simple, traditional take on a porter, but it’s also delicious.

As is the whole line up from the Crossborders guys. These are proper, solid pints of session beer in styles that your grandfather would recognise. The only concession to modern brewing trends is the snazzy utilitarian branding, which I think we can forgive them.

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Viva Espana


I hold a gentleman called Chris Bain largely responsible for the very worst hangover I’ve suffered in my adult life. He was taking me on a quick jaunt around Rioja and after a full day of winery visits we ended up in a rough little rum bar. Debauchery (and pain) ensued.

So I was somewhat hesitant when he asked if he could host a Spanish wine dinner. He won me over when he poured me a few glasses of the new wine he was wanting to introduce us to.

Finca Bacara is a very new operation in Jumilla and they specialise in deep, earthily aggressive reds made from monastrell. These are really good, complex wines, that are for more exciting than most of the stuff from the North of Spain. (I love me a bit of Tempranillo- but even really good Rioja can get a bit.., samey)

So we’re heading back to The Walnut on Sunday 2nd July, for the usual 2 courses and 7 wines.
Chris has great chat, Ben is an awesome chef, it’s going to be bloody good evening.

Tickets cost £35 and are available here.

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Rhone Goals

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I appreciate this is very short notice, but it’s been a while since we’ve done one of these.

We’re heading back to The Walnut on Monday 29th May

Big Mike Stewart from Liberty wines will be hosting again, this time giving us a run through of the wines of the Rhone valley. I’ve been unlucky enough to visit the region twice with Mike and can attest that he really knows his shizzle and has a big portfolio of wine from the region to draw from.

If that wasn’t exciting enough, Ben from The Walnut, has been looking for an excuse to try out some new French recipes

The shindig will kick off at 7.30pm
Tickets are £35 and are available HERE
For that you get:
Two Courses & Cheese + Seven Wines + Expert Chat + Filthy Jokes + A Hangover.

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Every Little Helps

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Another month, another new brewery, another range of beer to acquaint myself with.

Usually this (not particularly arduous) task consists of cracking open a couple of gaudily branded tins of the latest pale ale, but sometimes a brewery comes along that has a slightly more idiosyncratic approach.

The Little Earth Project from way down in the wilds of Sussex, is a microbrewery that seems to be paying little attention to commercial concerns: instead it has launched with a brace of top shelf sours and revivals of old beer styles that although brilliant, won’t have the likes of Brewdog quaking in their boots.

Operating out of a stable as part of a rural, brewpub-thing, the project prides itself on its unimpeachable environmental credentials. Aiming to be the most ecologically sound brewery in the UK; they forage local ingredients, use only sustainable energy, and have their own barley and hops. (they even source their own water from an onsite well)

All this holier-than-though greenery would only get you so far if the beer didn’t live up to it’s pedigree. Fortunately (as I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago) they are brilliant.

My favourite of the half dozen or so that I’ve tried is The Bretted Organic Stock Ale a strong, oak-aged, farmhouse ale with a funky, slightly sour edge.

It pours a lovely, hazy amber. My bottle offered a small, but definite creamy head, but I have had friends and customers tell me theirs poured soupy and flat (this could be the result of overchilling or dodgy qc at the brewery)

It’s quite sweaty, dirty and citrussy on the nose: with aromas of bread, orchard fruit, salt and damp hay (a bit like making love on horseback whilst drinking a cider) The palate is strangely light, with a gentle sourness. I got notes of apple pie, soor plums, dried peel and walnuts. The sour notes fade away quite quickly and are balanced with a surprising finish that has a strange note of brown sugar.

Somehow, this beer packs an unhealthy 10.5% abv. This booziness is so well hidden, that I could almost call this beer sessionable (neckable even)

It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but I guess a small minority of you reading this are salivating at the thought of getting your hands on a bottle.

If that includes you, bear in mind that such excellence doesn’t come cheap. We’re flogging the Stock Ale at £5.40/33cl

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Shake The Room


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They were barely heard of a decade ago, but sour beers are now thoroughly ensconced in the Scottish drinking scene. Any high street offie worth a damn will have a selection and they’ve even been known to grace the shelves of decent supermarkets and the odd corner shop. Whether we’re talking fruity Berlinerweiss styles, salted gose or Flanders red, the chances are you’ve had a glass or two of one of these deliciously divisive beers.
But the granddaddy of all sour beer styles has to be the venerable gueuze: A bottle fermented blend of old and new lambic beer that has both an aggressive tartness and a champagne like complexity. Of the half dozen or so EU protected Oude Gueuze breweries, the beers of Frank Boon are among the more approachable.
Like all Gueuzes, they are an acquired taste, but although the house style reeks of blue cheese, wet hay and soor plums, it lacks the aggressive “licking a battery, whilst a wasp stings your tongue” hit of the more hardcore gueuzes.
In need of something to distract me from the collapse of western civilisation, I cracked open one of their newest releases: The Vat 109
It has a richer colour than I was expecting: A nice burnished marmaladey orange, topped by a delicate, creamy head. Maybe it picks up a bit of colour from the century-old cognac cask which marks this out from your run of the mill lambic.
I’m normally quite cynical about the use of fancy barrels; often they seem like a way to add value and round off the edges of an otherwise substandard beer. But here it really does add a whole other dimension. Headily aromatic with yeasty notes of cheese, walnuts and roast apples. The palate is full bodied and only mildly sour with a delicate, persistent effervescence. It’s really complex stuff and reminded me of a fancy champagne cocktail made with equal parts scrumpy, brandy and Pol Roger (it’s also a wee bit boozier than most gueuze’s, coming in at just over 8% abv)
Such indulgence doesn’t come cheap, I’m afraid and a 375ml bottle will set you back thirteen quid.

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NEWHOPEJust before Christmas, we were gifted couple of cases of surplus beer from Paul at Campervan brewing. Not enough to make a song and dance about, but it felt wrong just to punt it out and make 100% profit on something we had zero input into. So I shoved it to one side, thinking that we would do something with it around the time that the Jaundiced Mussolini ascends to his golden throne. Probably something cynical, nasty and NSFW.

But at the end of December something changed, and I just couldn’t bring myself to churn out another wisecrack about the perilous times we find ourselves in. There is nothing remotely amusing about a rapist (and possible child rapist) being elected to the most powerful position on earth.

I think it’s more important to recognise that whilst the legions of darkness have had a very successful twelve months, they are hopelessly outnumbered by the forces of reason, enlightenment and what used to be called (small c) christian charity. In time, the good guys will win and the Nazi’s, MRA’s, Little Englanders and Islamophobes will retreat back under their respective rocks.

Until then, if you are needing a drink to ease the pain of seeing the chode-fingered tangorilla ejaculate his bile across your twitter feed, then you could do worse than settle back with a bottle of this cracking little, Kiwi-hopped session pale.

It comes in at £2.60/33cl bottle and we will donate £2.50 for each bottle sold to Scottish Women’s Aid.

We only have 68 bottles, so it doesn’t add up to a whole lot of cash, but as I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, we have strength of numbers on our side and if all of us commit to doing little things like this through 2017 we can alleviate some of the misery ahead.

(and if Disney have problems with the label they can suck my big hairy balls)

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Sim(ply) Having A Wonderful Christmas Time



I’ve been blethering a lot in the run-up to Christmas, so something Miles wrote…

Here’s an anecdote for Christmas. The other day, one of these gloriously sunny, marvellously frosty days we’ve been having lately, my cockerspanial George was taking me for a long hike up The Crags. Having worked up a lather stomping through Hunter’s Bog and doublebacking across the top edge of The Crag’s lopsided tabletop, we took a breather about a third of the way down the northern descent back down to the Bog. It was a lovely eagle’s eye spot overlooking Holyrood Palace and the playing fields out back and affording, on this clear day, breathtaking views out across the Firth to Fife and along the coast to North Berwick. George was rolling in the long grass to cool off and his body steaming like a locomotive distracted me from my reverie. I looked at him, my muddy boots and then a small, flat rock set in the earth next to where I’d flopped. Into the face of the rock was carved the following:

“A R Sim 1919”


I wondered if this was the name of a person. I wondered if it had been carved by someone walking their dog almost 100 years ago. Then I wondered if the carver was Alastair Sim, the beloved British actor made famous by his comic roles in film classics such as The Happiest Days of Your Life, Laughter in Paradise, The Belles of St Trinian’s, The Green Man, School for Scoundrels, and, most famously of all, the brilliant 1951 version of Scrooge. I love all these films and I love the delightfully quirky, oddly creepy comic genius of Alastair Sim.

Back home, hot cuppa in hand, George groaning contentedly on the sofa, I did a wee bit of research in an attempt to establish the provenance of the miniature menhir. I knew that Alastair Sim was an Edinburgh boy. I found that he was born in October 1900, attended school at Bruntsfield Primary, James Gillespie’s Highschool and George Heriot’s and worked part-time at his father’s business, the men’s outfitters Gieve, where he displayed no talent whatsoever for shop work. In 1918, he was accepted by the University of Edinburgh to study chemistry, but his fledgling academic career was put on hold when he was called up for military training (in 1948, after another World War, Sim returned to became the rector of the University).

Happily, the First World War finally came to end in November that year and Sim was released from service. He returned home and told his parents he did not intend to resume his studies, because he had decided to become an actor. This news was not well received and precipitated young Sim’s leaving of the family home to spend a year in the Highlands working with itinerrant workers. By the end of 1919 Sim was back in the Burgh, where he found work as a clerk in the borough assessor’s office. From there, he launched himself into public performance with poetry readings, which lead to work as an elocution teacher, which, in turn, spurred Sim on to found a drama school for children. It was while teaching kids to act that Sim’s own talent was spotted and his life as a professional performer began. The rest is, as they say, history.photo2214

My modest, tea-fuelled research might not have established beyond doubt the provenance of that rock up on The Crags, but it certainly suggests it was quite possible that Sim carved his name on it. If I had just fallen out with my parents over my choice of career and was perhaps contemplating leaving home to become an itinerrant worker, maybe I would take a long hike up The Crags and maybe I would sit on the top and stare out to sea and maybe I would, faced with big change and an uncertain future, carve my name for posterity.

On the other hand, Sim was a notoriously private person. He refused to give autographs. Would he have carved an autograpgh for all eternity? So maybe “A Sim” is Arnold Sim or Anthea Sim. Also the R is a problem: Sim’s full name was Alistair George Bell Sim. No R there. Perhaps he had a secret name such as Roderick or Rupert or Randolph? Perhaps he was carving a B and simply didn’t finish. But does it matter? That rock MIGHT be Alistair’s. And it’s in a beautiful spot. So if you fancy a walk over Christmas you could do worse than go searching for “A R Sim 1919” and take a breather to enjoy the view.


Anyhoo, I’ll shut up now and leave you with a few eloquent words from the elecution teacher himself that we might mull over during the festive break from everyday life: “It was revealed to me many years ago with conclusive certainty that I was a fool and that I had always been a fool. Since then I have been as happy as any man has a right to be.”

Happy Christmas all,





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Winter is coming

2016-12-06-20-33-40I have made a habit in recent months of wandering off topic and filling this blog with my thoughts on politics, card transactions, recycling and dog food: for the simple reason that I’ve been trying to cut down my drinking and sampling new beers just to have something to write about didn’t seem like the smartest use of my liver.
However, I am typing this out now at the beginning of November and assuming we survive the US elections, Christmas will soon be upon us and I will throw myself off the wagon into the arms of Bacchus.
To prepare myself, I gingerly helped myself to one of the first of this years Christmas beers to enter the shop: The St Feuillien Cuvee de Noel, a classic Belgian Abbey Ale.
A very gentle nudge releases the cork with a satisfying *pop* The beer is eager to leave the bottle but never quite gets to the gusher stage, leaving my trousers thankfully unsplattered.
The head bubbles up to well above the rim of the glass, but somehow never gets out of control.
Once it’s settles a bit it still leaves a good two inches of dense, creamy foam that can be scooped up with a spoon. Underneath, the beer is a lovely walnut/russet/red colour. The nose impresses with quite vinous aromas of straw, cedar wood and polished leather. To be honest I could almost be fooled into thinking I was nosing a claret.
The palate, like most Christmas beers is sweet and indulgent (good) Packed with loads of dark, spiced fruit: Prunes, cassis, quince and raisins. It also has a more candied edge of liquorice and molasses, with a background of tart acidity building towards the finish.
The end result is like a bit like a fifty/fifty blend of port and coke. (bugger- I’ve made it sound bogging: It’s not, honest!)
Personally, I think this makes the ideal post Christmas dinner digestif. At 9 % abv, it’s boozy, but not stupidly so.
It manages to be bubbly and celebratory, but also indulgent and brooding. You can share it with your family after the big meal, or follow my lead and snaffle it all to yourself while watching an ultraviolent martial arts movie late night on boxing day.
At under nine quid for a very pretty 75cl bottle, it makes a pretty good last minute present for a workmate or extended family member, but it’s probably worthwhile throwing a bottle into the basket when your getting your emergency Christmas supplies.

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