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)