I bloody love Scotland, me. I lived there for five years while at university, getting a degree and booking bands in the students’ union in St Andrews, going to buy records and get drunk in Edinburgh, going to chill out in the stunning beauty of the Trossachs.
This month I got to reminisce about all this as we attempted to cover the brewing scene of an entire country in about twenty minutes.
Because this particular series of video blogs is all about cask ale, and from an admittedly low base, cask ale is growing in Scotland at about 30% year on year. When I was at uni there were three types of beer, all from Tennent’s, all a bit tasteless and horrible, apart from the ones that tasted of burnt sugar and were horrible. So bad was Scottish beer I switched from being a cask ale drinker to a standard lager drinker. It took me ten years to recover.
It is very, very different now. Brew Dog, who we don’t visit here (their Edinburgh bar is all keg, and the man who pays the vlog bills wants to focus on cask) is merely the most visible of Scottish brewers who are currently displaying extraordinary levels of invention and enthusiasm.
In the Guildford Arms in the centre of Edinburgh I find one of my old favourites. Then we go to Caledonian, where Peter looks round one of the most stunning traditional breweries you will ever see. Many in Scotland are unhappy about the takeover of Caledonian by Scottish & Newcastle, and more recently Heineken. Not without justification, there was a feeling that things would be bastardised and cheapened. But I visited before Heineken took over, and now going back again, the unique coppers, the hop room full of whole leaf hops, the open fermenters, the range of beers, are all unchanged. The only real difference is a massive commitment to health and safety, a more corporate head office presence through boards displaying targets for reducing accidents and so on. The brewing process and the resulting beers are unchanged.
I have a chat with Steve Crawley, MD of Heineken, in which we discuss whether the brewery’s flagship, Deuchar’s IPA, really is ‘not as good as it used to be’.
And then we’re off to Bridge of Allan, just outside Stirling, where Peter gets a bit tipsy talking to a round table of four brilliant Scottish brewers about the state of brewing in the country: Fergus from Inveralmond, Douglas from Traditional Scottish Ales, Amy from Harviestoun, and Tuggy from Fyne Ales (who I’m currently trying to persuade to adopt me). I review a Scottish Wit Bier, try to sum up the style of stout in under a minute, and by the end we’re struggling to do a decent outro. It’s hardly surprising.
Next month – next week in fact – we are filming our final video blog of this series at GBBF. If you’re there on trade day, come and say hello. If there’s anyone you think we should be going to talk to, please shout!