Wednesday, June 01, 2011

beer googles

Today's soundtrack:
"Pvc" by Suuns
"Stop or Start" by Fine Mist

Perhaps the most obvious difference between Canada and Scotland (accents and spurtles aside) is the availability of alcohol in supermarkets. Initially, I was thrilled. This feeling was soon replaced with confusion as soon as I stepped into the beer aisle. There were a few brands I recognized: Grolsch, San Miguel, Hoegaarden, Carlsberg and Becks. They even stock Budweiser. But what's Tennants and how does it differ from Newcastle Brown? Guinness I recognize, but what's this Innis and Gunn?

Excitement turned to dreaded culture shock. I realized I knew nothing about Scottish beer.

Back in Canada, I got into the habit of avoiding (more or less) the bigger beer companies in favour of the smaller, independent breweries: Paddockwood's IPA 606, Great Western's Pilsner, Big Rock's Grasshopper, and (Miguel's favourite) Alley Kat's Goldspur (only available at Calgary's Hop in Brew, my hands-down favourite pub). I don't claim to be an beer expert by any means, but I knew what I liked. And what I like isn't available in Scotland.

Going out to the pubs with Kristin helped the situation, as she directed me towards St. Andrews Ale rather than Tennants, and raved about Ossian. As a result and as part of the Scottish Acclimatization Project, I've decided to learn about Scottish beers.

The first thing to get my head around is the categorization system. Beers are not colour-based (white, brown, or red), as in Canada, but rather by alcohol content and a 19th-century system of pricing beer. The higher the content, the more expensive the beer was to buy by the hogshead (54 Imperial gallon), and therefore, by the pint. A 60/ (shilling) pint is considered light at 3.5%, 70/ is a heavy pint at 3.5-4%, 80/ is export strength at 4.5-5.5%, and 90/, at over 6%, is called a wee heavy (source: Wikipedia). By this ranking, my beloved IPA 606, which sits at 5.4%, is an 80/ ale, and Miguel's 10% Goldspur is more than just a wee heavy.

Still with me? Just barely? This might be a good time to pop open a beer. Mine's a McEwan's Export. Cheers.

The second thing to do is (obviously) to try as many different Scottish beers/ales from local, independent breweries as possible. Jonathan has been raving about Innis and Gunn's use of whisky barrels to add flavour to the beer during the fermenting stage. I've only tried St. Andrews from the Belhaven Brewery, but there look to be plenty more to search out.

Are any of my local, Scottish readers ale aficionados with a particular favourite in mind that I should try next? Make your best case in the comments.

Are there beers back in Canada that I should look for on my next trip back to Vancouver Island?

What's your favourite beer, gentle reader? And why?


  1. I also like to have an Innis & Gunn from time to time. It has a nice almost caramel flavour but I do find it a bit too sweet to drink on a regular basis.

    I'm with you on the Macewan.

  2. You must, must, must try the Innis and Gunn. I have only found it in several obscure and dusty beer stores in Edmonton, but it. is. the. best. beer. (And I'm a big fan of Alberta microbreweries.) Lucky you, having it within easy access!!

  3. Martyn is a fan of Duechers IPA...he also likes Innis & Gunn....

  4. Well, we may not have a special beer for you to try when you return, but there's a Meadery nearby, and I must say, they make a couple of excellent Meads...

    Glad to see you're settling in so well!

    P.S. How's the bagpipe situation?