Tag Archives: Scottish Ales

156. Orkney Dark Island

Threehundredbeers is still in Scotland, but a very picturesque Scotrail journey over the Forth and Tay bridges and on up the East Coast finds us in Angus to pay a long overdue visit to The Official Threehundredbeers Mother and her extravagantly-sized new German Shepherd, Kai.

I’ve brought a little something with me in my rucksack, sourced from the heaving shelves of The Beerhive back in Edinburgh. As the name suggests, Orkney Dark Island has come all the way from Stromness in the Orkneys.

Orkney Dark Island

Orkney Dark Island is certainly dark: a deep chestnut brown that appears black in most lights. There’s a small tan froth, though not a great deal of carbonation.

It’s listed in The Book as a Scottish Ale, which seems about right. It’s big and malty and very much at the sweeter end of the spectrum. But where a lot of Scottish ales can seem cloying to those accustomed to the hoppier beers from further south, this one is balanced out by toastier, almost Stout-like notes.

Dark Island goes down smoothly enough, though I’m not sure I made the right decision by choosing this as a pre-dinner beer. It’s a little too heavy for that, and perhaps better suited to keeping you warm on a cold Orcadian evening. That said, there’s a lightness to the body that makes it very gluggable indeed.

Good stuff. Back in Edinburgh I also found this one on cask at Bennets Bar, and that seemed to work well: smoother and fuller-bodied and the perfect preamble to a nice drop of malt whisky.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: The Orkney Brewery, Stromness, Orkney Islands
Style: Scottish Ales
Strength: 4.6% ABV
Found at: The Beerhive, Rodney Street, Edinburgh
Serving: 500ml bottle

155. Belhaven St. Andrews Ale

It’s Day Two in Edinburgh, and I’m rather enjoying revisiting the city that used to be my home, and learning what a great beer scene it has these days.

Threehundredbeers may not be firing on all cylinders today, though, since that Ayinger Celebrator at the Bow Bar last night led on to BrewDog Edinburgh—downstairs from a flat in which I briefly lived—and the utterly magnificent new Hanging Bat.

After a nostalgic stroll around George Square and The Meadows, I reckon I could manage a half of Belhaven St. Andrews Ale in The Albanach up on the Royal Mile.

Belhaven St. Andrews Ale at the Albanach, Edinburgh

The plan for today had actually been to hop on a train out to Dunbar and visit the Belhaven brewery, but the tour was cancelled since only one person (me) had booked a place. Apparently running this ridiculous blog does not yet carry the weight of beer-related influence I so clearly deserve.

So to make up for that, we’ll at least visit a Belhaven pub. In my day The Albanach was a swanky café bar named “EH1” or something similar, but it has staged a bit of a recovery and is now a decent, slightly localsy, boozer. I believe this is also the pub in whose cellar the skeletons were found in Ian Rankin’s Fleshmarket Close.

And conveniently enough, it has the St. Andrews Ale front and centre on the bar.

Belhaven St. Andrews Ale is a lovely looking beer, deep amber in colour and unfortunately more head than beer due to a somewhat hasty pour. It’s in good condition here though, and welcome enough after the climb up to the Royal Mile.

It’s Scottish alright: sweet and malty and lacking in any kind of hop character. Instead there’s caramel and Werther’s Originals and maybe a little bitterness at the end, unless I imagined it.

I’m initially quite pleased I stuck to a half, but whilst not enormously exciting, this one has enough going for it that I’m soon ordering another, before shambling back to my Travelodge with a chipsteak supper and a couple of nice finds from The Beerhive.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Belhaven, Dunbar, Scotland
Style: Scottish Ales
Strength: 4.9% ABV
Found at: The Albanach, High Street, Edinburgh
Serving: Cask, half pint

28. Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer

Back north of the border we go, for this strong Scottish ale. And this is no ordinary ale as, once brewed, Innis & Gunn Original is matured for over 70 days, 30 of which are in oak barrels of the type more typically used to age wines and spirits, such as cognac.

This is actually one beer that I’m already familiar with. At the risk of spoiling the surprise, I happen to think this is a bit of a cracker.


Innis & Gunn Original is a lovely, deep honey colour, and it’s no surprise that they’ve chosen a colourless bottle to show it off. In fact, a lot of pride has gone into the presentation in general, for example that ornate, shiny label.

The beer pours with little to no head, just a light lacing. There’s a distinctive aroma suggesting that this is something a little different, with the oakiness immediately becoming apparent, and reminiscent of an oaked Chardonnay.

The oak carries across into the flavour, where it’s smoky and fat, and is joined by butterscotch, toffee, bitter orange, strong vanilla and even cognac-like notes. There’s just enough sweetness to balance out the 6.6% strength.

This is a very complex beer indeed, and it really works, since all the flavours combine perfectly into something a bit special.

Strangely enough, though, I don’t think I could manage more than one. It’s such a rich beer, and the sweetness could become a little cloying, but enjoyed in moderation it’s unusually good.

Very much a favourite, and incidentally, there is also a “Rum Finish” version of this beer, which is aged in casks which—as the name suggests—have previously held dark rum. The rum notes are very noticeable, and it works remarkably well.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Innis & Gunn Brewing Co, Edinburgh, Scotland
Style: Scottish Ales
ABV: 6.6%
Found at: Waitrose, Whitecross Street, London EC1
Dispense: 330ml Bottle

23. Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted

Finally, our first of several trips north of the border to Scotland. I’m wondering if this will be a nostalgic experience, reminiscent of my student years drinking 80/- ales in the pubs and bars of Edinburgh until 3am.

That said, my only actual experience of Harviestoun’s beers dates from far more recently, here in London. I’ve had their Old Engine Oil porter a few times in The Commercial, SE24, and couldn’t get enough of it.

This one seems a bit of an enigma though. Its Clackmannanshire provenance suggests a smooth Scottish ale, the name suggests it might be a bitter, but the label tells me it’s a blond beer. There’s only one way to settle this.


Fair enough, it’s a blond, bitter Scottish ale, and very nice it is too. As is often the case in Scotland, it’s made from Barley, Wheat and Oats, which is about the only thing it has in common with Bosteels Karmeliet Tripel.

At 4.2% the Bitter and Twisted is eminently sessionable. In that respect, we’re vaguely into the territory inhabited by the recent Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, but I have to say this one is noticeably more exciting and indeed satisfying.

This is a really good, hoppy bitter and it’s hopelessly drinkable. I’m not sure I picked up on the “like the twist of a lemon” notes that the bottle promises, but that’s probably for the best given my tastes. The hops are front and centre, and deliver a mouthwatering bitterness, while the restrained use of carbonation prevents things getting gassy.

Good stuff, and I’d certainly knock back another bottle if I had one. Perhaps more to the point, I’d love to find this in more London pubs in place of the relentless tide of Doom Bar and London Pride that we’re usually offered.

Facts and Figures

Brewery: Harviestoun Brewery, Alva, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
Style: Scottish Ales
ABV: 4.2%
Found at: Waitrose Food Court at John Lewis, Oxford Street, London W1
Dispense: 500ml Bottle