As Burns Night approaches thoughts turn to haggis, neeps and tatties and whisky – But if you’re not a great fan of spirits, and still want to celebrate Scotland’s greatest ever poet Robert Burns then drink some great beer instead.
Here’s our by no means exhaustive list of our favourite Scottish beers to enjoy on a cold winters night, when you’re curled up by a fire with a few “auld aquaintances” and a savoury mince, onion, oatmeal, suet and spice pudding.
1. Harviestoun Ola Dubh 18 (8% ABV) – The brewery logo features a wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, but before your go a panicking in thy breastie, try the Clackmannanshire firm’s whiskey cask aged porter this Burns Night.
Taking the brewery’s black Old Engine Oil ale, cranking it up by a couple of percent alcohol wise and then leaving it in casks previously used to mature Highland Park 18, for six months, Ola Dubh is like Mad Men in a glass.
The initial whiskey, caramel aroma gives way to a chocolate, bitter coffee and earthy, woodland flavour – kind of like you’d imagine chewing on the furnishings of Don Drapers office might be.
It’s decadent, it’s dark and the whiskey aroma and lingering flavour makes it unmistakably Scottish, without too much peaty, smoked flavour overpowering the balanced malt character.
Food wise it might be best to save this one for desert, where you could pair it with a complimentary dark chocolate or sweet berry fruits to counterbalance the beer’s bitterness.
2. Williams Bros Froach (5% ABV) – The boys from Alloa’s pale golden heather and bog myrtle brew can be often overlooked when drunk on its own as not everyone is keen on it’s earthy, herbal flavour – but put those thoughts aside as in Burns Night’s traditional haggis, neeps and tatties, it has a perfect partner.
The floral, spicy elements of the beer blend so neatly with the rich, peppery, savoury flavour of the haggis, taking the harsher edges of both and rounding it all out into a delicious whole.
3. Traquair House Ale (7.2% ABV) – Traquair, at Innerleithen in Peeblesshire, is Scotland’s oldest inhabited house, having originally been a hunting lodge for the country’s kings and queens more than 900 years ago.
It’s had a brewery since the early 1700s – long before Burns Night existed – though there’s about a 150 year period in the middle when it was inactive, and even today it only produces around 1,000 hectolitres a year, most of which is sent abroad.
We could easily have gone with the brewery’s Jacobite Ale, which commemorates the house’s Stewart links to Bonnie Prince Charlie, but our preference is for its wee heavy, Traquair House Ale.
An aroma of dried fruits and boozy plum pudding gives way to flavours of sweet brown sugar, raisins and, as it warms up, more and more maltiness and caramel.
Perhaps too sweet for some, but worth seeking out as a good example of a Scotch ale.
If matching with food then consider smoked meats or perhaps Scottish salmon.
4. Black Isle Smoked Porter (5.5% ABV) – We’d like to think that Robert Burns would appreciate the lyrical dexterity of Sir Mix-a-lot but that’s not enough of a reason to find Black Isle’s Big Butt on this list.
No instead we’re going with the Highlands brewery’s smoked porter, which was originally created for the brewery’s Jocktoberfest, but which will be just as lovely on a wet and windy Burns Night.
A blend of German roasted malts and locally smoked barley the inky black beer has strong chocolate and smoked flavours – though it’s more subtle than a traditional rauchbier.
5. Tempest Red Eye Flight (7.4% ABV) – Brewed using cocoa and demerara, then aged on coffee beans, Tempest’s mocha porter pours with an aroma of rich roasted malts and coffee.
The taste is of sweet espresso, rich chocolate, a little liquorice, and while quite harshly bitter, it is smooth – a potentially lovely end to a Burns Night supper.