Black Isle Brewery, Scotch Ale
Black Isle Brewery is tucked away amongst a huddle of cow sheds and barns, which themselves are set in 130 acres of farmland in the Scottish Highlands, a few miles outside Inverness
“We are a link between the traditions of our surroundings and the future of our industry”, says David Gladwin, the chap who converted one of those cow sheds into a small brewery back in 1998. "We started off brewing in a bucket in a shed, and basically the bucket has just got bigger" he explains a bit too modestly.
Lots of brewers talk about the importance of good quality, natural and fresh ingredients. Few take matters into their own hands by growing their own organic barley and sinking their own 300ft borehole for water.
The Black Isle is famous for the quality of its malting barley and it was on the Gladwin’s farm, at Allangrange (translated from Gaelic as "a fertile field of corn"), that Sir Roderick Mackenzie recorded, in the Statistical Account of 1790, that the land was first cultivated for growing barley because it was found to be of "superior quality for the brewer and distiller."
The farm even has its own brewery house cow, called Molly, who eats the malt from the brewery mash tun in return for 20 pints of milk every day.
Whilst beers like Yellowhammer (the first beer BeerBods ever featured) and the mighty fine Black Isle Porter are earning themselves a solid reputation around the UK, there aren’t many places north of Inverness for the brewery to distribute to. Unless you pop over the North Sea that is. The fine folk of Norway, Sweden and Finland have welcomed Black Isle Brewery with open mouths.
Black Isle’s Scotch Ale is one of the beers the Scandinavians want quite a lot of. Japan and The US of A are pretty keen on it too. The beer style, also known as a “wee heavy”, is believed to have originated from Edinburgh in the 1800s, and showcases all that is good about Scottish beer. Traditionally, because of the low temperatures north of the border, fermentation would have been slower and longer, resulting in fruity spicy esters. Scotch Ales are typically strong (above 6%), with a malty foundation and a rich spicy finish. A liquid fruitcake, if you will. Black Isle’s interpretation is as good a modern attempt at the style as you’ll see. Like David said… “a link between the traditions of our surroundings and the future of our industry”.