Peter Ranscombe slips into his slippers and remembers Aldi’s first beer festival, a decade ago, as he samples this summer’s offerings.
I’M ABOUT to sound really old.
German discount supermarket chain Aldi has just launched it’s 21st biannual Scottish beer festival – and it doesn’t seem like five minutes since the first one.
A decade ago, I remember probing Aldi for financial figures, so that I could turn the launch of the beer festival into a business story for The Scotsman newspaper.
It worked, and the “helping Scotland’s microbreweries”-line is still a key element of the beer festivals when they roll round twice a year.
What’s changed over the past ten years is the sheer diversity of beer being produced in our nation.
This summer’s festival offers a snapshot of the health of the industry, which now includes sour beers, wheat beers and every shade of flavoured fruit beer under the sun.
The dominant format in which those beers are served has changed too – back when the supermarket’s beer festival began, 500ml brown bottles were still king, with a few dainty 330ml bottles creeping in at the edges.
Now, it’s all about “craft cans”; where America leads, Scotland follows when it comes to brewing.
And that’s no bad thing, because the can really suits so many modern beers, retaining freshness for keg-like tipples instead of cask-conditioned craft ales.
My selection of beers from this summer’s festival gives an insight into the broad range of styles on offer…
Brewgooder Chilloozy Session India Pale Ale (IPA) (£1.49, (330ml can)
Brewgooder produces its “clean water lager” at Brewdog’s brewery in Ellon, with the profits funding projects in Africa. “Chilloozy” is named after one of the first villages to be helped. It’s got more crisp and intense grapefruit flavours than its lager sibling and, at 3.7% alcohol by volume (ABV), it’s a sensible strength too.
St Andrews Brewing Company Yippie IPA (£1.79, 330ml can)
One for the Die Hard fans. Guava and passionfruit on the nose are replicated on the palate, but it’s the roundness of the beer’s mouthfeel that’s most impressive. At 6% ABV, it’s a big step up from the brewery’s standard IPA at 3.2%, but it retains its freshness and isn’t too heavy or lumbering.
West German Pale Ale (GPA) (£1.69, 330ml can)
I’m a huge fan of West’s St Mungo, the Helles-style lager that made the Glasgow-based brewery famous. Its GPA comes in the IPA or American pale ale (APA) style, with fresher lemon and grapefuit flavours, but still has that touch of malty body that I love in brewer Petra Wetzel’s beers. Red apple and spun sugar notes complete the party on the palate.
Barney’s Beer Sherbet Sour Pale (£1.49, 330ml can)
Dry and crisp, with flavours of lemon and peach. Sour beers aren’t usually my “thang”, but I was won over by the texture of Barney’s effort, just one in a wide selection of excellent brews from the Summerhall site.
William Bros Tin Man Tropical IPA (£1.89, 500ml can)
Definitely a Ronseal beer, because it does exactly what it says on the 500ml tin. Tropical guava and passion fruit notes on the notes, alongside a deeper tangerine component and lighter pine, with hoppier lemon and grapefruit flavours joining the tangerine on the palate. There’s a bit of roundness to the body underneath all the fruit flavours too.
Drygate Rancho Rosa Raspberry and Lemon Rosé Lager (£1.49, 330ml can)
A rosé beer? You’d better believe it – pink to the eye and definitely more raspberry than lemon on the nose. Sweeter raspberry jam notes joined the fresh fruit flavours on the palate and it had more body than I expected. The cooling lager was a relief after sampling another beer from Drygate: Fire in the Disco Chili and Mango Pale Ale (£1.69, 330ml can), in which the chili was dominant.
Spey Valley Wat-er Peach Berliner Weiss (£1.49, 330ml can)
Fresh peach skin, pine and brown sugar aromas lead into a sour, crisp, fresh peach flavour on the palate, which lasts all the way through to the finish. It’s got a chewy texture too, which I really enjoyed.
Six Degrees North Wanderlust Wheat Beer (£1.69, 330ml can)
Stonehaven may lie six degrees of latitude north of Brussels – see what they did there – but the style of its beers is well and truly Belgian. A really lively head, with roast meat and those classic metallic oaty notes on the nose, before launching into textbook grainy flavours on the palate. What’s most impressive though is the lightness, which isn’t always guaranteed with wheat beers.
Swannay Brewing Sneaky Wee Orkney Stout (£1.69, 500ml bottle)
Flying the flag for a classic style in a classic bottle is Swannay’s stout, which is – quite frankly – superb. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a stout fan, but what won me over here was the freshness, which balances the chewy dark chocolate, malty digestive biscuit flavours.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s beer, wine and whisky reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.