Peter Ranscombe tastes through the range from Barney’s Beer, which is now being distributed UK-wide for the first time.
ONE of the weirdest parts of lockdown for me was not attending this year’s Edinburgh Science Festival.
I’ve covered the event for a nearly a decade for The Lancet’s specialist medical journals and even appeared on stage one year alongside BBC Scotland science correspondent Ken Macdonald – surely the hardest-working reporter on the wireless at the moment.
And one of the highlights of a visit to the Summerhall arts venue to cover the festival is slipping into The Royal Dick pub at the end of the night when the shows have finished for a pint of Barney’s beer.
Before it was turned into an arts “village”, Summerhall was home to the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) Vet School, where generations of animal doctors trained.
The site now houses Summerhall, the TechCube business incubator, Pickering’s gin distillery and Barney’s brewery.
The brewery and distillery are so close to The Royal Dick pub that their wares can be piped straight to the bar.
It’s been incredible to watch Barney’s grow over the years; the brewery was founded in 2010 and moved to Summerhall two years later.
From its initial two brews, the brewery now produces more than a dozen varieties and usually sells its beers in more than 70 pubs and shops throughout Scotland.
During lockdown, the beer maker has expanded its distribution and can now ship throughout the UK.
“My Dad worked for Davenports in the 70s – whose slogan was ‘beer at home means Davenports’ – so there’s a symmetry in these strange times,” laughed founder Andrew Barnett.
Here’s my pick from Barney’s range…
Volcano India Pale Ale (IPA) (£2.20)
This is the beer that immediately springs to mind when I think of Barney’s and it’s as good in the bottle as it is on tap. A mix of smoke, malt and fresher lemon on the nose, and then a touch of lime on the palate, with a classic bitter finish from the hops and a really lively mousse.
Red Rye (£2.20)
Another staple from Barney’s range, I don’t always enjoy the Red Rye as a pint, but it works extremely well in the bottle. It’s maltier on the nose, with more biscuit notes and a twist of orange, but the palate is crisp and fresh, with lemon and red apple flavours.
Good Ordinary Pale Ale (£2.20)
A classic 80/–style beer, with meaty and metallic notes in among the caramel and coffee aromas. Lighter on the palate, with lemon joining the caramel. A brew that demonstrates really impressive balance, which is a hallmark of Barney’s range.
Extra Pale Ale (£2.20)
Many of us started scratching our heads when the Americans began putting their beer in “craft cans”, but now the trend is really coming into its own during lockdown, aiding mobility and delivery. My favourite among Barney’s cans is the Extra Pale Ale, with its lively mousse and pronounced mix of savoury asparagus and fruiter lemon and grapefruit aromas. Satsuma and lemon flavours on the palate balance its crisp acidity, leading into a dry hopped finish.
Ol’ Seamus Scotch Ale
Named after the brewery’s first dog, this is a classic stronger beer, brewed at 7.4%. While Barney’s standard-strength brews are already really flavoursome, the intensity is turned up a notch in the stronger ales, with orange and milk chocolate notes, plus a much rounder mouthfeel.
Tripel Zero (£2.85) [sic]
It’s a similar story with the triple zero, created to mark the brewery’s 1,000th batch. The mouthfeel is gorgeously round, with coffee and caramel flavours balanced by fresher lemon. It’s the range of fruit flavours that’s most impressive, with peach and baked plum notes. There’s also a surprising crispness to the beer, which is unusual for such a strong brew.
Sherbet Sour Pale (£2.50)
One of the most impressive aspects of Barney’s brewing is that it’s not wedded to one particular style, as shown with its sour beers. My pick of the bunch was the sherbet sour, not a style I’d normally favour, but I was impressed with the texture, with an almost tannin-like dryness to accompany the tingling acidity and peach and lemon flavours.
Cool Beans Faba IPA (£2.20)
That creativity continues with some innovative brews, including the gluten-free Cool Beans IPA, made from a mix of 40% broad beans and 60% barley. It was developed with Abertay University in Dundee and The James Hutton Institute as part of a sustainable beer making project. But what does it taste like? Great – on the nose, it’s got similar smoked meat aromas to the Good Ordinary Pale Ale, with some orange notes, and is much fresher on the palate than the nose suggests.
Low (£1.80 reduced from £2)
As the name suggests, this is Barney’s lower-alcohol offering, tipping the scales at 1.1%. The brewery has performed that neat trick of packing-in the flavour, which is much harder to do in lower strength beers. This is an ideal summer brew – tropical guava, alongside orange and a caramel note on the nose and then tangerine and lemon on the palate. It’s not knocked Felix James’s Small Beer from the top spot in my lower-alcohol book, but I’ll be looking out for Low when bars reopen after lockdown.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s beer, wine and spirits reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain.