THE first time I interviewed Dougal Sharp was back in 2008 in a pretty non-descript rented office in the middle of Edinburgh.
It was an exciting time for the master brewer – he had just led the management buyout of Innis & Gunn, the brand he cofounded in 2003 to make the beer that would flavour the barrels for Grant’s ale cask reserve whisky.
Since then, the company has forged a name for itself producing oak-aged beers, experimenting with everything from rum casks to bourbon barrels.
Along the way, it’s also developed a stunning Helles-style lager and bought the Inveralmond Brewery in Perth.
Fast forward to this month and it’s another key moment for Sharp as he opens his fourth “beer kitchen”, a bar that also serves tasty food, which is a much more inviting venue for a catch-up and a chat.
Brewing down the lane
The latest addition to the chain – which already has branches in Dundee, Edinburgh and St Andrews – is on Glasgow’s Ashton Lane, the cobbled heart of studentville in the West End, and is its largest outlet so far, with room for some brewing equipment on-site.
The first three beers to be produced for the bar are a Marshmallow Stout (4%), a Table Beer (3.5%) and an Ashton Lane Pale (4.1%).
I’ve always had a take-it-or-leave-it relationship with stout, but the beer kitchen version is enough to make me think again – all the coffee, chocolate and malt flavours are there in spades, but there’s also a refreshing hit of acidity that stops the whole drink from becoming too cloying.
With its lower alcohol level, the Table Beer is designed to be a session ale; it combines cereal notes on the notes and rounded creaminess on the palate with a really bitter hoppy finish – the kind of beer that will hold a drinker’s attention.
My favourite of the trio though was the Ashton Lane Pale, which offered citrusy lemon and yellow grapefruit aromas and flavours with a twist of lime, and an enjoyably light body.
Equally worthy of a mention though were the savoury haggis doughnuts – oh my…!