Few drinks get red-blooded Scotsmen as excited as lager. Whether it’s a pint down the pub with your pals or a can on a hot summer’s afternoon, lager could lay claim to be Scotland’s other, other national drink.
And one brand dominates the market. Whether it’s football clubs or music festivals, the influence of Tennent’s is inescapable.
Brewed at Wellpark in Glasgow since 1885, the giant red T casts a long shadow over the category in Scotland. Yet the rise of micro-breweries has also meant an increase in the number of lagers jostling for space on the shelves of supermarkets and bottle shops.
Micro-brewers haven’t limited themselves to real ale and hairy jumpers – they’ve been innovative when it comes to their lagers and have produced an exciting range of drinks, from light and refreshing tipples through to more full-bodied offerings that emulate our continental cousins.
Schiehallion is the classic micro-brewery lager. Harviestoun has been making it since 1994 and it’s always a relief when you spot it on tap at a hotel bar. It’s crisp and refreshing but with enough body to make it a satisfying pint, with flavours of lemon and a hint of spun sugar.
Coulls Premium Craft Lager
Named after brewery director Graham Coull – that’s pronounced ‘Cool’ by the way – Coulls gives plenty of lemon and tangerine notes on the nose, followed by a hoppy hit on the palate. Crisp and bright, with a full head and bitter lemon notes on the tongue. Black Wolf used to be known as Traditional Scottish Ales.
60º North Shetland Lager
One of the new kids on the block, Lerwick Brewery’s 60º North is a much richer, more biscuity lager. It’s zesty, with a smoky edge, and has caramel and toffee notes, with hints of pine nuts and orange peel. The brewery opened in 2013 and now has three beers in its core range, with Skipper’s Ticket and Tushkar sitting alongside 60º North.
Latitude used to be made at the Atlas Brewery in Kinlochleven before production was shifted to its sister brewery on Orkney. The Atlas Brewery has since been closed but River Leven Ales is now operating from the same site. Latitude is pale and refreshing, with that slightly metallic finish that you get from pilsners.
Belhaven Craft Pilsner
Belhaven’s brewery in Dunbar may be best known for its Best draught ale, but its craft pilsner is popping up in lots of bars now and is also available in bottles. It has the classic pilsner nose with lemon, grassy and metallic aromas. On the tongue, it’s crisp and refreshing, with an unexpected caramel note in the finish.
West Brewery founder Petra Wetzel says she has a ‘Glaswegian heart’ and a ‘German head’ after choosing to follow the Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law of 1516, at her brewery on Glasgow Green. Her St Mungo lager is rich and full-bodied, with a deep golden colour. It delivers complex flavours of toffee, caramel, chocolate, orange and pear drops, but still manages to retain its crispness. While St Mungo is the brewery’s only bottled lager, keep an eye out for its other offerings on tap in pubs.
Innis & Gunn Lager
Innis & Gunn
Brewer Dougal Sharp made his name with Innis & Gunn’s famous oak-aged beer, but my favourite tipple in his range has to be his Helles-style lager, which takes its inspiration from Munich beers of the late 1800s. It’s full-bodied but still refreshingly crisp, with lemon and lime flavours mixed with a touch of caramel. It often reminds me of Estrella Damm, the beer made in Barcelona by the family of brewers from Alsace.
Kestrel Premium Lager
Here’s a blast from the past – Russ Abbot made Kestrel famous in the 1980s with a series of TV adverts but now the beer is back, with a donation from each bottle going to help support the RSPB’s kestrel conservation work. In a blind tasting, you could be forgiven for thinking the flagship Kestrel premium lager came from Europe, with a rounded mouthfeel and some caramel notes mixed in with the bright lemon flavours. Also, look out for the legendary Kestrel Super, which has shed its park bench reputation but not its 9% strength, instead being sold in ‘sharing cans’. It has a rich, almost buttery mouthfeel, with orange and tangerine notes on the nose and then red apple and broiche flavours on the tongue.
Williams Ceilidh 90
Plenty of lemon flavours and aromas from this bright and refreshing lager. The beer is matured for 90 days so, even though the lager opens with a crisp taste, it still has plenty of body and a nice caramel note in the finish. From its origins making heather ale in the 1980s and 1990s, Williams Bros has grown to become one of Scotland’s most exciting breweries and Ceilidh is the perfect example of the broad range in now produces.
Something a little bit different – a hybrid that lies somewhere between a lager and an India pale ale (IPA). Always a good choice when you see it on draught, the addition of the hoppy aromas from the IPA’s influence brings a lot of grapefruit flavours to the party. Crisp and easy-going, this is an ideal pint for a summer’s day.