Dusk at Stewart Brewing
We stood there, the three of us, silently marvelling at the hills behind the brewery – a black box filled with chatter, life and fermentation. It was light when we got here; as sunny as our dispositions. In no time at all, time sped along by beer and laughter, the sky had turned Tyrian purple – matching our conversation about thistles, of all things. Thistles in Scotland. Thistles to help our poor livers. Thistling.
‘It’s not a bad place to work, is it?’ one of us says. We all nod, think of our offices and desks and keyboards, then take a sip of beer.
Florid, I know, but that was a genuine moment that stuck out in my memory of our all-too-brief visit to Stewart Brewing Co. Actually, less of a tour, more being hosted. Hosting is a concept landlords and brewers claim to know how to do, but as we know, many fall short. As we ambled around, jawing with the brewers, grilling them about the shape of their fermenters (Why are they square? Oh, ex-dairy, you say….) we genuinely felt welcomed not only to celebrate this brand new temple of beer (and it is a wonderful, wonderful brewery – all clean steel and appealing to our base manly nature), but to enjoy it. Mi Casa, Su Casa, and all that.
I’d ran into Stewart’s beers only on odd occasions before, mostly at festivals, and I liked thier no-nonsense approach to flavour. As I try and type something that doesn’t sound patronising I fail, because Stewart’s beers are more than just solid. They are fresh, funky, traditional, flavoursome, modern, fun…the list full of contradictions goes on. To me, they represent the best of modern Scottish brewing; sympathetic to trend and dispense, pleasing all drinkers. If you go to the bar and want a Wee Heavy, Coconut Porter, a Hefewiezen and a…oooh…let’s see (rubs beard) a Black IPA, you can get it all here. What’s more, instead of feeling like a jack of all trades and master of none, they make incredibly accessible versions of many styles, which is something people should bear in mind, if you ask me (don’t even get me started on Saison – that’s for another day).
Despite being poured samples of pretty much most of their – and Natural Selection’s beers – I bought a bagful to bring home, and spend a lovely afternoon working through (which makes it sound much more workmanlike that it was) a few of the core range.
Edinburgh Gold is first up to bat and, at 4.8% abv and, well, gold, it’s a case of what you see is what you get – gentle grassy hops on the nose, a fuller-than-expected body loaded with Orange-peel sweetness, and a citric bite to wrap things up, it manages to pull off that trick that great Pale Ales do of being both thirst-inducing (as in you can’t stop drinking it) and thirst-quenching at the same time. Delicious.
Embra (5%abv) is truly amber – the exact shade of those glass bricks you used to find in electric fires in the 70’s and 80’s. Push through that pleasingly beige head and there’s pure smooth sweetness burbling beneath, all toffee and black cherry, finishing with a flourish of peppery, almost pungent hops before finishing dry and bitter. A perfect example of fresh, modern hop notes wrapped up in a typically robust jacket, Embra is as laid-back as a Sunday afternoon with the papers in the Cafe Royal.
St Giles (5%) reminds me of my previous time in Edinburgh; we visited in Autumn and the weather was a rain-lashed and rainy as you’d expect. The weekend was still beautiful, mostly down to soothing beers like St Giles to help things along. Biscuit, touches of Oaky smoke, peppery spice (that note again) and milky coffee dominate the aroma and those notes continue through into the body of the beer, where they’re joined by almonds and a little cherry skin. It drinks much lighter than the nose suggests, smooth, sweet and satisfying without being cloying. There’s a lingering bitterness that perhaps accounts for that; hazy alcohol appears after the sip. Like a younger Scottish cousin to Old Peculier (my touchstone for flavours like these) the tasting notes on the label suggest Haggis (Yippee!) and Venison – I couldn’t agree more.
Holyrood (5%abv) will please lovers of Pales that speak with an American inflection; Amber, lots of hard-candy sweetness topped off with a risingly bitter finish, all pine and mango. Softly agreeable, it’s a flavourful gem, and one that, in many ways sums up Stewart’s approach to Pale Ales.
The labels are bright and engaging, with food matches that actually make you want to try them and the website is packed with information. As I said earlier, it’s that all-round excellence that brewers such as Williams Bros and Fyne seem to pull off effortlessly, and represent truly modern brewing in Scotland.
Thanks to Steve and Jo Stewart (and the guys from Heriot – Watt) for being such great sports, taking the time to humour us and chat, and not driving us off the premises with lighted pitchforks, which -at times – was probably warranted.