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Des de Moor
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Accredited Beer Sommelier
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Des de Moor


Highland (Swannay) Orkney Blast

Beer sellers:

ABV: 6%
Origin: Swannay, Orkney, Scotland

Orkney Blast

One of Britain’s most northerly breweries and one of its more ambitious, the Highland Brewing Company’s Swannay Brewery was established by Rob Hill, formerly with the Orkney Brewery, originally as a beer firm that contracted out to English breweries. Since 2006, however, it’s had its own small plant, recently expanded, on a Orcadian farm. “World Class Ales” claim the labels, and the beers certainly do their best to live up to it.

Orkney Blast is a notably strong and characterful golden ale that in 2010 won CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Scotland competition — although it’s brewed from the decidedly English ingredients of Maris Otter pale malt and hops from south of the border. The result is a rich gold brew with a fine just off-white head.

On cask at the 2010 Great British Beer Festival, I found it had a cereal fruit aroma with plentiful esters and slightly farmyardy, almost pooey notes. A rich and weighty but dry and quite hoppy palate was generously fruity and mouth-filling with impressions of apricot tart and pine resins. A slick of nectary malt underlined a slow developing piney bitter hop finish with more apricot fruit and chewy tannins. Overall a big beer, but it didn’t really cohere and take flight with me.

Although it was the cask version that won the award, I found myself more impressed with a bottled version bought in 2011 at the Scottish Real Ale Shop. The beer isn’t bottle conditioned but the light haze was suggested of a basic filtration and there was no obvious pasteurisation. There were no musty notes on the aroma which had fruit salad, citrus and pale malt with hints of tropical fruit emerging. Again the palate was firm and big and almost Tripel-like, very fruity and slightly sweetish — I picked up peach notes, some sulphur and pine and a a grapefruit bitterness emerging from the fruity wash. The beer bittered further on the swallow with peppery hops building up far back in the mouth over a fruity wash in the finish with notes of orange malt.

In both forms this is an accomplished and tasty beer but I suspect it needs to be really pristine in the cask for the freshness of the fruit notes to soar over the rather burly malt and hops. The extra carbonation in the bottled version helps too. Dare I say it — this might be a good candidate for a craft keg.

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