We are encouraged to go east for this month's Session. Well that shouldn't be too hard. For all the variety of decent bottled beer in Ireland, the vast majority is coming from the UK, Belgium, Germany or the US -- all east of here but one. It would be nice to have something interesting from Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Italy, Australasia or the like to write about, but we're mostly left to our own devices to get hold of that lot.
Tempting as it is to pick some random crap Asian lager imported at enormous expense for idiots trying to relive their holidays, to rot skunkily under the fluorescent lights until it's sold off a year later for 50 cents a pop, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stick with the country that's so barely east of me that tracts of it are to the west: the UK.
Scotland to be precise, a country whose beers need very little introduction in the contemporary beer blogosphere, which sometimes gives the impression that Caledonian beer starts and ends these days with BrewDog. Other breweries do exist, believe it or not, and they don't all follow the American approach to designing and selling beers (not that there's a damn thing wrong with that). Both of these were donations from Dave and Laura, brought back from their summer trip to Scotland.
Laura had been talking up Red MacGregor and I was expecting big things of it, with a head full of sumptuous American reds like Three Floyds Brian Boru and Red Frog. But it's not one of those. Pouring a beautiful shade of deep rosewood, it's actually quite a light 4% ABV sessioner. The nose makes it clear that it's not a bland quaffer, however, with some lovely mandarin notes coming out. On tasting, you get sharp and slightly metallic English hops, but this mellows to a succulent fruity -- vaguely American -- hoppiness. Barley barely gets a look in, but when it does there's a laid-back biscuity caramel flavour, giving directions while the hops drive. The body and carbonation are both unobtrusive, which would make it a sublime session beer, but I only got the one. Oh well.
Second up is an oatmeal stout, a style I'm still quite wary of. That heady, glutenous, marker-pen taste I get from the stronger ones does nothing for me, but Glencoe doesn't have this. It's much smoother and very easy drinking, with proper toasty, oaty aromas. Yes, the phenolic thing is there, but it works for a change. There are a couple of worrying enigmas, not least of which is the fact that it comes from the mysterious Traditional Scottish Ales company about whom I've grumbled before -- I want more than a postcode as beer provenance -- and then there's the "organic wild oats". How does that work? How do you know there haven't been drive-by pesticidings while no-one was looking? However, none of this detracts from what is an all-too-quickly-disappearing quality stout and one I'd happily have again.
Our host requests stereotypes of us from the chosen beer country. While I'm fairly sure fruity hops are terribly unScottish, you can't go far wrong with oatmeal though, eh?