Posted by: Michael | 10 November 2008

Brew Review #2 – Belhaven Scottish Ale

We’re on to Beer Review #2, ploughing ahead with Belhaven Scottish Ale. I’ll include a small review of the gastropub in which this brew was enjoyed at the end. Unfortunately, we won’t have any photos of the beer as it was reviewed in a space not very conducive to multiple photographs! Instead of drinking the beer as I write, I’m enjoying a nice brew up of Twining’s Earl Grey. If you want a warm pick-me-up as we move into the colder months here in the northern hemisphere, pick up something from Twining’s. They’re great. Anyway, let’s get on with it.

Belhaven Brewery , in Belhaven, East Lothian, Scotland, claims to have been brewing since before the 16th century and has records dating from 1719. It’s changed owners several times but is still brewing great beer, including the one I enjoyed Saturday evening at The Pub in Crestview Hills, Kentucky.

According to Belhaven’s website, their Scottish Ale can be described as follows: “Malty and hoppy, we at Belhaven love the classic Scottish Ale and we’ve been brewing it longer than any of the other beers we produce. Delivering a sweet, smooth and creamy finish, Scottish Ale has a stunning ruby colour in the glass. Magic.” The Pub’s “Bar Bible,” available as a .pdf file if you follow the link, describes the beer as having a “golden brown hue, with subtle hop aromas, yet intense aromas of smoke and butterscotch, developing into full flavours of toasted malt with a creamy, full-bodied, semi-sweet finish.”

With those official recommendations in mind, here are my thoughts on the beer.

It was served in a small, 10 ounce glass shaped like a small version of the standard pint glass (with a bulge near the top, not the straight pint that I reviewed Fuller’s London Pride in) at a rather cold temperature – a bit cold for my taste, but not numbingly so. Upon arrival the beer did indeed have that golden brown hue, something I’d describe as deep amber. It had about an inch of head on it, and the nose was rather sweet and hoppy.

The first sip was a real treat. The beer had a wonderfully smooth mouth, and was heavy. The butterscotch mentioned in The Pub’s description was out in full force while I let it roll around the mouth and impart its flavour, and the aftertaste was long and full of caramel. After that first sip, I noticed the head had shrunk to about half an inch.

Sip #2 came seven minutes later. I noticed a flavour I couldn’t quite pin down – something rather spicy, I should think, but enjoyable. The head faded to about 1/4 inch after this sip, with a decent amount of lacing along the glass. As I continued with the beer, I couldn’t help but think “sweet” as time went along. That’s the first word that came to mind with every sip. 20 minutes into my Belhaven, there was still plenty of foam lingering on the sides of the glass, and the slightest hint of a head remained. The final sip – which, as you may guess, was all glorious foam – was potent, spicy, and delicious.

If I had to choose one word to characterize this beer (besides “sweet”), I’d call it mild. It drank very easily and was, contrary to The Pub’s description, creamy throughout the experience. I didn’t notice a multitude of flavours, but then again that could be due to my rather inexperienced palate.

Finally, a few word about The Pub. This is a chain restaurant, which tends to deduct a few points from my review right away. This watering hole (which has a small selection of traditional British pub fare mixed in with some dishes rather haphazardly given British names), however, does a decent job of pulling off the authentic look and feel. The bar which dominates each location is beautiful, and the décor does remind one of Britain and her empire (although it goes a bit overboard). I had wonderful service, even at 11 PM on a Saturday evening with a plethora of drunken revellers around. My one complaint pertains strictly to reviewing beers and doesn’t apply to each Pub location. The Crestview Hills Pub does allow smoking (I suppose this is a Kenton County allowance), and I do feel this hindered my ability to properly review tonight’s beer. The gentleman next to my table, though quiet enough, didn’t help by smoking a cigar which wafted over my way a few times (I’ll admit to being the slightest bit jealous that he was enjoying a smoke branded by Maker’s Mark – their cigars are finely crafted and delicious). The beer menu is substantially larger than that found in many other American franchises, but falls short in some areas – namely with Belgian and Irish beers. One can find Smithwick’s, Harp, Stella Artois, and others almost anywhere.

I give The Pub in Crestview Hills, Kentucky a solid B and Belhaven Scottish Ale a B as well, mostly for lack of complexity. It’s a solid brew to be enjoyed at dinner or casually amongst non-beer loving friends, and an easy fallback if you can’t think of anything else. I found it at the price of $3.75 for a ten ounce pour.

Don’t forget – alcohol is meant to be enjoyed, but it can hurt you and those around you. Drink responsibly – buzzed driving is drunk driving, too. Enjoy your fine brews in moderation, and don’t be afraid to know when it’s time to stop. As they say over at Beer Advocate – Respect Beer!

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