Tonight (January 25th) is “Burns’ Night”, commemorating the birth, in 1759, of Robert (‘Rabbie’) Burns, Scotland’s best know poet. He is possibly best remembered for writing the words to ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (Should Old Acquaintance be forgot…) which is usually sung at the turn of the New Year.
“Burns’ Night” is, for many Scots, a bigger occasion than their patron saint’s day (St Andrew on November 30th) and is often celebrated by a supper of ‘Haggis, Neeps and Tatties’ (Haggis, Turnips and Potatoes). The Haggis is paraded into to the room to the strains of bagpipes, Burns’ poem ‘Address to the Haggis’ is recited with some flourish, and the Haggis is then toasted with (Scotch) Whisky.
It’s a great and very Scottish occasion.
So, while I am due to attend a Burns’ Supper, I thought it would be appropriate to review a Scottish beer; I’ve reviewed many Scottish beers for The Brewclub, indeed Brewdog – one of my favourite brewers – hails from northern Scotland.
But on this occasion I thought I’d focus on one of Scotland’s longer established breweries, William McEwans, founded in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh in 1856, some sixty years after Burns’ death in 1796.
McEwan’s were Scotland’s largest brewer through much of the 20th century, merging with Newcastle Breweries in 1960 to create ‘Scottish and Newcastle’ (S&N). The Fountainbridge brewery was closed in 2005 as a cost saving measure and much of the production moved to S&N’s ‘John Smiths’ brewery in Tadcaster, Yorkshire.
The McEwans’ brand was sold to Wells & Young in 2011 and the brewing moved to Bedford, a little to the north of London. Okay, so technically this is an English ale, but it’s heart and soul are Scottish.
Today’s brew is ‘McEwans Champion Ale’, a Scottish ‘Heavy’ ale, first brewed in 1997, and brewed to a respectable 7.3% ABV.
It pours a dark Amber colour, there’s a full head that fades quickly. The remaining head laces down the glass as it goes.
There’s a rich malty nose with a faintly metallic hop tang.
The flavour is rich and malty, dark fruits, dark malt-loaf and treacle toffee. It’s full bodied, assertive, that alcohol content making its presence felt.
And it’s then that the hops kick in, bitter and slightly metallic, no namby pamby aromatics in here, these are unashamedly old-school hops.
I’ve written before that I enjoy potent beers, such as Manchester Star, King Goblin or Jaipur X, and while each are very different beasts – this is perhaps closer to Manchester Star and most enjoyable.
However while this is a brew that does justice to the memory of Rabbie Burns, I don’t think I could manage a second bottle.
That said I’m happy to give it Four Brewclub Stars.