#29 – Belhaven Scottish Stout

Name: Belhaven Scottish Stout
Style: Strong Stout
Brewed by: Belhaven Brewery/Greene King (Dunbar, Scotland)
Alcohol: 7% abv.
Price: c. $8.50/500ml bottle

If you wanted to annoy a Scot – and who wouldn’t? It’s hilarious – you could remind them that the modern kilt, that iconic symbol of Scottishness was an English idea, and came about when Mr. Rawlinson of Lancashire wanted his workers at t’ ironworks to get a move on and stop loafing about in their traditional but obviously daft full-length tartans, warmth and dignity be damned. You could remind them that the name of one of their greatest medieval philosophers is now a byword for idiocy for no better reason that no-one could be bothered figuring out what he was actually on about. You could remind them of Aberdeen (sorry, but hey, you know I’m right). You could remind them that their oldest and greatest independent brewery (which just happened to be Belhaven) was finally bought out in 2005 by the English, and this, their “Scottish Stout” was launched in 2007. Now I’m not saying it’s an English creation, but…well in any case there remains something to say about it that may or may not go down well.

It pours a deep, dark ruby, almost black with a decent enough dense beige head that you would prefer to stick around ever so slightly longer. The aroma is all sweet malts – it’s the “triple blend” of malts that is the main selling point of this beer – with the chocolate/toffee complex you’d expect, but little of the roasty, burnt coffee you’d hope for in a proper stout, and there’s a strong hint of the alcohol which isn’t entirely surprising at 7% abv. The bitterness is a little more pronounced in the flavour and there’s something slightly winey or oaky that lifts it out of ordinariness; I’d go further and say it’s a satisfyingly complex flavour with occasional fleeting hints of dark fruits, grassy hops and something like cola in the mix as well though it does err on the side of sweetness. The finish is long and bittersweet again with a slight alcoholic warmth that is welcome rather than overpowering – overall it hides it’s alcohol well.

A word or two needs to be said on texture: the carbonation could easily afford to be lower and many have accused it of being thin and watery but it must be said that the draught version of this is apparently meant to be aerated with nitrogen and carbon dioxide in the same way Guinness is – and we all recognise the difference it makes when Guinness is served properly, not bottled or widgeted. That would suit this beer perfectly. I shall now be spending my time pursuing this brew on tap because it really could be divine. I can see why that version wins awards and gets rave reviews. And yet, there’s something still wrong…

I’ll get back to what that might be but in the meantime you’ll want something to go with this. Something bittersweet, dark, powerful and brooding (without being bitter) and something, I hope, that is actually Scottish because the English shouldn’t have everything their own way. I’m going to go with The Twilight Sad, a wildly eclectic, notoriously loud and (if wikipedia is to be believed) “perennially depressed” indie band with vocals delivered in a near-impenetrable Scottish accent. At times it might be too noisy and bleak, I admit. Maybe it’s a Glasgow thing. But perhaps it’s best in this case to accentuate the burnt bitterness you’d expect from a strong, black stout rather than the sweet, slightly less substantial impression this beer leaves you with. Because the thing is, despite what it says on the label this is not a stout. Yes, it may be a fine distinction but for me it’s also what lets this one down a bit. It’s not quite roasty enough, it’s too thin and it’s too sweet. It’s a fine porter, potentially a great porter when served as intended but a stout it is not. And, of course, if you were trying to be annoying you could argue it’s possibly not really Scottish either.

Verdict: A bit thin and a bit sweet to be a top-notch stout for mine, but a very drinkable and flavourful porter and good value considering how far it’s travelled. Gets (+1) bonus point for having a decent website. 66/100.

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