I've mentioned a few times already that I have two bottles of Paradox Arran in my cellar, kindly donated by those gentlemen at BrewDog, just waiting for an opportunity to share them with two whisky aficionados in my office. As it happens, on Saturday we popped over to Ingo's house to see his 12 kittens (12! His two cats had six each), and ended up staying far too late because he produced a couple of bottles of beer from The Isle of Arran Brewery. And of course what self-respecting whisky fan wouldn't produce a bottle from the same Isle's distillery -- just to see how the beer and whisky went together -- in this case a bottle of the Robert Burns Single Malt (Robert Burns is a recurring theme at Ingo's). And that was just the start...
The Isle of Arran Blonde is a lovely, clear golden ale with a sharp, almost woody, fruity aroma. It has a sweet, grainy flavour, but to the fore is a bitter, herbal effect. It's an interesting combination, and difficult to identify the taste, but a herbal, curacao bitterness might not be a bad way to describe it. It's quite refreshing while being strangely satisfying.
The Isle of Arran Dark shares some similar characteristics with it's fairer sister, possessing a grainy malt profile but of course with light chocolate traits. It's roasty and quite dry, but also has that slight bitter orange flavour, leaning towards a grapefruit dryness. It's a strange mix of flavours really. I expected more dark sweet flavours, but the dryness and the long pithy finish smash those expectations.
But where did Ingo get these Scottish beers, in a country where you can hardly buy a beer from neighbouring Belgium? Well, Brauhof Wilshaus, close to the city of Hamm, host the Hammer Highland Games every year, which of course includes extensive Whisky tastings (the reason Ingo visits every year) and, much to my delight, Scottish beer. I don't think BrewDog was brought over, but there you go. I have to visit the games next year!
Incidentally, the Blonde paired very well with the whisky, but not so perfectly with the Dark. I'm no Whisky expert (you're no beer expert either, I hear you shout), but for what it's worth, the Robert Burns Single Malt is exceptionally smooth, with lovely light vanilla, fruit and -- a revelation for me -- slight citric notes that really married well with the Blonde. I stopped drinking Whisky on a regular basis years ago, so these kinds of tastings, with an expert on hand, are really unexpected and enjoyable.
But it didn't end there. Ingo had also nabbed a bottle of Fuller's London Porter and the 1845 ale from The James in Muenster, a bar I had visited a couple of times simply because they stock Theakston's and Black Sheep beer as well as some Trappist beers (a miracle!). Alex, the owner, has clearly extended the range somewhat, but apparently still hasn't managed to get some cask on. I'll have to investigate in person, and soon.
It was the first time I had tried Fuller's London Porter, and I liked it. A lovely, rich dark chocolate effect with a roasty, bitter-sweet finish. Really smooth. The Fuller's 1845 has a strong malty, yeasty, pear-like aroma. The flavour is of caramel, vanilla reminiscent of light oaking, and is ever-so-slightly warming with its 6.3% alcohol content. A little sip of whisky help accentuate darker malty tones that I may not have picked up otherwise. Not bad.
We tried a couple more beers, including a Flensburger Organic Kellerbier, a rather strange Hexenbier and a preview of my latest altbier, but by then we were playing hide and seek in the fields with my son and nibbling fresh organic pork steaks cooked over a log fire. It's the unplanned things in life that give the most pleasure...