Whenever my mum goes away on holiday she brings me back something edible from the locality. It used to be sweet and savoury delights such as cheese or pickle, honey or fudge, but now she only brings beer. This isn’t because it has taken her twenty-five years to realise I prefer beer to fudge, but that most of her holidays are UK based and, until recently, most destinations didn’t have a local brewery. (For years I tried to convince her that Belgium was a great destination for a week away, but my encouragement always unconvinced).
Now, of course, these isles are littered with breweries and my mum has become my number one beer provider, sourcing booze from locations I never knew had their own tipple on tap. Her most recent trip was to the Hebridean outpost of Islay, more traditionally known as a producer of quality peaty whiskies but, for the past dozen years, also home to a brewery competing for its drinkers’ attention.
My gift pack contains four well-crafted bottles of ale, each one a different style based on traditional brewing lines. They’re the kind of beers that get the real ale purists purring – no funky modern flavours or crazy New World hops in sight. The pick of my selection is their straight up, no-nonsense stout, Dun Hogs Head, named after one of the island’s coastal landmarks.
The beer is glossy black and wears a lingering latte-like hat of froth. A gentle fizz from the bottle conditioning welcomes some rich bitter chocolate flavours, punctuated by a subtle berry tang. It has a very dry, bitter finish that swirls around the mouth as if in a wood smoke haze. I would suggest there’s even a peatiness to the taste, but that might be a little too much of an Islay flavour assumption on my part.
A lot of stouts can be heavy going over the course of a pint or two. This one isn’t. You could easily imagine settling in for a long night in front of the fire with a fair few jars to keep you merrily sozzled, while outside the weather throws its best Scottish hoolie. Sadly for me I’ve only got one bottle among my Islay medley. Next time my mum holidays there, I’m insisting on a box full of the stuff.
Brewery: Islay Ales, Scotland
Beer name: Dun Hogs Head
Hops used: Goldings, Bramling Cross