Flavourly’s Ali Stewart heads to Black Isle Brewery – Scotland’s premier organic craft brewery and our brand-new Crowdsourced Collaboration partners – to help brew our brand-new APA, and leaves a little bit of his heart behind. Here, he tells us why…
Is it because it’s in Paradise?
Getting to the Black Isle Brewery is an adventure in itself. Our journey involved driving overland from the thatched village of Fortingall in Highland Perthshire, via Tummel Bridge and Trinafour, before rejoining the A9 and heading Northwards via Aviemore, the centre of the Scottish snowsports industry. Then, it was over the Slochd summit (aptly pronounced “sloshed”), passing the whisky distilleries of Dalwhinnie, Speyside and Tomatin.
With the sun splitting the skies, it was like a scene straight out of Lord of the Rings; it’s like the Lake District on steroids, but with all the people removed. The beautiful cinematography of Skyfall barely does it justice.
As you gain altitude, the pine forests give way to high moorland before plunging back down into Inverness – the start point of the North Coast 500, the “bucket list” drive for motorists across the UK and beyond. And that’s all just your starter – the Black Isle is the main course.
Heading North out of Inverness across the Kessock Bridge you hit the Peninsula of the Black Isle – so named because of its rich, fertile soil and snowless microclimate which leave it sticking out as a black promontory even in the depths of Winter. Rolling fields, barley being planted, rare breed sheep in every second field.
So yes, the Black Isle Brewery is in Paradise (at least when the sun shines) – but that’s not why I fell in love with it.
It is because it’s organic?
UK legislation states that in order to be labelled as “organic” at least 95% of that product’s farmed ingredients must be organic; that’s not enough for Black Isle, who insist on 100%. They farm their own barley which is then malted locally and rotate their barley fields each year with their own rare breed sheep which are fed on the spent grain (which is a by-product of the brewing process).
Even the stone-fired pizzas in their Inverness brewpub are produced using ingredients from their on-site organic farm.
So yes the Black Isle Brewery really is a shining example of environmental integrity and the benefits of being truly organic – but even that’s not why I love it.
Is it because of the people?
Meeting up with Cat, Alex, Mike and Hamish on our first night at their brewpub was an absolute joy. Hamish attracted a bit of attention in his orange llama pyjamas (editorial note – these were really more of a jumpsuit/onesie) but it was his first visit to a pub and, when you’re only 13 weeks old, dress code apparently isn’t that important.
The following day Thorsten and Sandy, two of the brewers from Germany and Scotland respectively, were kind enough to let us help out with the first brew of our Crowdsourced Collaboration APA. How much help we were is, frankly, questionable. If wandering around, taking photos and asking questions is helpful then we must have been pretty much indispensable.
In our experience, there’s something genuinely quite special about the people involved in the brewing industry; open, welcoming, incredibly proud of what they produce and delighted to share those experiences – and the team at Black Isle are no exception.
Though we hope to have found friends for life in the Scottish Highlands, even this is not the main reason I love Black Isle Brewery.
Is it the beer?
Yes. It is the beer. Treat yourself to a celebratory beer if you had already worked that out! Clearly, the beer is the end product of the journey, the paradise, the people, and the approach referred to above. It is the combination of all of these elements that produce something genuinely outstanding.
Black Isle Blonde and Yellowhammer are probably the best-known Black Isle beers, but Altstadt (their Munich-style lager) and a couple of their seasonals like 21 hours of Daylight have forced their way into the Flavourly current Top 10 beers. Admittedly, this is a list which revolves like a carousel on fast forward. A somewhat lax approach to “one in one out” means that there are currently 27 beers in our top 10 – but they are all crackers.
And then come the collaborations – the beers created exclusively for Flavourly’s customers based on your feedback on the styles and flavours that you love. Where to begin? Well, there is a summary of the flavour profiles here to guide you through them.
We are all delighted to be collaborating with the wonderful team at Black Isle and are incredibly proud to be bringing these beers to you, our loyal customers. It’s hard to choose a winner from four such tremendous beers, but as soon as the Flavourly team stop arguing about which one is best I’ll let you know. But don’t hold your breath – there seems to be quite a lot of “research” happening and we don’t seem to be much closer to a conclusion…
Words & Photos: Ali Stewart