2015 marks the fifth year of Natural Selection Brewing (NSB) – a collaboration between Heriot Watt students and Edinburgh’s Stewart Brewing. Each year, students from the university’s brewing and distilling masters apply for the chance to spend their summer developing a beer from scratch. This covers everything from the design and trailing of the recipe, to the marketing and physical selling.
My association with NSB dates all the way back to its origins in 2011, when my friend (and regular blog guest star) Steven Kersley took part in the very first project. Back then, “colab” beers weren’t as ten a penny as they are now. The result of his team’s hard work was Finch – one of the best red ales I’ve ever tasted, and no, I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend!
After this, I’ve always kept a keen interest in the NSB projects, which produced Anorak (2012), Origins (2013) and Mutiny on the Beagle (2014) over successive years. Each of these beers was perfectly fine but never grabbed me in the way that Finch did, so I was hoping this year would be different.
2015’s team is made up of Reade Huddleston, Sarah Brown, Sam Fleet and Richard Hamer, and they have produced Bitter Descent. It’s an American extra special bitter, which like an IPA, began life in Britain but has evolved since leaving these shores. I’ve never tasted an American extra special bitter before, so kudos to the team for trying something completely new.
This year, the beer is available in keg, cask, bottle, and for the first time, cans (with a currently hip matt-finish, naturally). 10,000 litres have been produced, but the good news is that it’s all been sold, such is the high regard that the NSB project is held. Unfortunately, I was unable to make the launch night this year, but I’ve finally found the time to grab a couple of cans, so here’s my verdict.
Bitter Descent feels like the epitomy of the ‘Special Relationship’ between the UK & the US, as it’s made with all-British malts and all-American hops. I’ll be honest though, things didn’t start well. On opening my can (which had been in the fridge for about a week) there was an overpowering flowery smell. Thankfully, things got much better from here. It’s extremely fruity, making it the perfect session beer for a summer day (even if it is a little strong at 5.1% ABV). The flavours on the palate reminded me of both pine and orange, although this is no Blue Moon! The finish is dry and bitter, but not overpowering.
So there you have it – a ringing endorsement for this year’s NSB project. A few more cans of Bitter Descent will be sunk over the course of the summer but I’m already looking forward to seeing how the NSB project grows and evolves next year.