Last November, Summerhall’s FestivALE event was great fun, bringing together some of Scotland’s best breweries in the quirky surrounding of the former college’s Dissection Room. Unlike some beer festivals which I’ve been to (and I’m naming no names), it offered the chance to sample a whole range of great beers at very little cost. So, when this year’s event cropped up, I rounded up a crew of people and headed on down.
The place was already buzzing when we arrived and I took the chance to scout out what was on offer. Disappointingly, there weren’t as many breweries on show as last year. I was especially disappointed by the absence of Top Out, which I’d tasted for the first time at last year’s FestivALE and has fast become one of my favourite breweries. Those in attendance thoughthad brought some cracking beers and spirits with them.
I said it in last year’s review and I’m happy enough to say it again – Williams Brothers Nollaig is probably the best festive ale on the market. Most Christmas themed beers can end up tasting of Christmas trees or the remnants of a Christmas cake tin. Nollaig on the other hand manages to mix a festive flourish of spruce with a hint of spice, whilst leaving a sticky sweetness on your lips. October Zest, which I only seem to drink at Summerhall, also made a welcome reappearance. And jumping on the tin bandwagon was old saltwort Seven Giraffes, which was good but would have been 100% better chilled.
Summerhall’s own Barney’s Beers also had their range on show, the highlight of which was Barney’s Pale Ale. It was crisp and refreshing, although it doesn’t have the same bitterness as some pale ales and packs a whole load of zesty citrus flavours too. Barney’s created a couple of “collab” beers with a range of other producers for the evening as well. The joy of these experimental beers is that some of them hit the spot, whereas some of them really don’t. However, the Mashmellow Milk Stout – created in association with Ushers – was silky smooth and utterly delicious.
And any visit to Summerhall wouldn’t be complete without a sample of the ever popular Pickerings Gin. The whole range was on show at FestivALE, which gave me the chance the taste the limited edition release created for the 2015 Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Created using a recipe originally written in 1947, the strong earthy flavours of cardamom and cinnamon mixed with the ginger ale and lime to create a deliciously moreish wintery treat.
The combination of the surrounding, the company and the top class beer made this a great evening and I’ve got next year’s event penciled in my diary already.