Tuesday, 7 December 2010

In Praise of.......Swannay Brewery

Swannay Snow Patrol

The Beer Monkey brings to you the first instalment in an occasional feature in which I praise, heap plaudits upon and generally blow smoke up the arse of those brewers, breweries and beverages that have not only floated my beer boat but also made me want to tip my hop hat in giving thanks and celebration of deliciously tasty and refreshingly wonderful beer.

The first brewery I kneel down in front of and bless as a beacon of brilliant brewing is one of the furthest north in the U.K. but it's isolated location has not stopped it from producing lovely beer. The place in question is Swannay Brewery in Orkney but is more commonly known as the Highland Brewing Company.

Brewing began in 2006 and in a relatively short space of time it has been recognised as a brewery that has set the Scottish beer bar very high and has earned a reputation as cracking little company producing some really, really lovely beers.

It has received accolades and awards for it's range of beer including Champion Beer of Scotland in 2007 for Dark Munro and a year later it picked up the same award for it's Pale Ale Scapa Special. This year, Highland has also picked up Silver and Bronze awards from SIBA as well as Orkney Blast being crowned Champion Beer of Scotland for 2010. That's three Champion Beers of Scotland in four years. Not bad going in my book.

So, in celebration of a really good brewery producing really good beer and because I fancy a few lovely bottles on a cold winter's night I took myself to my nearest Peckhams and picked myself up three beers from Highland Brewing Company that I consider to be rather nice. These are Scapa Special, Orkney Blast and the seasonal Orkney Porter.

Beer bought, I headed home and looked forward to my evening of Orkney ales.

Let the Scapa flow

First up was the 4.4% Scapa Special Pale Ale.  It is made with a blend of American, German, Kiwi and Slovakian hops and Maris Otter malt and is an extremely drinkable and easy going beer. It pours an off white loosely bubbled head with a some carbonation yet remains gentle on the tongue.

It is vaguely reminiscent of a German Marzen with initial malt giving way to a nice balance of malt sweetness and light hops. This is a cracking session beer that goes down extremely well leaving a pronounced hop finish.

Next up was the 6% Orkney Blast, which Highland define as a Strong Orkney Ale. It is a deceptively boozy and easily suppable beer that, like Scapa, pours a golden colour with a healthy white head. It smells more boozy than Scapa and there is strong hop aromas too. The booze isn't immediately apparent on first taste and instead there is sweet fruity malt in the mouth giving way to the slight lip and tongue tingle of peppery hop. What follows is a satisfying and very moreish linger of a light alcohol afterburn.

At 6%, this is a dangerously tempting beer. It's oh so very drinkable and goes down effortlessly but it's only when it's been despatched down your throat are you aware of it's alcoholic intensity. Orkney Blast, indeed!


The last Swanney swally in my trio of intoxicating treasures is the 9% Orkney Porter, a seasonal beer produced over the winter months. It is a lovely example of a strong, well put together porter with complex, warming tastes and flavours. It pours a dark black colour with traces of ruby red hues and the thick beige effervescent head dissipates quickly to reveal a treacle and licorice aroma. It packs a strong alcoholic punch but the booziness is well balanced by the dark roast with espresso and bitter chocolate. It ends in a bitter finish and a roasty toasty warming alcohol glow. Perfect for this time of year and the 275ml measure ensures that one or two bottles won't lead you to photocopying your derriere or goosing your boss at the Christmas Party.

Winter Warmer

So the three Highland beers I had all ticked the box and all offered something different from each other. The Scapa Special is an extremely easy drinking and satisfying session Pale Ale, The Orkney Blast is just as easy drinking but is more complex than the Scapa and delivers a deceptively boozy punch. And, finally the Orkney Porter is a lovely, strong seasonal porter that is perfect for these long, dark, cold winter's nights.

So, hop hats off to Swanney Brewery and the Highland Brewing Company for producing tasty beer of consistent quality and distinction.

I'll drink to that.


  1. You leave me no choice but to head North in search of these fabled creatures. (That's unless Sainsbury's don't stock them, in which case I'll be swiftly heading back South.)

    Whatever the pitfalls, the smoke-up-arse-blowing approach certainly does serve to get the old thirst levels rising, even at half ten in the morning!

    Great stuff, will be following your exploits from now on.

  2. Glad you like the blogpost Mr Hearty Goodfellow. I'm pretty much certain that Waitrose or Sainbury's don't sell it but if you have a look on their website here -


    then you might be able to track down a local stockist.