Monday, December 15, 2008

First Loves...

Twenty years ago, I discovered the world of good beer. Exactly how that came about is a story for another day, but not long after I did, I came across a beer called MacAndrew's Scotch Ale from the Caledonian Brewery. Perhaps due to my very limited experience with quality beer, it made an enormous impression on me. For years I drank MacAndrew's whenever I could find (and afford) it. To this day, Strong Scotch remains my favorite style of beer.

What I didn't realize at the time was that Caledonian had only created the MacAndrew's label for export to the U.S.; back in the U.K., the beer was sold as Edinburgh Strong Ale. I learned the truth from reading Michael Jackson's Beer Companion shortly before moving to London in 1998.

Of course the Scots are not fools; they seldom sent any ESA down to London. Why let those English bastards drink it! No, they saved it for themselves. Still, every trip my wife and I took to Scotland, I was always looking to duck into a Caledonian pub in hopes that they would have a cask of ESA on. I still remember the night at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, after a ten-mile day of hiking, having a delicious dinner and washing it down with pint after pint of this wonderful real ale...

So what's it like as a beer? First, it pours a lovely bronze color. It's remarkably well-balanced, with about 27 IBUs of bitterness from Styrian hops to stand up to the tremendous malt backbone. At 8% ABV, it definitely earns its sobriquet of Strong. It starts off sweet and nutty, then turns spicy, ending with a long, dry, and warming finish. For my money, it's a masterpiece.

There's only one problem: This beer cannot be had for love nor money here in Alaska. Oh, there are wonderful Strong Scotches hereabouts; Frank Kassik's award-winning Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch case in point. But good as it is, it's just not MacAndrew's.

So what's a beer lover to do?

Well, I don't know about you, but as for me, I'm going to brew my own. Yesterday I brewed Howell's Highland Ale 3.0. As the name implies, this is my third attempt to capture a memory. With each iteration I make a few more tweaks to try to get closer to that ideal. I doubt if I'll ever get there; memory is a tricky thing, after all. But until Caledonian starts exporting to Alaska, it will sure be fun to try...

Until next time, Cheers!

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