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Chips are down for new Scots whisky beer

Added: Wednesday, September 3rd 2014

Belhaven brewery

Belhaven of Dunbar has joined the growing list of Scottish brewers producing beers aged with the help of whisky. Speyside Oak Aged Blonde Ale (6.5%) joins the growing list of small-batch beers produced by its parent company, Greene King, since the Suffolk brewer installed a new brewhouse within its Bury St Edmunds headquarters to create craft beers.

The oak aged beer is brewed with Optic pale and crystal malts: Optic is also a favoured barley malt with Scottish whisky distillers. Belhaven dates from 1719 and water used for brewing is drawn from a bore hole on site. The hops used are English Challenger and Goldings.

Oak ageing is not done in casks. In common with Innis & Gunn, one of the leading producers of oak-aged beers, ageing comes from the use of oak chips, a method also used by wine makers who produce “oak aged” versions of their products. (Not all I&G beers are made in this way: some are still aged in casks obtained from the American Bourbon industry.)

A spokesman for Belhaven says: “The oak ageing is done using food-grade oak chips, which are toasted to our specification, then steeped in Speyside malt whisky. We chose Speyside whisky because of its famously smooth, elegant style, which imparts gentle whisky notes along with the toast and vanilla notes from the oak itself.

“Once the oak chips and the malt whisky have been given time to mingle, we age the beer over them and taste it daily to see how it is developing. It is then drawn off into a separate vessel for a final period of maturation to let the flavours develop fully before we filter and bottle it as we would any other beer.”

The beer has a fine gold colour with pronounced oak, vanilla and honey malt on the nose, with a hint of butterscotch. Spicy hops make an appearance on the palate alongside oak, vanilla, butterscotch and honey malt. The finish starts bittersweet with honey malt, vanilla and butterscotch but ends dry with hop resins balancing oak and grain.