Craft beer advent calendar 19: Fraoch Heather Ale

So I’m a bit annoyed at how this craft beer advent calendar is getting more and more weird as time goes on. I didn’t give Meantime much of a score but looking at the recent offerings such as the Sticky Toffee Pudding ale recently I long for a simpler time.

Or do I?


Tonight’s ale is a Heather Ale. I don’t really know what that means but it’s a 5% amber ale from Scotland. Apparently it’s brewed to a 16th century recipe; it smells a bit sweet, but with a savoury edge. It actually reminds me of baked beans; not sure why – in fact, in Japan, you can get these sweetened beans, which come to mind as I raise this to my nose.

All of that disappears on the first taste. It’s something spicy, very familiar…I can’t quite put my finger on it and now it’s annoying me. I think it’s a sauce that it’s reminding me of, but I’m not sure.

I can’t drink this for very long, though, as the spiciness is just too overwhelming; so, 16th century recipe or not, this is getting just a 5.5.

It’s mustard! The beer tastes of mustard – and yellow mustard at that, not the wholegrain stuff. That’s very weird. It has a very distinct savoury mustard taste, which I am not too keen on.

Craft beer advent calendar 18: Well’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale

I have to admit that I’m not really looking forward to this one. I’m not a big eater of sweets in any circumstance, but here the brewer has succumbed to the tedious fad of making something taste like something it shouldn’t. I had been hoping that the later beers in this advent calendar would be more interesting but it seems that they are getting more weird.

The colour is really dark (well, like toffee I suppose), and on the nose it’s a really strong, syrupy aroma. And yes, on the palate it is exactly as you expect. Fizzy, slightly alcoholic toffee pudding. Thankfully it doesn’t overwhelm (at 5%), and I can see how some people might like this. At the very least they seem to have got a sensible balance of sticky toffee pudding and ale to produce a reasonably drinkable ale. I’ll give it a 5, but I imagine many would give it higher.

Craft beer advent calendar 17: Holden’s Golden Pale Ale

Another day where I’m doing two in one night to catch up, and another offering from Holden’s today, and this one is a pale ale. Immediately it looks as it should, being rather pale in the glass. In fact, it’s so pale that I wonder whether it will taste of much – it has not much body to it. And the aroma is very, very faint – there really doesn’t seem to be anything to this beer (it’s 3.9%).

On tasting it has something really unusual that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s…caramel? It has a sugary feel to it that you get from sweets. But there really isn’t much to this beer. It would be fine for an opener at a pub, but I wouldn’t want to have more than one. 6 out of 10.

Craft beer advent calendar 16: Belhaven craft pilsner

Second up tonight is Belhaven’s craft pilsner. Now a pilsner is probably my go to for beer, and I’ve had many a good pilsner in my time. Having said that, in my mind a pilsner is not associated with notable flavours; usually in my pilsner I look for something that is clean and crisp, and I feel that more than other beers the benefit comes from water. In fact, I can tell when a lager is brewed in the UK as opposed to its home country (Germany, for example) and I will avoid the UK-brewed versions of these beers.

I’m slightly worried that this beer will be overwhelmed by the stout I had earlier, but there was no need to worry too much. Although it’s certainly nowhere near as strong, it does hold up with a bit of flavour. It is possibly a bit sweeter than I would like, but it is fairly clean to drink and goes down a treat. This 4.8% lager gets itself a 7 as well. I could definitely see myself drinking this of an evening or looking for it if I had the option (which I’m not sure I do, but I’ll look out for it next time I’m in Edinburgh.

Craft beer advent calendar 15: Young’s double chocolate

Levelling with you, tonight I’m going to be doing two at once. But so as not to mess with the numbering system I’m recording them in separate posts.

First up is Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, which also weighs in at 5.2%. It’s a tricky one to start with because the next one looks a little lighter, but here we go. It’s very dark, as you’d expect from a stout and does have a slight chocolateyness to it on the nose. I’m not actually a huge fan of chocolate in general, but this is on the darker side anyway so it’s pretty acceptable.

Taste wise it has a toasty, nutty and possibly a bit of a coffee flavour. Carrying on with the beer, though, it’s not that strongly flavoured. I can see this as an advantage as it doesn’t leave a heavy feeling in the stomach like some of the more famous stouts, but it could do with being a little more robust. On the whole, though, it gets a decent 7.

Craft beer advent calendar 14: Holden’s Black Country Mild

Okay, so I’m a few days behind at this point. For my own health reasons I didn’t like the idea of not giving myself a rest from alcohol so there have been a few days where I must confess I’ve done more than one beer and posted it the next day, and at this point I have had a couple of days off – and in fact having opened two doors I am now no longer even sure if this is 14 or 15…

Today’s (two days ago’s) is Holden’s Black Country Mild, a brewery and a beer that I’ve never heard of before. Pouring it out it looks dark and the whole thing has rather a traditional feel to it. On the nose there is a slightly metallic note to it; that’s not there in the taste but it is robust and rather bitter. It really fills the mouth with the flavour but I have to say that I’m not the biggest fan, so this 3.7% beer gets a 6.

Craft beer advent calendar 13: Mann’s Brown Ale

Well, until tonight I only knew about one Brown Ale, and that was from Newcastle. Mann’s is a London brewery (so a little closer to home and without such a thick accent), and apparently the original Brown Ale (stated by the label and verified by the source of truth: Wikipedia).

Of course, visiting the Wikipedia page meant that I learned that the term Brown Ale doesn’t really mean anything except the colour, because apparently there are a variety of styles of Brown Ale.

This one looks dark, surprisingly so for a 2.8% beer (yes, I’m sure the colour isn’t related to alcohol content, but it’s a link that seems to linger in my mind). I expect it to be nutty, but it isn’t; the aroma is pretty mild. On first taste, it’s creamy and sweet, with a slightly ‘toasted’ feel to it. Quite a good beer, but a little too sweet for me. It gets a 6.

Craft beer advent calendar 12: Wintery Wonder Ale

I like the look of this ale, even if it annoys me slightly that they didn’t call it “Winter Wonder Ale” (perhaps there was a copyright infringement to worry about). It evokes the feel and look of something a bit old school and looking at it, it does look like a heavy duty, warming ale to have on a cold winter’s eve.

Well, it’s 2 degrees outside as I write this, so it’s time to try out this 3.8% ale. It’s very, very dark, almost like a porter (am I using that word right?) or certainly similar to a stout – it even has a slightly thick feel to it.

It’s rich and malty on the nose, and promises a bit of wintery-spice (or maybe it’s just good marketing); and the first sip makes me think of stout again. It’s heavy and nice, and does make a good winter’s evening drink. I give it an even 7 (again).

Kat’s thoughts

Wow, it’s very dark. [Long pause with various faces] Like the last one, it doesn’t have a fruity taste, but I can’t work out what taste it has. I don’t like this one either.

Craft beer advent calendar 11: Yardbird Pale Ale

Tonight’s ale is again from Greene King, and it looks like a pretty balanced one, with a golden colour. In fact. it almost looks rather like a lager. On the nose, interestingly, is a hint of white wine-type aromas – maybe grass and citrus fruit? – and a gentle feel.

On tasting it is really subtle but in a good way, not a watery way. It’s a 4% pale ale with a bit of character, but not in a bold way (which is contrary to how it describes itself.And I have no idea what a Yardbird is, or why there is a treble clef on the label. It gets a 7.

Kat’s thoughts

Not very fizzy; it’s light in colour but has quite a strong taste that I don’t like. It’s quite bitter and not fruity.

Craft beer advent calendar 10: Meantime Yakima Red

Well here was me thinking incorrectly that Meantime was a London-based brewery. Turns out that it is, but it doesn’t just do British-grown beer. The Yakima Red, despite sounding like a species of Japanese tree, is in fact a deeply rust coloured beer from hops grown in Washington State to produce a 4.1% beer.

It’s got a pretty hoppy aroma to it, and does rather feel like it’s got ‘craft beer’ written all over it (not literally). At first and following tastes it does have a strong hop body to it, although it doesn’t overwhelm you; it has enough of other things going on (a bit of grapefruit and other citrus).

It grows on me as I drink it to the point where I think I’ll give it a 7.5 (the first of the advent calendar beers to breach 7). I do like it and wouldn’t mind finding some more of this around if it were available and not too expensive!