Top of the Hops: Your favourite Scottish beers
We run the rule over your favourite Scottish breweries from this year’s Food and Drink survey
Appearance: Williams are like a great rock band – it feels like they’ve been around forever, but they’re still more than able to take a risk and fire out something new and exciting.
Heritage: Established in Alloa in 1988, Williams came in on the ground floor of Scotland’s craft beer revolution. In fact, Williams are from a time before we called nice beer ‘craft beer,’ and just called it ‘nice beer.’ Strictly speaking, they’re from a time before many of us were calling anything anything – we were still in the ‘chewing on our own hands and watching Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’ phase. They’ve got history, is our point.
Style: A true mix of beers from across the main styles. Their famous Fraoch heather ale remains a favourite, and Williams also do a fine line in session beers such as Birds & Bees and Grozet. Their broad output is perhaps best summed up in the brilliant IPA/lager hybrid Caesar Augustus, which confuses then delights the palate no matter how many times you look at the label.
Appearance: Slick, efficient, crisp; WEST are smooth operators who aren’t for showy displays of humour or trying too hard to be cool. They make tasty beer, and you drink it because it’s really tasty.
Heritage: They’ve been on the go since 2006, and earn high marks for their insistence on brewing all of their beers in strict adherence to the German Purity Laws of 1516. Sticking to a 500-year-old set of rules – that’s respecting the past, and then some.
Style: WEST make some top notch lagers, from the lighter 4 through to their near-ale Munich Red, via the ubiquitous and local-history-riffing St. Mungo. They also gain style points for their prime location at the Templeton Buildings right on Glasgow Green, with a bar and restaurant alongside the brewery. Well, there’s no point in making great beer and serving it from a shed, is there?
Appearance: Cool design, an interesting location and a host of exciting and innovative brews, Pilot’s beers are about fun. Well, fun and puns, but we’ll get to that in a couple of paragraphs.
Heritage: The Pilot duo of Patrick Jones and Matt Johnson launched their first beer as 2013 came to a close, and in doing so revived the dormant tradition of brewing in Leith. They’re young and historic at the same time – good work!
Style: Expect the unexpected. From their brilliant signature Iced Tea Ale to regular one-offs and collaborations with breweries and brewpubs from across the city and beyond, Pilot like to bring interesting flavours into the mix. They also like a pun, and displayed both qualities in their sweet-infused brew Parma Violence in 2014. Yep. Parma Violence. They did later rename it Ultraviolet though, which is better.
Appearance: They’ll drive a tank down the street to prove a point, and aren’t above sticking a double-digit ABV inside a dead animal. Brewdog have always been agent provocateurs in Scotland’s beer scene, but as we all learned a long time ago, they back it up with some great beers.
Heritage: They may have moved up the road from their Fraserburgh home, but as they enter their 9th year the Brewdog crew still stick to their now time-honoured traditions – fan shareholding in the company, a constantly evolving beer slate, and a ceaseless appetite for expansion and new ideas.
Style: Hops. Lots of hops. Brewdog pride themselves on starting a party in your mouth where everyone’s invited, and while some of their experiments can prove to be for the discerning palate, the likes of ‘Dead Pony’ and the classic ‘Punk IPA’ can bring anyone on board. From there, expect a huge range of collabs and limited-run beers at your local Brewdog bar (and there will be one nearby).
Appearance: Quirky, but in a good way. From the beardy label art to the Nathan Coley-esque all-caps signage above the door, Drygate have a distinctive feel and an obvious sense of ambition. In the words of fellow facial hair enthusiast Freddie Mercury, they want it all, and they want it now.
Heritage: The newest of our winners, Drygate opened this year in the shadow of Tennent’s Wellpark Brewery having been founded in a tie-up between Tennent’s and Williams. That said, Drygate are keen to bust out on their own, and make their own way in the world. Good for them.
Style: Experimental. Beyond their core range, which includes an apple ale and a lager entitled Bearface, the Drygate set-up is designed to allow brewers to collaborate and come up with new beer ideas. It’s also ‘experiential,’ with the whole brewing process on site for us all to gawp at in wide-eyed bemusement, and a studio brewing kit for groups of the public to use in much the same way.