Friday, 22 July 2011

Finching line

While other students have been enjoying the summer, the four Heriot-Watt undergraduates of Natural Selection Brewing have been hard at work on their project to devise a beer and bring it to market.

Since I last wrote about them in June, the beer, Finch, has been brewed and successfully sold in cask and bottle to a number of Edinburgh outlets. I went along to their launch party to taste the result. 

So how has it turned out? The aim was a strong, hoppy red ale. The cask version being drunk in the Guildford Arms last night surprised everyone, including the brewers, by showing much less hop character than expected. The rich, full character of the beer dominated, with a substantial bitterness. More than one person commented that it resembled a slightly cloying 80/– with American hops. At 6.5% it’s not a session beer, the levels of crystal malt becoming overwhelming by the second pint – it’s possibly not best suited to pub drinking at all.

For comparison, the bottle the brewing team gave to me to take away opens with only a light scoosh, and the beer pours a murky brown colour. It’s slightly lighter on the palate than the cask version, and the grapefruity notes of the hops are more apparent. Much better balanced between bitterness and hop aroma, but ultimately the toffee sweetness bludgeons everything else into submission.

Probably time didn’t allow for it, but perhaps this particular beer could have benefited from a few more generations of evolution before being released. However, it’s a creditable beer and I’ve drunk much worse from established brewers who don’t have the excuse of inexperience or brewing on unfamiliar kit.

As a one-off project, the students can now relax and congratulate themselves at having reached the end. Most brewing students would – rightly – be delighted to have their own beer on sale in pubs and off-licences so soon in their careers. To a real start-up brewery, of course, the launch party would just be the beginning of the hard work. We will surely be hearing from the Natural Selection boys again at some time in the future.

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