Because of the recent high-profile press coverage we’ve been receiving (well, a one word mention in The Guardian but it’s the most press coverage we’ve ever had!) and constantly being recognised and hounded for autographs while traipsing round Tesco, we decided we needed a holiday. Noses always to the grindstone (can anyone else hear violin music?) we decided to combine business with pleasure and head to the Highlands, where beautiful scenery and wonderful breweries, bottle shops and hotels combine resulting in a perfect storm of a mini-break for the beer enthusiasts that we are.
Our first port of call was The Anderson hotel in Fortrose on the Black Isle. We’ve been here before but this is the kind of place that warrants repeat visits – many of them. In fact if it wasn’t for the injunction we’d move in there. Ahem…moving swiftly on.
The Anderson – a beer and good food lovers paradise.
The welcome is always warm at The Anderson. We settled in to our room and then headed for the Whisky Bar which is also where some of the meals are served. The food here has to be experienced to be believed. No amount of superlatives do it justice. Lots of local produce imaginatively used, all cooked fresh and to order.
Malt whisky list
Belgian Beer List
Beers on tap
Draught beers from Belgium and practically anywhere else you can think of, near and far are available, along with an astounding amount of bottled beers and a whisky list that makes whisky lovers become quite emotional at the mere sight of it. Stuffed full of good food, we waddled through to the public bar and proceeded to work our way through some wonderful bottled beers whilst boring the very friendly and long suffering bar staff with “witty banter.” If you haven’t been to The Anderson, there really is no decent excuse – you should get yourselves there as soon as possible.
The next morning we reluctantly bade farewell to The Anderson and headed a few miles along the road to Cromarty Brewing Co’s bright and shiny brewery to pick up some much needed stock, including Craig Middleton’s latest collaboration beer – 2Craigs “Un Stout” Head over to Cromarty’s blog to read all the details about this new brew but the short version is, it’s a 2%abv ‘un stout’ that is packed full of hoppy flavour. We were met by Craig who showed us the most recent bits of plant he’s had installed in the brewery. The brewery is large and airy and with so much stainless steel kit in it you really need sunglasses to go in there. They’ve also got the brewery shop all sorted out now too – looking great, an alladins cave for lovers of all things Cromarty. We couldn’t help but notice that there was a conditioning tank with an AKA IPA pump clip on it. We only needed to drop single figures worth of subtle hints and Craig poured us a wee taster from it. AKA IPA has been called by some (including us) ‘possibly the best IPA in the UK’. Straight from the conditioning tank, there IS no discussion to be had. It IS the best IPA in the UK. Fact. We reluctantly left the brewery (Craig, see Jim at The Anderson about injunctions and restraining orders, he’ll sort you out.) and loaded up with some cases of Red Rocker, Happy Chappy and 2Craigs.
Photographed on top of the brewers car with the Cromarty Firth in the background. Context – we has it.
Before the police arrived We carried on from The Black Isle and stopped to do touristy things at Culloden battlefield, then doubled back a bit and called in to see Nick at The Highland Bottle Shop in Inverness. Nick has packed an awesome amount of craft beers, unique wines and small batch spirits into his shop. A couple of the beers in there were ones we’d not been able to get our sticky mitts on before so we took the chance to buy some while we were there. If you’re up that way, call in and see Nick – the shop’s impressive.
Next we headed towards Loch Ness – Drumnadrochit to be precise and The Benleva Hotel to be exact. The Benleva Hotel was, up until recently, the home of Loch Ness Brewery too. The brewery has now moved to bigger premises only a couple of hundred yards away.
The Benleva Hotel
The weather was “scorchio” when we arrived so as soon as we’d dumped our
carry-oot luggage in the room we headed outside to the beer garden. Two pints of Loch Ness were purchased and we set about getting a tan. Forty three seconds later when we had both turned from traditional Scottish pale blue, to off-white we retreated under the shade of a nearby tree and continued to enjoy our beers. We had a natter with Steve who owns The Benleva and is also a partner in the brewery. He showed us around the Loch Ness Brewery shop (which used to be the brewery) and was telling us about the new brewery when he had to dash off to administer some help to a nearby pub. He’s a busy man. Later on we were joined by George, head brewer at Loch Ness who regaled us with tales of the new beers that will be coming out of the brewery in the not too distant future and, even more entertainingly, the names for them. We finished the evening with a pint each of Ness Club Seven – their 7%abv Scotch ale. Delicious it was too “Bitterish core wrapped in alcoholic barley sugar sweetness” according to someones Untappd entry. If you’re in the area the Benleva is definitely worth a visit – good food, great beer and a warm welcome awaits.
Next morning after a cracking full Scottish breakfast (cooked by Steve, told you he was busy) we were heading home via the brewery to pick up some bottled Loch Ness stock. Allan, Steve’s brother was just home from his holidays and was straight into the brewing. Despite being busy (and probably jet lagged) he very kindly gave us the full bifter tour of the new brewery and rather impressive it is too. There were wooden barrels lurking at the back of the brewery and apparently they contain the fabled ‘Prince of Darkness’ their 10% stout, which is sitting there quietly ageing in whisky barrels – definitely something to look forward to.
After loading up the van we headed south for home, with a wee stop in by Urquhart Castle to do more touristy stuff. As we approached home we managed to arrange a dodgy rendezvous in a car park in Tarbet with the lovely Fiona of Loch Lomond Brewery fame. She very helpfully delivered a consignment of her Whisky Ale to us. This is the second time she’s done a whisky ale. Small batch, each one hand labelled and numbered. The batch last year went quickly and we’ve no reason to suppose this one will hang around for long either
Loch Lomond Whisky Ale. That’s Fathers Day sorted then.
So there you have it. Our Highland Odyssey. There is some amazing brewing being done in Scotland by some great people, some jaw dropping scenery and some of the warmest welcomes to be had. Get yourselves out there and explore it – you’ll be awfy glad you did.