The Melbourne Cup paralyses workplaces for hours as the rules of the obligatory office sweepstake are endless re-litigated. Even the Olympics has an impact with otherwise diligent staff suddenly distracted by watching sports they have never heard of being contested by countries they couldn’t find on a map.

All of these events pale into insignificance with the drop in national output which occurs every Saint Patrick’s Day. Half the country appears to take the day off to discover some specious Irish ancestry and spend hours standing in queues for Guinness with food colouring in it.

I’m sure old Saint Paddy was a fine fellow and I certainly applaud his no-nonsense approach to snakes but Saint Patrick’s Day is hardly my favourite unofficial holiday. Too often, it seems to mean waiting twenty minutes for a green Guinness while helplessly watching a drunken bureaucrat sit on your lucky hat.

Personally, I would rather see Saint Andrew’s Day become a public holiday. In light of the recent election results it could easily replace Labour Day. This may have something to do with the fact that I was born in Scotland and that politically I consider Attila the Hun to be a little too liberal on law and order.

Saint Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland and his day is marked on 30th November each year but please don’t mention the rugby. To celebrate the approach of this soon-to-be public holiday, it is worth looking at a couple of Scottish beers which are conveniently available at the Malthouse.

They may even be poured by Colin the Handsome Proprietor. He is an authentic Glaswegian so be sure to keep your words small and your hands visible at all times. I’m just kidding. His English is really good these days.

Traditionally, Scottish beers were known for being dark, strong, sweet and lightly hopped. A number of beer writers have speculated that Scottish brewers were reluctant to use many hops because they had to buy them from the English. Scotland is too cold and sleety for hops to really grow well. Virtually all of these writers live south of Hadrian’s Wall which everyone knows was built by the Scots to keep out the Romans.

These days Scottish drinkers, like most people, are drinking more lager, usually from the big international brands. However, there are still breweries flying the flag in Scotland. Belhaven is perhaps the biggest and best known (though it is now owned by Greene King).

One of their trademark beers is Belhaven Wee Heavy (6.5%). Wee Heavy (which translates as “little heavy”) is a joking reference to the generally high strength of this dark Scottish beer style. It is a beer which is designed to be sipped, savoured and fully respected. This dark mahogany brew throws a healthy khaki head. The nose is malty with hints of dark fruits and nuts. A full-bodied beer, Wee Heavy is complex with lashings of fruit (plums and raisins), nuts and a little smoke.

The Belhaven website notes it is:

cracking stuff if we do say so ourselves.

I have to say that this is not a sentence I would expect to hear from the mouth of a burly Scottish brewer. It sounds more like something a bow-tie wearing advertising executive in England would type on his Blackberry while out for canapés with Tarquin.

There is a Scottish beer which bucks the dark and malty trend though. Despite lacking a history of Indian colonies (or even Indian summers), hoppy India Pale Ales are becoming more popular with Scottish brewers and consumers. Belhaven’s Twisted Thistle (5.3%) is a fine, well hopped, modern IPA. It pours a hazy copper-orange with a lovely herbal, grassy, piney nose. The body is full enough to support a bitter-dry finish. Twisted Thistle uses plenty of Cascade and Challenger hops which provide a fresh hop aroma and lingering finish.

That tea-sipping Blackberry user assures potential drinkers that they should not think

that Belhaven’s Twisted Thistle has anything jaggy, spikey, prickly or otherwise pain-inflicting in its nature.

What a relief I’m sure.

Twisted Thistle is actually a superb beer. It is the perfect pint to enjoy after defending your “wee bit of hill and glen.”


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine