Sandwiched in between the Cairngorms and the city of Aberdeen lies Royal Deeside, home to Balmoral Castle and some of the most stunningly beautiful countryside in the British Isles. It was here in 2005 that the Deeside Brewery was established and they recently got in touch to see if I'd like to try their range of ales and lagers.
I dive straight in to the bottle of LAF a steam beer inspired by the warm fermented lagers that originated during the California gold rush. I have a minor personal issue with the way the word Californian has been used on the label, the word 'style' should probably be squeezed onto the bottle somewhere for clarity. It's vibrant gold in colour and the nose gives very little away, just a touch of the cereal like malt character which follows through in the taste. It's rounded and full bodied in the mouth which is true to the style. There are hints of honey sweetness and grassy bitterness and the dominant flavour is like chewing crushed barley. It's well made and I like it.
I then move on to Swift an American influenced pale ale. There is a hint of grapefruit aroma coming from the pleasantly hued amber liquid. One worry is that the head dissipates quickly taking with the last shreds of that aroma. That cereal like character is on the palate again with a little bit of pithy citrus but not nearly enough for it to be true to style. I find it a little ordinary and worry that it will struggle against other beers in this class.
Macbeth is a by the numbers Scotch ale. It pours a pleasing shade of copper but again like the Swift it fails to produce a head. As a result there's not much of an aroma but the taste is nice enough. It reminds me of those chewy, teeth-rotting bars of highland toffee I used to buy from the school tuck shop with my pocket money. The tiniest hint of bitterness helps dry out that sweetness but it's lacking any real depth of character. I imagine it would be more enjoyable if served from a well looked after cask.
The final 500ml bottle in the case contains Talorcan, a milk stout. It's a nice deep brown but once again it fails to retain its head making it look like a glass of flat Coca-Cola. It does at least manage to produce an aroma reminiscent of ground coffee and milk chocolate. The taste is initially offset by a harsh carbonation which improves as it warms up but eventually it loses all carbonation as a result of me trying to get the temperature up. There are notes of chocolate and coffee with a lactic element adding a creaminess but it just feels like its lacking a little something. Again, as with the Macbeth I conclude that this beer would fare better on cask.
There is one more beer in the range, Craft Brewed Lager which comes in a 330ml bottle no doubt to appeal to the casual lager drinker. Quite why this bottle insists that its craft brewed while the others don't is beyond me but I try not to let it bother me and merrily plod on. This one pours a shade of pale straw with a pleasingly fluffy white head. There are hints of cut grass on the nose along with that cereal quality which I've decided I like quite a lot. This is much more like it, crackers, lemon pith and a dry, grassy bitterness make this a well rounded and drinkable beer. It's my favourite of the bunch with the LAF steam beer a close second.
Despite obvious issues with conditioning causing a few of these beers to lose their heads they do for the most part seem pretty well made. However there's very little between them. They're all quite samey, there's less than a 0.8% difference between the ABV's of all five beers and the dominant flavours are very similar. For me they just don't do enough to stand out and while I imagine they'll sell through in the immediately local area they will struggle further afield. Still, there's a couple of decent beers in this bunch that I'd happily drink again if I saw them but I probably wouldn't go out of my way to seek them out.
Although I was sent these samples for free I don't think that influenced my opinion of them. Original photography by Dianne Tanner.