I went through a Circle Master phase a couple of years ago, but I'm now overdue trying the other Wychwood beers. So I have Fiddler's Elbow in front of me now, the only wheat-brewed ale I've ever come across. The result of such unorthodoxy is a curious bitter, hoppy, tangy ale with a smooth round aftertaste. While marketed as a summer ale, this is rich enough to satisfy all year round.
The St. Peter's brewery in Suffolk presents two opening gimmicks to the punter: an 18th century-style high-shouldered bottle and a hefty (€4 here) price tag.
Their Old-Style Porter is a blend of new and old ale, quite light in colour. With most craft-brewed porters one expects a significant sharpness, but this is totally smooth. Not that it's creamy or in any way bland -- far from it. This is rich and flavoursome with a distinct chocolate kick to it. More than anything it reminds me of the chocolate ale made by Speight's in New Zealand (review here). Textbook delicious.
St. Peter's also make an Organic Ale, though with this one it's harder to see where your €4 goes. In general, I've been a bit disappointed with organic beer: brewers seem content with their Soil Association certificate as a selling point rather than putting the graft into the flavour. The St. Peter's organic is a light amber colour and tastes tangy and mildly bitter. It's decent, and stands up as a good English light ale, but it lacks the depth, richness and warmth required for promotion to the premier league.
Dark beer, it seems, is where St. Peter's excels. They also make a Cream Stout, which I haven't been able to find on sale, but you'll be the first to know when I do.
Sapporo make an "all malt" beer called Yebisu, which I hadn't noticed before. It's a crisp light-gold lager, very fizzy at first, settling to a gentle sparkle. It's not as full-flavoured as one might expect with all that malt (there is hops and some barley too), but it's a lot tastier than just about any far-eastern lager I've encountered yet. There's a zesty fruitiness about it, with hints of banana, tempered by bitter hops. A complex light beer, all in all -- something of an oddity, that.
From Edinburgh comes Innis & Gunn, an exclusive-looking amber ale in a 33cl bottle. The unique selling point here is that it's aged for 77 days in whisky barrels which gives it a distinct oaky flavour as well as a scotch malt bitterness. This makes for a heady mix of strong flavours which I found a little overpowering, though there is a refreshing lightness at the back of the taste to stop it from taking over the palate entirely. Nevertheless, 33cl is enough of this one.
Of course, the Scots like their lager too, and the Harviestoun brewery make a fantastic one called Schiehallion. This beer has been very precisely crafted to just the right level of dryness and bitterness. There's a grainy complexity in the flavour too, making for a perfectly balanced lager. The same brewery make Bitter & Twisted which has a sharply bitter hops taste up front but again this is fine-tuned to keep it on the good side of tasty. The flavour is also tempered with a gentle lemony fruitness. Both of these Harviestoun beers are finely honed and plainly the work of people who know exactly what they're doing.
No run-down of Scottish beer would be complete without a return to an old favourite - Fraoch heather beer. There's really nothing else out there like this ale made from real heather. It's as easy to drink as any light ale or lager, but has an immesely complicated taste that defies description. Just try it.