During my stay in Nairn I did manage to visit a couple of the breweries in the lovely Black Isle, just to the north of Inverness. Due to circumstances beyond my control I couldn't stay at either of these for any length of time, so instead of my normal 'somewhat-detailed-enthusiastic-amateur' (aka beer-geek) descriptions I'm mostly just going to add a few captions to the photos I took.
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There were great views of the far end of the Black Isle from the beach at Nairn, especially at sunset. There are a lot of possible origins of the Black Isle name but one could be how the peninsula looks from across the Moray Firth at sunset.
The Black Isle Brewery is well sign-posted from the A9 after the Kessock Bridge. It's part of a working organic farm, with the new purpose-built brewery building coming on-line in 2010 at a cost of over £1Million.
The shop is well stocked both with standard and more niche Black Isle beers and there's also non-alcohol related goods such as soaps, jars of honey and other organic produce.
The short brewery tour is done by the one of the staff members who helps out in the shop (Christine, I think) and by waiting 10 minutes or so I managed to get a 'personal' tour - hooray! The new brewkit is a 30BBL plant and can operate 7 days a week to produce 210BBL of conditioned beer (that's definitely a lot!). This is the Mash Tun.
The direct-fired Copper.
As expected there are a lot of Fermenters & Conditioning Tanks.
A lot of their beer is bottled for the supermarkets and as such they have installed an in-house 12-head Bottling Line.
The old 5BBL brew-kit is used in the kegging process (I think).
Most of the Black Isle beers are pretty good, with some (Porter, Goldeneye Pale) being excellent, but since I'd had all of their core beers before this was an golden opportunity to purchase the full set of their limited edition Back Run beers direct from the shop. The original Back Run was an Imperial Stout with a very piney, almost miso-like aftertaste, these limited edition Black Run beers were aged in various casks over a number of months. The Tomatin Sherry Butt Edition tasted of very sweet sherry trifle, lots of bitter chocolate but I could still pick up some slight miso. The Tomatin Whisky Cask Edition was more sweet chocolate & coffee, but this was balanced by masses of whisky and worked quite well. However I think I preferred the Tomatin Bourbon Cask Edition with lots of chocolate upfront, then masses of sweet bourbon - it was very smooth with a nice nice alcohol heat finish.
After a quick lunch in Fortrose I then headed up the road towards the town of Cromarty. Just off the main road at the small collection of houses/farms at Davidston is Cromarty Brewing. There's a recently opened brewery shop/reception at the front full of bottles, T-shirts etc... but there was nobody manning the place today (they must be a trusting bunch up here !).
I could see the brewer/owner Craig Middleton completely immersed in the brewing process in the rear of the building. A sign instructed me to shout, so I waited until Craig was almost off this ladder, did so, and I think almost gave him a heart-attack.
The brewery has only been operating since December 2011 but I think it's safe to say that Craig makes some of the best beers in Scotland (Cromarty AKA IPA was my Beer of 2012) - they are incredibly flavoursome (some can be quite intense), but they are all still amazingly well-balanced and just always in such great condition (they are consistently great, which makes such a difference). Craig was good enough to very quickly show me around the custom made American 16BBL brewplant, steam-fired copper, lots of fermenters & conditioning tanks and the more manually intensive bottling machine. It's maybe not quite on the same size as the Black Isle Brewery (yet!) but at a total cost of approx. £200K (£130K from a rural priority grant and a £70K loan) it's quite an investment for Craig and his family.
There was also a large maturation tank on the other side of the brewery. Maturing in there today was the latest variation of Craig's wheat beer, this time KiWheat. It wasn't quite 100% but Craig was good enough to give me a taste straight out of the tank and lovely stuff it was indeed, a great kiwi sourness and a good wheat texture. Craig cleaned the tap & the handle of the tank straight away, minimising the chance of any possible infection - it's maybe this attention to detail that helps make the beers so consistently good.
Almost all of the Cromarty KiWheat was kegged, with the majority of this going to the BrewDog pubs (he has a really good business relationship with them and only has to deliver along the A96 to Ellon). However I did manage to try an 'unmarked' bottle of this a month or so after my visit (many thanks to the AleselA people). The Kiwi aroma was certainly still there, with a lovely kiwi & gooseberry tart taste, a nice texture and a bitter kiwi after-taste. More of this please Craig !