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Kisses, oats and stouts

It's not too late for a Kiss this week. The word appears to be written in lipstick, above a depiction of Rodin's osculatory statue, on the label of a beer from the romantically half-timbered Harvey's brewery, of Lewes, Sussex, England. A brew is made each year for Valentine's Day. This nectar has a peachy colour, and is juicy on the tongue. The finish is bittersweet. As well as hops and barley malt, it contains oats (as in "getting your...").

Oats are consumed by horses in England -- and by people in Scotland, according the lexicographer and wit Dr Samuel Johnson. He was, of course, English. Another of Johnson's oft-quoted remarks arose from the immense popularity of Porter in the mid and late 1700s. A porter brewery was "not a parcel of boilers and vats but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice," remarked Johnson. He nursed a jealous passion for Hester Thrale, wife of a gentleman brewer. Johnson's memorably extravagant phrase was intended to help the Thrales sell their porter brewery, in Southwark, London. The brewery survived, latterly under the ownership of Courage, until the 1980s, and Russian Imperial Stout was made there.

Back to oats: in brewing, they are most typically used in stouts, to which they impart a distinctively silky character. Oatmeal Stout is an old style rediscovered. In England, it was revived by Samuel Smith's, at the request of Charles Finkel, founder of Merchant Du Vin. Charles had learned about the style (then extinct) from my 1977 "World Guide to Beer".

An early revivalist in Scotland was Broughton Oatmeal Stout. The Broughton Brewery, one of the leaders of the renaissance in Scottish brewing, was established in 1979. It is in the village of Broughton, near Biggar, close to the border with England.

A few years ago, there were only half a dozen breweries north of the border. In his new "Scottish Beer Bible" (Mercat Press, Edinburgh), Gavin Smith finds 31. Among their 150s beers, you might find a more chocolatey character in a stout called Black Galloway. It celebrates the local breed of cattle - and the county -where the newish Sulwath Brewery is to be found. Farther north, Atlas Brewing fired its kettles last weekend, in Kinlochleven, on the way to Fort William.

And again back to oats: for the creamy Sjolmet Stout, again named after a breed of cattle. This beer is from the northernmost of the British isles, Unst, in the Shetlands. Hence the Nordic-sounding name. The Valhalla Brewery was established in 1997 by Sonny Priest and and his wife Sylvia. His previous job vanished due a downswing in the oil industry. I know which liquid I prefer.

This story appeared in a shorter form in The Independent, London.

Published: FEB 19, 2002
In: The Independent

Beer Review - Beer Styles

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