I'll first start off by saying that I don't know much about beer nor pretend to. But, I guess because I'm a white person, I've always been interested in the process, craft and story behind small breweries. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a burgeoning brewery in Scotland - The Black Isle Brewing Co. - and see the process from hops to glass. So, here goes my first post about beer...
The Black Isle Brewery is located in an unassuming locale - close to Inverness and off the winding side roads and sheep-dotted fields of the A9. The Brewery itself is a small operation, marked only by the empty kegs in front of a processing barn and an adjacent gift shop where tours of the facility begin. The tour, lead by a cute, enthusiastic gray-haired woman lasted only about 20 minutes and took us through the grain and hop store, where the malt is mashed, the boiling and hopping station, the fermentation and conditioning tanks, and the sealing and packaging room. Our guide told us that in addition to kegs for local bars - including nearby Hootananny, which in itself is an experience (award-winning Thai food and traditional Scottish music mixed with every stereotype of a pub) - 10,000 bottles of Black Isle beer are shipped out every week, bottled, sealed and labeled by only three individuals. It's an unfathomable yet impressive number when you see the size of the space.
Since its creation in 1998, Black Isle and its founder and managing director David Gladwin maintain sustainability as a cornerstone philosophy. All of the barley and hops are sourced from organic operations, primarily from the U.S. and Germany. Any waste - from hops or malt - are used as compost or animal feed for nearby farms. So, even more reason to drink!
Click here to check out Black Isle's range of beers. (I tried three different kinds in the taste-test at the end of the tour - Organic Blonde, Organic Yellowhammer and Organic Red Kite, the first beer made by the Brewery. At the pub, I ordered the Organic Red Kite. I can't really articulate why I liked this one the best, because, again, I know nothing about beer, but I just liked it.)
Maybe, even in the case of small breweries, it's that pastoral image of a small producer toiling away to perfect his or her craft that makes us want to root for them and see them succeed. Yet, the Black Isle Brewery doesn't need my praise - or that of the two friends, whom I'm traveling with and who do drink beer and thought it was excellent - to do so. It's won accolades from the Soil Assocation in the Organic Food Awards 2008 and 2010 and won the Society of Independent Brewers' Champion Beer of Scotland 2009.
Black Isle is also in the process of completing a larger processing facility to keep up with demand, but in a controlled manner to maintain the quality and preserve what makes it popular among its loyal customers. The older facility will be used to make ginger beer, and perhaps, become a more appropriate facility for families.
Our tour guide also mentioned that the Brewery is in the process of finding a distributor in the U.S., so you may soon have a chance to taste Black Isle wares. But, if you ever do find yourself in Scotland, I recommend visiting The Black Isle Brewing Co. and see where it all began.
**The Black Isle Brewery: Old Allangrange, Munlochy, Ross-shire, Scotland. Tours: Monday-Saturday (10-6 - all year); Sunday (11:30-5 - April to September, inclusive)