Beer Reviews Belhaven Burns Ale

BELHAVEN brewery is situated on the shores of the Firth of Forth in the Royal Burgh of Dunbar – about 30 miles east of Edinburgh. The brewery was founded by Benedictine monks around 1415 when – after being given land there, they found the water to be excellent for brewing beer.

The present brewery was built in 1719, and is one of the oldest in Britain. One family owned the brewery for more than 250 years. In the Seventies the business was sold to pub and hotel interests and was then owned by a succession of colourful ‘Characters’ until recently when it was the subject of a management buy-out.

For many years Belhaven also acted as a maltings: germinating and kilning the barley that is widely grown in East Lothian and the Borders and supplying not only its own brewery but also whisky distilleries. Two malting kilns from 1719 are still standing.

Burns ale pours clear and clean, to a light brown colour with hints of amber and lots of tiny bubbles rising to a light tan, big foamy head – which is long-lasting and leaves a nice lace effect on the glass. The aromas – peaty and woody with some citrus notes and a strong sweet chocolate maltiness – are very strong. There’s a musky, yeasty, bready aroma and something else that I just could not place. I asked Mrs P what she thought it smelled like and she said, “Beer.” Thanks a bunch.

It’s full bodied with good carbonation but without a hint of gassiness. On taking a sip my first thought was….WOW! It’s as luxurious as dark, Belgian chocolate and very malty. Rich and sweet, without being sickly, it’s like a liquid gateau. There is only the merest hint of floral hop flavour here. It’s an unusual ale, with bitter-sweet overtones and an earthy, woody quality in its palate. Dark? Woody? Chocolate? Gateau? – Less of a beer, more of a schwarzwaldkirschkuchen….without the cherries!

At 4.2% ABV, this one is as a smooth as velvet and literally slides down. It’s not too strong, so you can afford to sink a few before you start talking utter nonsense. It is utterly delicious. The perfect food to accompany this ale would be the traditional Burn’s Supper of haggis, neeps and tatties. Mince pies, bridies or stovies would suffice. Or why not knock yourself out,? Try it with a mealy puddin’. All the epicurean delicacies of Caledonia would surely complement this brew.