Full Fathom Five

Richard Croasdale visits local heroes Tempest, to sample this month’s coffee and vanilla brown ale straight from the tank

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The Scottish Borders is broad strip of countryside between the big cities of the central belt to the north and England to the south. It too often gets passed through, or generally passed over, and is occasionally even the butt of some unfair jokes about its inhabitants’ supposed predilection for farm animals and close relatives. As usual with these things, nothing could be further from the truth; the whole area is full of beautiful, historic towns playing host to some great tourist attractions, culture and sport (see box out).

It’s also home to Tempest Brewing Co, located in scenic Tweedbank, an hour outside Edinburgh on the newly-reopened Borders railway. Tempest’s beers have become a familiar sight in the capital’s pubs and bottleshops, and its annual Oktoberfest party is a true staple in the Scottish beery calendar. Its core range – which includes Long White Cloud and Pale Armadillo – is uniformly excellent, the kind of beers you greet like an old friend when you see them on tap. There’s also a rotating series of special and seasonal brews, which seem to get more inventive with each passing year.

When we heard the beer going into this month’s Beer52 box – a coffee and vanilla porter – was in the tank and ready to be bottled, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to hop on the train to taste it fresh and grab some samples for the team. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with head brewer Doug Rowe, who works alongside co-founder Gavin Meiklejohn and technical brewer Andy Hodgson, balancing their increasing production volume against the innovation which keeps fans interested.

Doug has been with Tempest since 2014, having completed his masters degree in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt university (like so many of his peers). He plays a key role in developing new beers and keeping the brewery on top of its game in terms of new processes, techniques and ideas.

It’s always great to taste our upcoming beers fresh from the tank and, although it is of course poured at 0 degrees, a quick warming with the hands swiftly opens it up, revealing soft vanilla and coffee; not roasty bitterness, but a savoury, nutty rounded quality.

“We let the beer sit on whole coffee beans for 10 days after fermentation, a lot like you’d do with dry hopping,” explains Dougie. “The coffee itself comes from a local roaster called Three Hills, who picked out something especially for us. The main ways we infuse flavour are by putting the ingredient directly into the kettle, or putting it in the tank after fermentation. The thing about putting it in the tank is you’ve got alcohol in there, which gives you more extraction, even at 4.8%. Then you just give it time.”

“A brown ale is similar to a porter, but with less roasted malts – black malt, chocolate malt, that kind of thing – so the idea with the coffee was to complement that slightly light malt profile. We didn’t want the coffee character to dominate, especially in a 4.8% beer – it needed to be balanced. We also put in some lactose to round out the mouthfeel. I’m really pleased with how it’s come out.”

It’s shaping up to be an exciting 2019 for Tempest, following a couple of years of really impressive growth, with a couple of high-profile collaborations on the cards, and a possible move to a new brewery site with a dedicated taproom. Needless to say, we intend to check in on the team’s progress as frequently as our livers allow.

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