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Are You Tasting the Pith? - 26th September 04

Traquair House The Lairds Liquor, 6% abv

I'm guessing that this is a new (rather than a seasonal) brew, as there is no mention of it on their website, and a welcome addition to the range it is too. While their beers are all superb, I've often struggled to get through a whole 50cl bottle of their wonderful 'standard' beer, Bear Ale. It's so chock-full of malty goodness that I find myself flagging after about two thirds of a pint. It's a victim of its own complexity, although I know others who swear by it. Perhaps I'm finally slowing down?

However, The Lairds Liquor is an excellent stepping stone between Bear Ale and the full-on House and Jacobite ales. Bottling in a 33cl bottle is a great idea for this beer, as while it isn't overly strong, it is very full-bodied and needs to be enjoyed in small quantities. The classic complex Traquair aroma is there (heavy, smoky, oaky, hints of cream sherry), augmented with a rummy, barley-twist, cough candy note. On the palate, these themes carry through and amplify, with additional notes of liquorice, fruit cake, and a hint of bitter orange marmalade. the finish is predictably long and complex, with all of the above notes resurfacing at some point.

Catherine Maxwell Stuart, we salute you.

Durham Decade, 10% abv

The tenth anniversary ale from this excellent microbrewery was always going to be something special. Their beers are uncompromising in their quality, reflected in their purchase prices - they are about 1 more expensive than any other beers stocked at the shop, starting at about 2.50, and going up to 3.75 for the beer reviewed here. But, as is usually the case, you get what you pay for. Oh golly yes.

Describing itself as a barley wine, this attractive pale coppery-gold ale pours with a fat head that disperses fairly quickly. The riot of smells coming from it hints at the strength; lots of acetaldehyde (sherry), rummy cough sweet, spices (fairly Christmassy), and a mouthwatering peach/apricot smell. On the tongue, the beer is very slightly viscous, but surprisingly easy to drink. This beer seems to have many characteristics of every beer that I love; soft fruitiness, hints of spice, malt and hops, all harmonising in a way that is almost impossible to describe (which makes for a dull article). The soft, sweet, warmth of the beer reminds me of a cold winter evening in front of a smoky wood fire, sucking cherry sweets, with the smell of silage in the background.

Better than the best Trappist ale, deep, complex, profoundly sensual, like a good Burgundy. Needs to be tried to be believed.

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