In late April of this year Mike Hyatt, who farms Baleveolan Croft on The Isle of Lismore, contacted me asking if I knew of anyone malting grain on a small-scale in Scotland. Mike, like many crofters, is patiently waiting for our small-scale de-huller to be developed; once it has been built, the crofters can bring their grain from field to human consumption. However, when making beer, the hull of the grain is required to stay on. The hulls form a filter in the grain bed which allows the brewer to filter off their sweet wort from the solid grain bed, so a de-huller is not needed.
Mike’s Oats being harvested by sythe
The Crafty Maltsters in Fife have a five-tonne system, which is still too large for Mike’s croft-scale needs; as such, I suggested that my brewing club, Scottish Craft Brewers (SCB) could run a brewing trial using Mike’s oats raw, rather than malted.
The use of oats in beer is seeing a renewed interest. This is partly because of the hazy appearance oats give to New England IPA (NEIPA), which has been growing in popularity. NEIPA is a style of beer that uses large hop additions but they are added at the end of, or after the boil. Instead of adding bitterness which is achieved through boiling hops, the late additions add aroma and fruity flavours to the beer. Oats are one of the best additions to achieve this haze. However, whether they should be raw, malted, or rolled has been the subject of many an argument on brewing forums since the creation of this style. Examples of using oats in any form for brewing can be found online including many award-winning recipes.
Oats are not limited to NEIPAs. They have historically been used in Oatmeal Stouts to add a silky mouthfeel and a head that doesn’t dissipate until your glass is empty. A stout is a clever recipe to use oats in as you do not notice a haze in a black beer, but with the growing popularity of NEIPAs, customers seem to be less interested in a crystal clear pint, and more concerned with distinctive characteristics and flavours.
Milling the oats for brewing, hulls and all
In the middle of May, we launched the Oat-So-Simple brewing trial. Fifteen places were made available for members of SCB to receive 2kg of Mike’s oats; they would then brew a beer with a minimum of 10% raw oats in the recipe. The beers could be of any style, or non-style. Judging and tasting was planned to take place in the middle of August. Each brewer would score every beer but their own, and prizes would be awarded for the top three. Two brewers noticed a loophole in the rules and brewed two beers each, so we ended up with a total of seventeen beers from fifteen brewers. It was agreed that the brewers would give Mike four bottles from each brew in return for the oats.
Ride Brewing in Glasgow kindly offered not only to host our tasting event, but also for the winner to be able to brew their recipe commercially on their system. With much enthusiasm, as the tasting was the first time SCB had met up in person since the start of the pandemic, we brought our beers to Ride Brewing on August 14th.
The beers entered were:
|Oat Milk Stout||Milk Stout||4.1%|
|Kveik NZ Pale||New Zeeland Pale Ale||4.7%|
|Oaty Shilling||80 Shilling||4.8%|
|Saison Du Oat||Saison||5.8%|
|Cranachan Pale Ale||Fruit Beer / Pale Ale||6.5%|
|An Pech||Belgian Golden Strong Ale||7.5%|
|Oat Trial DIPA||Double IPA||8.4%|
|Post Workout Smoothie||(Raspberry) Imperial Stout||8.9%|
|Avena Sativa||Imperial Stout||11.6%|
We worked through the beers from lowest ABV to strongest, awarding points for aroma, appearance, flavour, mouthfeel and overall impression.
I was overjoyed to win bronze for my An Pech, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, brewed in the style of Belgian breweries in The Ardennes, with a floral yeast profile and coriander seed. Silver went to the Cranachan Pale Ale, a beer inspired by the Scottish dessert of the same name. It was packed full of Scottish raspberries, a hint of Oban whisky and used lactose to emulate the cream usually found in this oat-based dessert. Gold was awarded to the Hop Juice, NEIPA. Crammed full of Amarillo, Citra, Mosaic, Centennial and El-Dorado hops with a smooth mouthfeel, it was a real crowd pleaser!
Cranachan Pale Ale
Honourable mentions go to the Witbier which came fourth and scored highest overall in the flavour section. The Post Workout Smoothie Raspberry Imperial Stout which scored highest in mouthfeel and the Kottbusser for introducing the club to a now extinct historical beer style from Germany. All the beers were of a very high quality; even the lowest scoring entries were of a higher standard than many commercial beers of the same style.
A Happy Mike taking four of each brew back to Lismore
In 2022 The Seed Sovereignty Programme will be connecting more small-scale agro-ecological grain growers with brewing clubs throughout the UK & Ireland for more exciting brewing trials. What innovative ways modern brewers might come up with to use Scottish heritage bere barley, or Welsh black oats remains to be seen.
Richie Walsh is the Scotland Coordinator for The Seed Sovereignty Programme and member of Scottish Craft Brewers. He can be contacted at Richie@gaianet.org