Black Isle Brewery – Scotland

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It wouldn’t be a DG family adventure without us checking out the local brew scene. We discovered a stellar brewery just outside Inverness, Scotland. The Black Isle Brewery started as a Homebrew operation 20 years ago and now ships all around Europe and as far as Canada and Japan. They haven’t broken into the USA market yet, but I’m certain they will at some point. They are that good!

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In 2011 they moved to their current facility located north of Inverness and 2 years ago opened their first brewpub in the city itself.

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We visited the brewpub first for some delicious pizzas and to sample a few brews before making the 20 minute trek to the brewery the following day. At the pub, the atmosphere is light and funky, combining the classic wood and industrial look of the brew world with pops of tangerine and painted murals of the local landscape (pictured behind our sleepy kid below, ha). In addition to the food and beverages, you can also rent a room and stay for the night as you romp around the highlands or if you’ve just one too many Migrator DIPA’s to continue on.

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Having had a lovely evening the night before, we were happy to visit the brewery itself. Kate, our brew guide, met us at the door and invited us on a tour of the facility to learn about their process and their space. She was so kind to our boys and didn’t mind their silly questions and odd comments like “yum it smells like pasta!” What?! Not like this is their first brewery, ha! Boiling wort does not smell like pasta, I promise!

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We learned that they are committed to a totally organic process and grow most of their malts on the farm next to the facility. Once the mash is finished, they feed the spent grain to the black sheep in their pastures. Since Scotland is too cold to grow their own hops, they source organic hops from California and New Zealand, depending on the recipes.

I really dig their logo as well, design geek that I am. It features the flower of Scotland, the thistle, and each brew has a designated color for the bloom of the thistle. The creative behind the labels and logo is the brewer’s wife. She recently started to develop variations on the their original labels to differentiate between their flagship brews and their special ones like their barrel aged oatmeal stout and collaboration brews. Oh, and we learned that each of the brews is named after a bird in from the area too, pretty cool.

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We had the honor of interacting with the master brewer himself. He overheard us and recognized that the hubs is a true brew lover, so he stopped and chatted for a minute. He demanded that we take home two bottles of the newest brews literally fresh off the label line! He was correct in his suspicion that we love us some hops!

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Another great note about Black Isle Brewery that makes them stand out from other local UK brews are their higher ABVs (alcohol by volume). Although they do have sessions ales at about 3%-4.5%, good for a few rounds at the pub, they also have some heavy hitters at 8-10.4% (specifically of interest to my beer guy!). We found it rather interesting how low the average ABV is here, but it makes sense if you plan to be watching a rugby match for hours. Interestingly, I did recently learn from some British friends that if you go outside the main cities to the small towns, the pubs have taps with higher ABVs. It’s good to be “staggering distance” from your lodgings though!

If you’re visiting Scotland and like a well crafted, organic brew, we highly recommend tasting one of the many Black Isle ales they offer. They even have a tasty Gluten Free brew called the Gold Finch. This brewery truly was a standout for us. Try it and let us know your thoughts!

Cheers!

kdg

Follow along with our brew adventures with #dgbrewphotos on Instagram.

An Outlander’s Adventure in Scotland

“I had been in a number of cold places in my life, but there’s something remarkably penetrating about the Scottish cold.”  – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander 

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I have Irish blood, but it is paired with some tropic and humidity-loving Puerto Rican blood, so I was flipping freezing in Scotland in March! Meanwhile, my beloved husband breathed it in like the cold was refreshing his soul. The cool 40 degree temps went well with all his Scot and Viking blood. Our tiny one was with Dad on this one, he kept pointing to the snow capped mountains of the Highlands saying he wanted to go there! Apparently, his Celt blood is stronger than the few drops of islander blood in this particular case. Meanwhile, our older one was wearing layers like his momma ready to run indoors!

That said, I do love it there too. In addition to my husband’s obvious connection through his heritage (which was so fun to teach the boys about), the landscape is breathtaking and the people are down right lovely and hospitable!

This was our second trip to bonnie old Scotland. The first time was in May 2013 with just one wee laddie in tow and my brother-in-law. That was an awesome adventure and our first travel abroad experience with kids. Needless to say, we have learned a lot since, ha!

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When we arrived in Scotland from our London adventure we made Inverness our home for a few days. We particularly love the city of Inverness, which means mouth of the River Ness in Gaelic. The city is split with the River Ness running through it with multiple bridges connecting it along the way. There are several churches and steeples dotting the skyline, as well as Inverness Castle on the hill overlooking the bustle of the capital of the Highlands.

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Fun fact: Scotland is home to the largest dolphins in the world, they can grow to be as long 4M (12FT)! Inverness is located near the North Sea where these clever giants call home, so you can even take a dolphin cruise to search of them. Sadly we didn’t see any this time, but the boat ride was a fun addition to our trip and our tour guide was super informative.

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We stayed at the Westoburne Guest House overlooking the river. It was fantastic and the owners went over an beyond to take care of us. Kirsteen, one of the owners, even packed this prego a bag of her amazing homemade shortbread for the road! It is seriously the best I have ever tasted! We highly recommend the Westbourne, but wherever you stay, include visit the infamous Culloden battlefield and ancient standing stones at Clava Cairns, both of which are points of interest for fans of Outlander books and Starz series, which we are. Funnily enough, visiting these two sites began our spontaneous Outlander tour.

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Even when we visited Beauly Priory we overheard a kilted guide discussing the real dynamics between the MacKenzie and Fraser clans.

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Then on the way from Stirling (a post all it’s own) to Edinburgh, saw signs for Blackness Castle where they filmed the scenes of Ft. William, so we took the chilly detour. However, the highlight to our little tour was visiting the dilapidated Midhope Castle – the fictional home of James Fraser – Lallybroch.

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Needless to say, it was such a fun adventure finding our way into the imaginary world of Outlander and exploring the areas around the River Ness and Highlands. It was especially special to share it all with our laddies. If you plan your trip to Scotland we hope you will not miss out on these beautiful areas.

Cheers,

kdg