Last week, the Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) hosted a charity beer festival. The festival featured a selection of cask-conditioned or "real" ales from a handful of Scottish breweries.
British-style real ale is probably a bit different from what you're used to. It's brewed with a limited set of natural ingredients, and no extra carbonation is added, so it is generally much flatter than the typical brew. It's also traditionally served at room temperature. If the idea of warm, flat beer doesn't sound appetizing, don't worry, it actually works--all the flavors, especially the bitterness from the hops, are rounded out a bit by serving it in such a way, and the result is subtler than most cold, bubbly beers.
If you're interested in learning more about real ale, the drink actually has a political advocacy group (only in the UK!), the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
Many of the beers on tap at the EUSA festival are also widely available in bottles in specialty shops or on tap in certain pubs, which is itself a testament to the quality of Scottish beer culture. At the festival, we focused on the stuff we'd never seen before, such as the Houston brewery's Tartan Terror, a malty dark ale, and Harviestoun's Haggis Hunter, which is super hoppy. (You'll notice we also have a soft spot for campy Scottish branding.) Here's Nana taking on the Tartan Terror.
I have to say, the beer was good, but there was nothing that could hold a candle to anything put out by my favorite Scottish brewery to date: Edinburgh's own Innis and Gunn, who age their beer in oak whiskey barrels, rum casks, and sherry casks.
You might recognize it as "That beer Justin and Nana brought home for Christmas."
On a related note: The EUSA Charity Beer Festival was sponsored by Teach First, the UK equivalent of Teach for America. Anyone else have trouble imagining an American beer festival sponsored by anyone having anything at all to do with education?
Just a reminder that, while UK alcohol laws are pretty similar to those in most of the US, UK drinking culture most decidedly is not.