|Brewers/owners Sam and Don|
I've been vaguely acquainted with Don Stewart for a number of years. We worked as part of volunteer teams at several Oregon Brewers Festivals dating back to the mid-1990s. Later, we worked for the same Vancouver company for a short time. Don was there only briefly and we mostly lost touch after he left, more than 10 years ago.
I had heard that West Highland beers have drawn mixed reviews. I'm sure that's true and I'm pretty sure I know why: They simply refuse to get caught up in the ongoing hops arms race. None of their beers are particularly beefy in terms of IBUs.
|The bittering hops|
Of course, that kind of thinking tends to cause consternation with the hophead crowd...and it's a big crowd despite the growing popularity of fruit beers, sour beers, etc. There are still a lot of people out there who want hoppy and nothing else. They probably aren't going to appreciate West Highland beers.
A good example of West Highland's approach is Mango Moon Ale, their entry at the 2013 OBF: It clocked in a 6.6% ABV and 18 IBU. Mango Moon was on my tasting list, but my notes are sketchy. My pigeon shorthand describes it as "mildly tart without much aroma and with minimal mango character." Nonetheless, this beer was named top fruit beer at the festival. So much for my scribbled thoughts..
The Porter is named for a friend and Steinbart's employee who helped Don develop the recipe. This beer doesn't have the color of a typical Porter...it's much lighter. They call it a "gateway" dark beer, and I suppose that's a good description. This is their best selling beer, likely because it appeals to a wide range of customer pallets. It tastes pretty good without being overbearing in any direction.
|The fashionable logo|
West Highland has some other beers, including a Scottish Ale I was hoping to taste. They make it solely for the Vancouver Pizza Company. It's a bigger beer and takes more time to brew, and they didn't have it to taste. Mango Moon is obviously another standard, and I would have given it another try if they hadn't been out. Sam had a decent cider on tap, but he says that's for in-house consumption only.
Thanks largely to the popular success of Mango Moon at the OBF, West Highland has been invited to the Holiday Ale Festival. Sam and Don were talking about the beer, which will likely be called Holiday Spiced Ale. Supplying kegs to festivals can be a challenge for these guys due to their limited capacity. But they made it work for the OBF and they say they can accommodate the HAF, as well.
|Gavin watches for visitors|
West Highland is essentially a step up from homebrewing. They have more capacity than most home brewers and they are developing a list of draft customers. A lot of people started out this way. If things go well, these guys will likely have a 5 bbl system in a year. There's even a chance they may bottle for retail sale in the next year or so.
For now, their beers are Vancouver only and can be found in several places, including Blind Onion Pizza, Cascade Bar and Grill, Jake's Bar & Grill, Kiggins Theater, Pizza Schmizza and Vancouver Pizza. There will surely be additional locations pouring West Highland beer soon. Interest is high.
With respect to the name, it's pretty easy to figure out if you look at their logo or visit the garage brewery. The face on the logo is a West Highland Terrier. There was a pair of Westies hanging out in the garage area while brewing operations were in progress...Gavin and Fiona. The dogs keep a watchful eye out for beer seeking interlopers.