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Hophead: Belhaven Ales Prove You Don't Need Whiskey To Toast Robert Burns

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O gude ale comes and gude ale goes;
Gude ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon-
Gude ale keeps my heart aboon!
-- Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose birthday is toasted annually on or around January 25

With Burns Night coming up, what better time to try a few pints of Scottish ale? Sure, you'll probably want to have a glass of Scotch or two with which to toast the 18th Century Scottish poet. But why not chase it with a wee heavy (strong Scottish ale) or some other offering from his homeland? Especially if you're going to try haggis--in which case, you'll need all the booze you can get your hands on.

Last week I picked up three Belhaven brews from a new Applejack's location on Oak Lawn Avenue, which recently replaced the Majestic store at that location. Though the prices varied by 30 or 40 cents, each of the three 16.9 oz. (500 ml) bottles was around $4--and well worth it.

Belhaven Wee Heavy
"Wee heavy" is another term for Scotch Ale, a strong, sweet ale created through a longer wort boil which leads to caramelization. Belhaven's is an outstanding example. It poured a pretty amber-red color (despite the hideous rodent-like creature on the bottle) with a puffy but not too persistent head of foam. The aroma was all sweet malt, with some smoky, roasty characteristics. The taste is heavenly, dominated by the sweet but not syrupy caramel and toffee maltiness with some slight yeasty alcohol warmth. Soft floral hops appear on the finish, but the aftertaste is mostly the malt sweetness. It's far more assertive than I expected from Belhaven, as my only previous experience with the brewery was a six-pack or two of its thinner Scottish Ale, more of an everyday beer than a special-occasion ale. But this is a fantastic winter warmer. Well worth the price.

Twisted Thistle IPA
After pouring a hazy orange-copper color, the very fragrant floral hop bouquet was a strong indicator that this might be closer to the in-your-face hoppiness of a U.S. IPA than a more subdued British version. Actually, with a generous but not overpowering application of Challenger and cascade hops, this one splits the difference--perfectly. It has a lovely fresh taste, far more balanced between toasty sweet malts and citrus hops than an American IPA hop bomb. It has bite but won't blow out your taste buds, and the creamy texture is lovely. The clerk at Applejack called it his favorite IPA. It might be too early to say it's mine as well after just one, but it's certainly in the running.

Scottish Stout
After one sip, I'm gonna say that Belhaven has gone three for three with the pints I bought. Black with glints of ruby-cola when held to light, it pours a thick mocha head. It's a very balanced blend of roasted malts offering a nice chocolate taste without the bitterness of dark chocolate. It's a bit sweet with a slightly dry finish that lets the memory of the outstanding stout linger. And it's extraordinarily smooth for a stout, especially a moderately alcoholic (7 percent ABV) one. As with the other two I tried, it is highly recommended.

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