Traquair is one of those comparatively ancient breweries that seem to get overlooked by modern American beer geeks. But the brewers there have chosen to do one thing and do it exceptionally well: brew Scottish ales.
Traquair is the oldest continuously occupied castle in the British Isles. Although beer has not been brewed there for that entire time, the castle had a house ale centuries ago. According to importer Merchant du Vin, the brewery remained idle for 200 years until the “original 18th century recipe was discovered by Peter Maxwell Stuart, 20th Laird of Traquair, in the mid 1960’s.” Stuart restored the brewery and put Traquair on the modern beer map.
Amazingly, this world-famous brewery only produces between 600 and 700 barrels of beer each year. To put that in context, local brewery Good People produced about double that last year, in the neighborhood of 1,200 barrels. The Brewers Association defines any brewery that produces under 15,000 barrels a year as a “microbrewery.” Boston Beer (Samuel Adams) brewed 1.36 million barrels in 2009. Anheuser Busch brews well over 100 million barrels every year.
In spite of their shockingly tiny annual production, Traquair ales are available in several countries and many different states here in the United States. That geographical spread is possible because only small quantities are sent to each area. And they are only sold in singles of 11.2 oz bottles—no six packs or even four packs.
And not surprisingly, their beer is quite expensive, but it nicely illustrates the adage, “You get what you pay for.” High-quality local ingredients are used, and every batch undergoes primary fermentation in oak barrels, an exceptionally rare practice.
Although Traquair House Ale is their most popular brew, I’d like to focus on the unusual Traquair Jacobite, the only Scottish-style ale I know of that is brewed with coriander.
You’re probably familiar with the flavor of coriander in beer from encounters with a very popular style of beer, Belgian witbier. Hoegaarden was the original witbier, and just about any bar or restaurant that has anything beyond domestic lagers now carries an Americanized wit, Blue Moon. The signature flavor of those beers comes from the addition of coriander and orange peel during the brewing process.
It never would have occurred to me to take some of that spicy, citrus character of a witbier and lay it on top of a malt bomb like Traquair House Ale, but I’m glad it occurred to someone. The underlying flavor in Jacobite features some molasses, caramel, nuttiness and hints of peat smoke, but dominating in the foreground is a light, citrusy coriander spiciness. It’s like two beers in one, and I’ve never tasted anything else quite like it.
The maltiness of the beer is the perfect pairing for a steak, while the coriander is the perfect complement to a salad of field greens with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. So grill up a steak, slice it, and enjoy it atop a salad with this beer on the side.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com