New Scottish Beer: The Island Bere

Fabulous beer called “Island Bere” launched last night at the Stromness Hotel in Orkney. So good, in fact, that i had to go all the way home to get my wife. Lucky that we live only a few doors down.


This is Debbie and I congratulating Sonny Priest, the brewmaster from Valhalla Brewery in Shetland Islands. His “Island Bere” is a fantastic brew made from the ancient bere barley from Orkney – it taste like a cross between an IPA and an Irish Red. The bere barley has a high nitrogen content so the alcohol level is slighter lower than other beers but the hoppy flavour and reddish buttery taste more than make up for it. It is made with Cascade hops at the start and Fogels at the finish. The end result is stunning and a compliment to Orkney. It ranks up there with the great Scottish beers. Well done!


The idea of using the ancient Orkney bere stems from from Peter Martin (top photo – center back, with striped jumper), Senior Researcher at Orkney’s Agronomy Institute. I asked him about the monastic beers in Orkney but neither of us are sure whether the monks would have used bere in the beer [no pun intended] but we both suspect they did, since it was the main barley back then. Thank God for the monks. “In fact, for nearly two centuries, monasteries across Scotland were almost solely responsible for the production of beer.” Scottish Pubs

BTW – I am thinking of brewing a heather ale, a beer that has been traditionally brewed by Celtic monks, and before them, the Picts. Actually, there is evidence in the Scotish Islands of heather ale from 2000BC.


Some Scottish beers of note:

Michael Jackson tells a good yarn about heather ale

More recent history of Scottish ales and their unusual categories.

– Scottish beers are tasted and tested at the Opinionated Beer Page.The “Old Engine Oil Reserve” looks interesting and is aged in whiskey barrels.

The Grozet, or beer made from gooseberries, was another beer made by monks in the 17th Century. Mike Miliard dates it back to the 1500’s.

– There is a Kelpie seaweed ale that has a chocolate taste.

The Orkney Brewery and Highland Brewing Co are the big ones in Orkney. The latter is preferred by locals.


And lest you assume that all Scots are beer connoisseurs, the favourite beer up here in Orkney is the horrible Tennents which doesnt even deserve a hyperlink.

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Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Josh Frank says:

    Andrew – thanks for the write-up! I’m sure this brew won’t be availabe in the States anytime soon, but it has inspired me to inquire about Scottish ales at our next pub night. I’ve started a “beer diary” since a few of us from our small community started a regular night for conversation at the local Irish pub; now I just need to learn more so that my descriptions makes sense!

  • robbymac says:

    Tastes like a combination of IPA and Irish Red, eh?
    Now I have yet another solid reason to visit Scotland, or as my mother calls it, “the Old Country”!

  • andrew says:

    hey robby mac
    i noticed you made it into the technorati top 20 blogs for emerging church
    i visited your blog today

  • robbymac says:

    Me? Top 20?
    “Somebody must’ve told them about my little manouvre at the Battle of Tanab…”
    Oops, sorry. Been watching Return of the Jedi again.
    Thanks for the heads-up, and feel free to leave a comment when you drop by! Always good to hear from you.

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