Belhaven Brewery is situated on the shores of the Firth of Forth at the small harbour of the same name in the Royal Burgh of Dunbar – about 30 miles east of Edinburgh. The brewery was founded by Benedictine monks around 1415 and the present brewery was built in 1719. It is one of the oldest in Britain.
For many years Belhaven also acted as a maltings: germinating and kilning the barley that is widely grown in East Lothian and the Borders and supplying not only its own brewery but also whisky distilleries. Two malting kilns from 1719 are still standing.
They brew a wide range of ales but the one I’m reviewing here is Belhaven 70/-.
What is Seventy Shillings (70/-)?
The term ‘shillings’ (a shilling was a pre-decimal coin in Britain: 20/- = 1) was used to describe the duty paid on a hogshead barrel of ale – the higher the number, the higher the alcohol content.
Seventy shillings could probably best be compared to an English Pale Ale, except…..
Traditionally, Scottish beers are sweeter than their English counterparts, due to the higher quantity of malt. English beers lean more towards the dryness and bitterness of the hops. It may be that because of the cooler climate, Scots prefer a more substantial and sustaining beer, or maybe we have better taste. Who can say?
The most likely explanation is that because Scotland grows a great deal of malting barley, but has to import hops as it is a long way from the hop growing regions, it is a simple matter of economics.
Beers like this date back to the days when the drinking water was far from safe, never mind palatable, and a low alcohol, table beer would be drunk instead.
So it’s like an English pale Ale but less bitter and more sweet, with an alcohol content of 3.2%-3.9%.
The beer pours to an amber, almost dark brown colour with a light tan, creamy head that is long-lasting and laces the glass well. The most dominant aroma is, as you would expect, from the malt – with a hefty, roasted tone and a little caramel, with just a faint touch of chocolate. It has a smoky, nutty quality but there is very little aroma from the hops.
Medium bodied, it has a creamy mouthfeel with a low level of carbonation. As with the aroma, malt dominates the flavour but with just enough bitterness from the hops to prevent it being cloyingly sweet. There’s a very light chocolate profile and again some caramel with the faintest hint of pineapple lurking in the shadows.
At 3.5% ABV, this is a fine example of a Scottish ‘Heavy’. The low alcohol content makes this an excellent session beer as does the low carbonation. It’s a beer designed for quenching the thirst of the miners, shipbuilders and steel-workers of industrial Scotland. Of course this should have made it obsolete long ago, but luckily, toiling in heavy industry is not a prerequisite for drinking beer. These days, even IT consultants and call-centre staff can wash away the dust of their labours with a pint of seventy bob.