Love and Hops with Marc Wisdom: Highland Edition

January 27, 2011 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Generally, when you see a grown man wearing a skirt a number of questions come to mind. You might wonder why, you might wonder if the loony bin had an escape, you might wonder where he got his shoes. But, over the next few weeks, you might also wonder whether northeast Florida is being invaded by the Scots. Because the skirt you are likely to see men wearing over the next few weeks aren't skirts at all, but kilts. Yes, the Highland Games are coming at the end of February and kilts are the thing to wear. But, this year a new event has been added, the Scottish & Import Beer Festival. To be held at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium, Friday, January 28, the event will highlight Scottish brews and is sponsored by Highland Brewing Company of North Carolina.

The games are an annual event involving feats of strength and skill. But, tossing telephone poles and huge granite stones is thirsty work. The Scots, being the resourceful souls they are, worked that out thousands of years ago. They have a long tradition of brewing thirst-quenching beverages that handle that job admirably. In fact, the Scots have one of the most ancient brewing histories on the planet. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of ales having been brewed over 5,000 years ago in Scotland by the Celts. Later, breweries began to spring up in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Scottish brews were traditionally maltier than other beers and brewed with bittering herbs to flavor and preserve the beer. This led to a widespread belief that beers in Scotland used fewer hops than in England. Evidence shows, however, that Scottish brewers used hops as extensively as other brewers and imported them from around the world. Regardless, here in the United States, beer that is low in alcohol and hops is often called Scottish Ale.

By now, you are probably wondering if I am going to give you a few beer recommendations. Well, the answer is most definitely, yes. Here are just a few for you to look for.

•   Belhaven Brewery was established in 1719 is known for its outstanding Scottish ale.
•   Wellpark Brewery founded in 1740 produces Tennents Lager and Tennents Super.
•   Traquair House Brewery operates out of a castle once occupied by Mary Queen of Scots and is known for its Traquair House Ale.

Oscar Wong knows a thing or two about Scottish Ales. As founder, owner, and chief cleanup guy, at the Highland Brewing Company, he has been brewing beer since a custodian in the engineering lab during grad school showed him how. Wong and several of his friends brewed beer until they graduated. Then, for 26 years he set brewing aside to work as an engineer and raise a family.

In 1994, after having sold his design firm, Wong met up with an award winning brewer in need of assistance to get a brewery off the ground..  With the encouragement of his wife he dove back into the world of brewing on a much larger scale. They decided on the brewery name as a nod to the original Scot-Irish settlers of the region.

Originally, the concept was to put together a small local brewery in the tradition of the small breweries that dot European communities. But, economy of scale and increasing demand quickly made it clear that production would have to be ramped up. At the end of 2010, Highland had sold over18,000 barrels of beer, which is roughly equivalent to 4.5 million pints of beer.

Highland adheres to classic brewing methods and follows the German purity laws for many of their beers, departing from them only recently in their Winter Ale. True to Scottish form, Highland’s beers tend to be maltier than most beers. This calls for more grain per batch.

They currently produce five regular styles of beer available year-round: Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter, St. Terese’s Pale Ale, Kashmir IPA, and Black Mocha Stout. Highland also produces five seasonal beers which change from time to time. Currently they producing: Cold Mountain Winter Ale, Seven Sisters Abbey Style Ale, Little Spring Ale, Cattail Peak Wheat Beer, and Clawhammer Oktoberfest Lager.

As a relative new-comer to the Jacksonville market, Wong saw the Highland games as a logical choice for his company to sponsor for obvious reasons.

“The opportunity to have people taste our beers is what we wish,” Wong said. “Then they can make up their own minds on whether they will buy it in the future. The beer has to stand on its own.”

Other brewers who will be participating in the Scottish & Import Beer Festival include: Guinness, Newcastle, Sam Smith, and Belekus. Tickets are $10 in advance from the Highland games website (, $15 at the door, and $25 for VIP that grants you access to the venue an hour and a half before general admission ticket-holders.

So, break out your kilt, fire up the bagpipes, and head out to the Festival Friday night. While your there be sure to stop at the Highland Brewery booth and sample some of their brews. And for Pete’s sake, don’t ask what’s under the kilt.

Long live the brewers!