FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK :: The Road from Edinburgh to Highway 78 Scotch Ale

by Harvey Gold on February 26, 2011

Big Noise in the Craft world…San Diego area powerhouses Stone Brewing, Green Flash and Pizza Port Carlsbad collaborated on Highway 78, an outstanding 8.8% ABV Scotch Ale. Priced at $3.99 for a 12 oz. bottle at my grocery store, and defining it as a Scottish Heavy, called for an extra-righteous examination.

Rich Hall

I believe I’ve written before about my first love, Caledonian Heavy. I was introduced to it back in 1990 while shooting with Rich Hall for The Comedy Channel (I’ll bet no one remembers THAT!) at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Rich had somehow convinced the network that he needed to do an episode or three of his series “Onion World” (the name of the show based on the premise that absolutely every industry has a trade magazine) in Scotland, taking his Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist’s dummy, Seamus, if I recall correctly, on a journey to trace his family history; again, to be clear, the dummy’s family history. As the closest person to a star on the fledgling network, the powers that be said “Yes.” Yay for us!!

Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle

In Edinburgh, we covered a lot of events at the Fringe, which was just marvelous in every respect. Crazy music, comedy, theater, art, the historic Military Tattoo up at Edinburgh Castle…we also hiked our gear to the top of Arthur’s Seat to shoot a band called The Liberties. Not so easy for me—at the time a 2 pack a day smoker—but I still found it awesome.

Arthur's Seat

We then traveled north all the way to Aberdeen visiting, en route, Loch Ness, Pennan (where they filmed much of “Local Hero”), and Dunoon for the Highland Games, where we were not invited to participate in the Tug–o-War OR the Pole Toss.

Pennan, Scotland

While In Edinburgh, we’d often just walk around—Rich, a couple writer/ producers from his show, a production manager named Millie, who was great, by taking care of us all and in accepting her role as den mother, and the three of us on the crew—always with camera and sound gear ready to rock. It was fun, and more often than one might expect, funny. Whatever struck any of us at any given moment could lead to almost anything, and during the Fringe…anything goes!

For example, on more than a couple occasions, Rich would walk up to an apartment building and hit all of the buzzers. When someone would finally call down to inquire who it was, Rich would tell them that he was from America with HBO (HBO Downtown Productions was the production house of record) and wanted to know what was for dinner. We’d shoot Rich, talking to a building, record the absurd conversation and move on.

This style of this highly unstructured improvisational approach to comedy led us, at least 3 or 4 times a day, to a moment when someone on the crew would break the confused silence and head scratching with “Ah…let’s have a pint,” and everyone would chime in, “Ay, let’s have a pint!” with varying degrees of Scottish accents. For my part, by the time we finished the couple weeks in the country, I was told I, myself, had developed a passable Irish accent.

Up ’til then, I had been a Guinness and Bass man, and to be honest—while to this day, I love both—really didn’t drink much of them at the time!

Figuring, however, “while in Rome” on our first day in Scotland, I asked someone what would be the closest thing at the bar to a Bass, and it led me to try a Caledonian Heavy. All I knew was what I was told, and I was told that Heavy is what their British counterparts drank as Bitters. Well it was August, I was dragging around a Beta SP video recorder and a backpack with batteries, sound gear and tape stock all day, so I was ready! From the first sip I loved this stuff. I ordered it every time we stopped at a pub, had a pint with lunch, dinner…this was my drink of choice.

As we traveled out of Edinburgh, it wasn’t long before I discovered Caledonian was a regional brewery, and once we traveled a bit east and north, I never saw it again. Having to properly drown my sorrows over the loss of my new-found friend, ultimately, led to the great blessing of meeting my next BFF, Single Malt Scotch, so ever since, all has been well with the world, starting with my first sip of a Scottish Heavy.

An interesting side note is that, unacknowledged by me (though it’s on the YBN drive), Dave wrote his own review of Highway 78, so as our “righteous” coverage, I’m just going to give my impressions here. With the bonus of Dave’s more concise review on our Facebook page.

Something felt right as I poured Highway 78 into the glass, the color, a nice caramel. There were a lot of cooking smells in the kitchen at the time of the pour and I never found the nose. The flavor was smooth, a nice moderate weight for this ABV, and overall a malty, ever-so-slightly sweet, thirst quenching beverage. As it warmed a little, we noticed a real creamy feel to the mouth, and yet just a little later, a subtle and lovely flavor of what I once read somebody describe as “milk chocolate.” Now, that finally makes sense to me, given a very light chocolate note, lacking the usual attendant bitterness, merging with the creamy, lightly sweet beverage. Delicious.

Tighnabruaich, Scotland

Was it like the Caledonian? Don’t have any idea, it had been so very long. But what I now know is that this guy is batting 1000 with Heavies. Highway 78 gets a big recommendation, as do all roads leading to Tighnabruaich.

 

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