Secret Drinker reviews the Black Isle Bar in Inverness
This is the third story on the hostelries of Inverness and soon I will go a little further afield into the Highland heartland but one thing is becoming clear – I need to find one that I don’t like.
On that note, I may not be the best person to assess the Black Isle Bar in Church Street because I am not a huge fan of craft beer – if only they could get the headache out of their pints.
But of all the craft breweries in all the world, I think I like Black Isle Brewery (which runs Black Isle Bar) and the Cairngorm Brewery the most. Sadly the demise of the main city-based outlet for Cairngorm Brewery closed last year.
The Rose Street Foundry was undoubtedly a victim of the pandemic – it opened in March 2020 – and was always popular, good food, good atmosphere, tons of space and really sound people behind the bar.
But now the Black Isle Bar is the main game in town for those who like their beers a little more crafty, or possibly who like the great terrace upstairs, or possibly those who love the pizza – or all three simultaneously.
Is there a better terrace or beer garden right slap bang in the city centre? One that is both sheltered and enjoyable? Is there a nicer way to spend a lazy afternoon than with a pint in the sunshine with one of their delicious pizzas?
If there is a better one, then I would be extremely grateful for this intelligence (maybe MacGregor's or Castle Tavern are contenders) – I can keep secrets, and that secret is safe with me – and I promise not to spoil it by taking a lot of roasters there to foul up the scene.
So what are the options, let’s start with the bad news first.
Mother’s ruin is there in abundance and so are the malts but like MacGregor’s there is very little in the way of choice when it comes to blends, which as I have argued before is mortal sin.
People who insist on malt whisky seem to me to have discovered whisky about two years ago and I fear that they drink it as much to say they have drunk it rather than recognising the quality when they have it.
In any other establishment this would require me to mark the Black Isle Bar down and in fairness I have to do so here – there is simply no need not to have a well-stocked bar, particularly when everything else the brewery does is gold.
The saving grace? Which brewery believes so passionately in their ecological mission that they bring out a special brew in partnership with a German eco-search engine (you search, they get money for trees) in honour of a book that helped change how we think about the planet.
That was Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring and we covered the launch at the time but little did I know that the beer would not just be good but it is by a distance my favourite, except the Porter.
Knowing your money is going local, providing reliable employment, to a brewery that is seriously dedicated to its mission of being green does help – until you discover that when you want a short you are deep into malt land.
A colleague, compadre, partner in crime recently descended on the Black Isle Bar and we chose, because we are unbelievably foolish, to start on the Glenfarclas 105.
For the uninitiated, it is 60 per cent alcohol and it was not cheap but it is a prince of drinks – hard men have wept bitter tears over the Glenfarclas 105, asking why is it so strong, and delicious? And we persisted.
I washed it down with the lovely Porter. I failed to eat pizza. By the morning I too would have wept but I was so dehydrated that there was nothing to weep with.
Of course the Black Isle Brewery is all about the beer and it is divided into Black Isle Keg, Guest Keg and Black Isle Cask.
For me a stand out is the Scotch Ale whose flavours it is said resembles a "liquid fruit cake with a malty foundation and a rich spice finish. A blinding pairing with roast lamb."
They add it is "equally good with a dram of Glenmorangie Lasanta".
Sticking with the local brewed gear, the cider is excellent but as is always the case with cider you can only have so much of it.
Treehouse Pale Ale is what I referred to earlier and is brewed in "collaboration with Ecosia, the search engine that has planted over 170 million trees worldwide".
It states that "by choosing Treehouse Pale Ale, you're not only enjoying a delicious beer but also supporting a great cause. Half of the profits from sales of Treehouse will be donated to Ecosia’s community-led biodiversity projects worldwide."
I have no dissent from that statement at all.
There are at least 15 other beers from the Black Isle to choose from and usually around five or six as part of the guest keg to choose from and I can't cover them all.
Basically it is the second best authentic Italian pizza in Inverness. If you don't like it then you don't like authentic Italian pizza. Full stop.
The worst thing about the terrace is that it makes the attractively laid out downstairs bar feel cramped, airless and terribly noisy. There is a charm to being upstairs in the open air, beer nearby, less queues and pizza to the tables. Basically it just has an atmosphere.
It is between £5 and £6 for most of their pints for almost everything.
The whisky was another matter, tragically. We were close to £20 for a round of two Glenfarclas and one pint.
One or two mild reservations but the simple fact is that it does wonders for the Inverness night-life.
Its food is great, its beer is first class and the upstairs terrace is one of the best places to meet friends.