Just to the west of Baltasound is Britain's most northerly brewery, Valhalla. It was set up by husband and wife team Sonny & Sylvia Priest, and started brewing in December 1997. The name comes from the hall of the Norse God Odin. The sagas said that it was to Valhalla that slain Viking warriors were carried, before being revived by a horn full of ale.
Valhalla is equipped with a four and a half barrel brew plant and there can be up to three brews each week at times of high demand. The brewery is compact, and as a result it is possible to gain a good impression of the various stages in the process.
What is most impressive is the sense of a real craft operation. There is very little automation, and even the bottling, though now benefitting from investment in new machinery, is still done two bottles at a time: and then each bottle is manually capped.
Valhalla produces cask conditioned ales that find their way to mainland Scotland and beyond, but their bottled products remain hard to come by beyond Shetland. Another reasons to ensure you've a box or two in the boot before departing Unst.
Some of Valhalla's ales:
Auld Rock: Named from the title fondly given to Shetland by expatriate Shetlanders, it brings you a taste of the beautiful Shetland Isles and their clean, sparkling environment. Auld Rock was the first ale brewed by Valhalla Brewery. With an ABV of 4.5% it is full-bodied, dark Scottish-style ale, with a well balanced malt and hop nose, leading to a clean and smooth finish.
White Wife: The White Wife is a ghost of an old woman who appears in vehicles, usually driven by lone males, on a lonely stretch of road just three miles from the brewery. White Wife is available with an ABV of 3.8% in cask form and 4.5% in bottles. It is a light golden clean session ale, with a dry, refreshing, bitterness and a characteristically fruity aftertaste.
Simmer Dim: Its name comes from the Shetland dialect term for the beautiful twilight time at midsummer when the sun sets, only to rise again just minutes later. Simmer Dim was launched in April 2000, at the annual Shetland Folk Festival and temporarily named "Festival 2000" for that event. It has an ABV of 4.0% and is a light golden bitter.
Sjolmet Stout: The Sjolmet was a breed of Shetland cattle that had a strong dark body and light coloured head. The breed has died out, but the name lives on in the latest ale to be launched by Valhalla, a full bodied stout (with a strong dark body and light coloured head!) with an ABV of 5.0%.