Saturday, April 17, 2010

Beer, Please Meet Scotch

My loyal readers will know my affinity for a good beer. I also love a good scotch. What do do when you love both? Never fear!

Big beers are often aged in liquor barrels, especially bourbon. On occasion you can get a good beer aged in scotch barrels and Harviestoun Ola Dubh is one of those beers. It's a Scottish beer whose name means engine oil, and truth be told it kind of looks like engine oil!

Scotch is aged for various time periods in barrels to give them a distinctive flavour. The longer you age them, the smoother they get.... also the more expensive they get! Ola Dubh is aged in Highland Park scotch barrels which offers their product aged for 12 years, 16 years, 18 years, 30 years, and 40 years. I've had the pleasure of drinking the 12 year old Highland Park but the 40 year version is about 1,000 Euros a bottle so I don't imagine I'll be drinking that any time in the near future!

But I can afford to try the beers that are aged in Highland Park barrels. Ola Dubh is unique in that Harviestoun has aged the beer in each of the different Highland Park barrels, 12-40. I've had the pleasure of having the Ola Dubh 30 before on-tap and the other night I dug into the cellar to drink a bottle of the Ola Dubh 12 and the Ola Dubh 40 side by side. Drinking them beside each other allows me to see how the time in the different barrels has changed them in unique ways because the base beer is the same in both cases.

As you can see, they're pretty spiffy looking bottles. When a beer is aged in whiskey or bourbon barrels they pick up the characteristics of the liquor and the barrel; the longer they sit in there the more of the characteristics they pick up.

From what I remember of the Highland Park scotch, it has some very distinct peat and smoke flavors. When I crack the Ola Dubh 40 and 12 this is confirmed - smoke and peat. Here are my tasting notes from the Ola Dubh 40:

Pours a jet black almost opaque, just a glimmer of brown around the rim when held to the light. A finger of khaki head builds up on the pour and settles to a collar with a few swirling patches of bubbles.

Nose is much more subdued than the 12, earthier with a hint of peat and much smokier. Roasty malt, a hint of dark baker's chocolate, wood, a good dose of scotch.

Such a smooth sipper. Silky presence of the barrel - oaky wood with a hint of ash, vanilla, a touch of peat, smoke. All beside a nice roasty malt base, dark chocolate, a touch of bready malt, raisins, a hint of dark fruits, just a faint hint of alcohol and a light warming in the finish. Silky smooth, creamy mouthfeel; not overly full or robust but perfect for 8%, scary drinkable.

As you can tell from the picture, they look quite similar in the glass. The Ola Dubh 12 is a little fruitier in the nose, much less creamy in the mouthfeel, and a little less integrated. Using the Highland Park 40 year barrels has made the peat and the smoke more prevalent in the beer and had more of a mellowing effect: mellower scotch = mellower beer.

The Ola Dubh 40 is much pricier (aged in pricier whiskey barrels) but it's significantly superior in my mind. Can't decide between scotch or beer tonight? Ola Dubh should make that decision a little easier.



I had no clue you liked Scotch as well. When I went to Belfast about a month ago, we went on a tour to the north coast, where we went to the oldest Irish or Northern Irish whiskey distillery, and tried some. It was pretty dece. Wait, is Scotch the same as Whiskey? Right now, I'm really packed for space, but maybe I could pick up a nice bottle of that instead of beer for you?

Eric said...

Scotch is indeed a type of whiskey, like Irish whiskey (Bushmills) or Canadian whiskey (Crown Royal).

You know you don't need to bring anything home with you for me but I'm not going to fight if you insist on bringing something, especially if it's one of Scotland's finest :)