In my circle of friends I am known as “The Beer Guy.” Before I earned that loving moniker I was known as “The Whisky Guy.”1 I have a long running adoration with whisky and more precisely single malt scotch. I love whisky from every region in Scotland but for some reason one distillery in the Orkney Islands has always stood out for me. Highland Park.
Just saying the words makes my mouth water. The deliciously rich, slightly smokey and easy to drink elixir has always been my whisky of choice.
So imagine my surprise when I open my box of beers to review this month to find a bottle of Ola Dubh 16. A beer that was aged in the very casks that once held my beloved Highland Park!
Ola Dubh is a beer that I have seen a few times at various bottle shops over the years but never had a chance to try. If I had any idea of the casks that were used to age the beer I would have picked up a bottle years ago. Ola Dubh 2 is brewed in Alva Scotland by the Harviestoun Brewery. Ola Dubh starts out as a beefed-up version of the brewery’s porter, Old Engine Oil.3 It is brewed to 10.5 percent ABV and then allowed to rest in freshly emptied casks that held Highland Park Scotch for 16 years. After six long months the barrels are emptied and blended with a small amount of fresh beer which brings the bottled ABV down to a very manageable 8 percent.
As I crack open the bottle the cap comes off with virtually no pop and I begin to fill my glass. The beer pours jet black and only when held to the light does it turn to a deep dark brown. It has a small amount of light tan head that quickly dissipates to a halo of bubbles around the glass. I raise the glass to take a whiff and am met with a very familiar smell: Scotch whisky. I quickly head over to the liquor cabinet and pull out a bottle of Highland Park for comparison. Low and behold the smell of Highland Park is well represented in the pour. There is a big peat smoke character that immediately puts a smile on my face. For anyone who doesn’t drink single malt scotch and has no idea what peat smoke smells or tastes like it is very hard do describe exactly. I recently heard someone refer to the peat smoke taste as smokey band aid. As gross as that sounds it is pretty close.4 After the initial peat smoke I get a good amount of charred wood, roasty malts, toffee and a touch of raisins or prune.
I take my first sip and the smokey scotch flavor that I was hoping for is immediately delivered. It comes along with a heavy char flavor that almost comes off as ashy at first until my palette adjusts. I also get a good amount of dark unsweetened bakers chocolate, oak, toffee, vanilla and the dark fruits. As I take a few more sips I start to pick up more of a sweeter note that reminds me a bit of the smell of boiling wort on brew day. The finish comes with another big blast of smokey scotch but also a noticeable bitterness that lingers. The bitterness distracts from what would be a quite enjoyable peaty finish.