From the Cellar: Burns Night Edition

Today we bring you a special Scots edition of the “From the Cellar” series, in honor of the recently passed 25 January, the birthday of Robert Burns and traditional observance of Burns Night (and also the culmination of the Scottish Holiday season, which begins on St. Andrew’s Day, 30 November).

Here one sees the traditional centrepiece entree of the Burns Supper: the haggis, shown with its traditional nip of whisky, and the traditional neeps (savoury turnips). Absent are the tatties (mashed potatoes, served alongside the neeps). In the small photo to the right, one also observes the sgian dubh, or small knife that forms part of the traditional dress kilt, being used for its ideal purpose.

As circumstances did not allow a Permspicks-sponsored Burns Supper, it was nevertheless fully appropraite to mark the occasion in some manner befitting Scottish pride. Why not a Scottish beer tasting?

The Harviestoun Brewery (of Alva, Clackmannanshire, int he Southern Highlands), perhaps most famous for its Old Engine Oil and Bitter & Twisted Ale, has produced a series of whisky-barrel-aged ales called Ola Dubh (Gaelic: Black Oil), which start with an Old Engine Oil base recipe, knocked up a few notches and then aged in Highland Park (an award-winning Orkney distillery) single-malt barrels for a specified number of years (12, 16, 18, 30, and 40). It’s an Old Ale, with a decidedly Scottish twist.   The bottles are also hand-labeled and individually numbered.

A couple of years back I purchased a few bottles of varying vintages, some for cellaring and a couple for immediate sampling, including 2 of the 12-year versions. The first was tasted on the night of November 4, 2008. I held the other for 15 months in the cellar.  The tasting notes follow: the first are from the recently-purchased bottle; the second (in Italics), from the cellared version enjoyed on Burns Night 2010.

330 mL bottle, #10372, bottled September ’07. Poured into a Caracole globe.           Bottle #10374, bottled September ’07.

Appearance: Black is the color of my true love’s….beer. Very thin tan head around the edge of the glass.  5/5
2010: Even thinner head than before — but an Old Ale should be mild in the carbonation department. Still as dark (with only a hint of motor-oil brown to disrupt the black) and viscous as I remember.   5/5

Aroma: Tar, tobacco, peat, smoke, hops, strong malt, and molasses.  5/5
2010: Tons of sorghum up front. Smokiness/peat is also prevalent, whilst the hops and malt have mellowed. There’s also a nice spice note: coriander, chicory, maybe even mild clove or nutmeg. 5/5

Taste: Malt, peaty smoke, mild hops, dark chocolate, treacle (but not TOO sweet). The taste truly does flow seamlessly from the nose to the tongue. Liqueur-like, with wonderful classy-smooth whisky notes throughout. 4.5/5

2010: It has only gotten smoother and more complex.  The liqueur quality is there in terms of depth, but there is absolutely *no* alcohol burn whatsoever — it could be 6% ABV just as easily as it is 8. There is a huge dark chocolate – roasted oat presence that I find highly enjoyable. Again, the hops have faded but what is left is anything but one-dimensional malt.   5/5

Palate: Mellow, smooth, a slight alcohol tinge, thick and viscous to be sure.    5/5                                                                                                                                                        2010: Like butter, with a smart snap (is that a Scots Snap?) to remind me that it’s not butter.   5/5

Overall: Fantastic! This is a great Old Ale — a terrific sipping beer, absolutely wonderful with a Cigar (Carolina Cigar Company Red Reserve Churchill). A bit steep at $8.50 for 330 mL, but it IS a 1-time batch with each bottle numbered, after all.       4.5/5                                                                                                     2010: After cellaring for 15 months (and remembering that this was bottled two and a half years ago!) I have ZERO regret for spending $8.50 on this treasure. My only regret is not having any more of the 12 on hand to cellar for longer. It bears a 30-month cellaring experiment, methinks.   This is an absolutely perfect cellar beer.   5/5

Slàinte!

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