Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16 Special Reserve

Being a whisky fan as well as a lover of scottish beer (of which there are increasingly more and more good examples of) this jumped out when I heard it was appearing – a Harviestoun beer matured in casks that had previously held Highland Park whisky. The SMWS got a few bottles in for general consumption, as I missed out on a ticket for their tasting, but they only had the “basic” Special Reserve 12, matured in casks that had held 12 year old whisky. Finally, after hints of the existence of the older casked beers (and an offer to negotiate for the sale of a couple of bottles from one of the lovely barmen at The Draft House) I found some at Utobeer this weekend and grabbed one – the Harviestoun Old Dubh 16 Special Reserve:

Ola Dubh

I may have grinned a lot on the way home as I’d picked it up for only £4, a chunk less than I thought I’d pay for the most exclusive of their releases, and managed to hold off on its sampling for a couple of days. The beer that they mature in the barrels is similar to the Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (Ola Dubh is allegedly scots for Black Oil), a thick black beer that lives up to its name, and it comes out the other end of the process with a definite change. There’s not the big I WAS MATURED IN A WHISKY BARREL kick that you get from Innis & Gunn, but there is definitely a sweetening influence over the flavour of the Old Engine Oil.

The beer is thick and dark with a malty sweetness and slight smokiness. It’s strong, at 8%, but doesn’t taste it, slipping down worryingly easy, but it has that strong bottled beer catch at the back of your throat. The head in the picture is a bit deceptive as the beer is only slightly fizzy, with a stout like bubble, and quite silky in the mouth. Overall though it doesn’t do much more than the 12 year cask matured version, which from memory I think tasted very much like this. It’s quite a tasty beer, but not one that I’d go out of my way for over the 12 year or a regular Old Engine Oil.

However, on checking the round-the-bottle-neck booklet it seems that my guesses on the editions of the beer were wrong – they offer a 12, 16 and 18 (although the website suggests the 18 has been discontinued in favour of a 30, which has been added to the watchlist). The omission of the 14 fooled me into thinking I had the highest cask age beer, but it seems that there is at least one further for me to find. Never mind, it’s quite an enjoyable search.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16 Special Reserve
Dark ale matured in Highland Park whisky casks. 8%
Limited availability. I got mine at Utobeer in Borough Market

Cantillon Gueuze

I seem to have a habit of being introduced to beers by other people and this one is no different – Cantillon Gueuze.

Cantillon Gueuze

I had a large bottle of this brought back for me by former flatmates (and now landlords…) Dave’n’Let, who listed the brewery tour and Gueuze museum as one of the highlights of their relatively highlight free weekend break to Brussels. Despite not being the biggest of beer drinkers pretty much every one of the good things about their holiday involved beer in some way, which has moved Brussels slightly further up my ‘European Cities To Visit’ list.

Cantillon is a spontaneously fermented beer, as proper Lambics are, meaning that instead of using a nice yeast culture it just sits around in vats waiting to be infected by the wild yeasts of the area. The gueuze is made up of a blend of beers of various ages, combined and then left for a secondary fermentation in the bottle, giving quite a different taste.

Flavourwise it is sour. Very sour. The trademark of gueuzes is this citrusy sourness and this is an excellent example. It’s almost entirely unlike what you generally think of as a beer flavour, with a strong lemony citrus and no sweetness at all, but there is a hint of the white beer floweriness behind it all, reminding you that it really is a beer. It’s not as dry as some gueuzes I’ve had and while not sweet it does have lots of fruit, with lemon, sour orange and grapes all in the mix. It’s still my favourite gueuze and while there are less extreme examples that might be better to start on, it’s a good one for those wanting to see what gueuze is about.

Cantillon Gueuze
From Brussels, Belgium. 5%
Limited availability as the brewery is quite small – this one came from Utobeer in Borough Market

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier

There are certain beers that I have quite serious troubles describing. “It’s like a regular Fuller’s beer but with porridge in” (Fuller’s Red Fox), “It’s like a glass of really hard water, Soda Streamed with the finest bubbles ever created and then magically turned into a lightly flavoured lager” (Kasteel Cru), “It’s like someone has shoved a spike up your arse, tied your lips together and then punched you in the stomach” (Dogfish Head 120minute IPA), “It’s like someone has dipped an apron string in some shit and drawn it across the back of your tongue” (A pint of very off £1 a pint beer at a Wetherspoons in Hexham) – these are beers I have successfully described, to some extent. However, I still have troubles with this one – Schlenkerla Rauchbier:

Schlenkerla Rauchbier

As with many of the random mainland European beers that I’ve tried, I first found this at a beer festival, with it being jammed into my hands by a very enthusiastic chap at the Ealing Beer on Broadway festival a few years back. I’d heard of rauchbier from some of my more continentally versed compatriots and was keen to try the mystical ‘bacon beer’ that they described.

The beer is brewed in Bamberg in Germany by the Brauerei Heller, although my looking online suggests that most people simply refer to them as the Schlenkerla brewery after their brewpub in the centre of town. The beer’s distinctly smoky flavour comes from the smoked malt, dried over open fires burning beech logs. They have three varieties of smoked beer, also serving a weizen and a bock, as well as an unsmoked helles (which I tried by accident this year at the GBBF – it was rather nice, with a hint of smokiness to it that Wikipedia informs me is due to the brewing process happening in a building surrounded by smoky malt), although the Aecht Rauchbier is the only one that I’ve found in the UK with any regularity. The smoking of the malt used to be a side-effect of the drying process, before kiln drying took over in those places where drying the malt in the sun was not quite as regularly possible as needed, and Bamberg is one of the last places that use the flavour as the distinguishing mark of the local beers.

Flavour-wise it’s quite an eye opener – a dark, lightly carbonated beer that is quickly overwhelmed by flavours of woodsmoke. The smokiness lingers and tends, in my opinion, more to the sweet end of things with hints of sweetcorn in addition to smoked ham and maltiness. It’s definitely more savoury over all, but with a vanilla edge at the back of the tongue. The thing that surprises me most is its lightness – while it’s not a crisp lightly flavoured drink, it’s definitely lighter than the heavily smoked smell and flavour at first suggest. It reminds me of the crispness of Asahi Black and some of the flavour of Budvar Dark with a can of corn (drained) blended in. I suspect that with its strong flavour but lightness it’d compliment food well, adding a distinct extra element to similar flavours in stews and casseroles heavy enough to battle the smokiness. Just the sort of thing they serve in The Schlenkerla in Bamberg…

I found it on tap at this year’s GBBF, after my accidental grabbing of the Helles, and while it wasn’t poured from an oak barrel as it is in Bamberg it was fantastic – less fizzy and thus with a slightly thicker and heavier taste. Both my drinking buddy and his dad took home beermats with my drunkenly scrawled “Schlenkerla” on, promising that it was on their list of things to keep in the fridge. It’s most definitely not for everyone and not one for all night (unless you’re in Bamberg), but as an occasional treat it’s filling, tasty and strangely moreish.

Aecht Shlenkerla Rauchbier
Smoked beer from Bamberg. 5.1%
Available from specialist beer shops and some branches of Tesco – list available on their website
I got mine from Utobeer in Borough Market

Blaggers’ Banquet – The Drinks

Blaggers' Banquet

I’ve already written about the inaugural Blaggers’ Banquet over on my other blog, but as I was a barman I thought I’d post something here about the cocktails we banged out during the evening.

Firstly, due to the donation of a case of Sipsmith Vodka and Gin, we acquired a bottle of vermouth (later complimented by the bottle on the bar at Hawksmoor when we ran out), some lemons and olives, and made Martinis. All the bar staff had, as is tradition, a different idea of what made a good Martini, and after some customer interaction most people seemed to slide under the table, pleased.

Gin/Vodka and tonic doesn’t really count as cocktails in my head (along with ‘Screwdrivers’ – just because you give it a fancy name doesn’t jazz up the fact that it’s vodka and orange) but as we were using Fever Tree tonic they were slightly different to normal. I’m a big fan of tonic water – I’ve got 3 litres of it in the fridge at the moment, the only carbonated drink therein, and I drink it on its own, untouched by alcoholic beverage. When I’m not drinking booze when out, tonic or orange and tonic is my drink of choice, and for years the only one I’ve been able to drink is Schweppes. I think it must be baked bean syndrome – if it’s not Heinz then they don’t taste right – as while I rather liked Fever Tree it wasn’t Right. Schweppes made be full of aspartame (a substance that makes me feel ill in any other drink than tonic or, randomly, Lilt Zero) but it has a certain bite to it that was softened out in the Fever Tree tonic, relegating it to a worthy second place in my heathen brain. It did make an excellent gin and tonic though, especially when combined with my OCD wiping of lime on the glass and other ritualistic G&T construction. A special thanks goes to @degs123, who later in the evening announced to all and sundry that I made the best gin and tonic in the world. Even when we ran out of gin and switched over to vodka…

Next up were our three cocktails:


Picture by Mark of FoodByMark

Cornish ‘Champagne’ Cocktail

What:
1 cube sugar
1 teaspoon of quince liqueur
1 glass of Chapel Down sparkling british wine

How:
Combine in the order above. Serve. Simple…

I didn’t get a chance to try one of these, but having tasted the ingredients separately (including popping a sugar cube) I’m suspecting they combined together to form a very sweet Kir Royale. I don’t really drink fizzy wine (formerly due to it giving me headaches, these days due to me being an unappreciative heathen who it’s wasted on) but the few people who braved the cornishness seemed pleased.

Black Velvet

What:
1/2 a glass of Chapel Down sparkling British wine
1/2 a glass of Curious Brew Admiral Porter

How:
Combine, trying not to make it explode everywhere. Wine then porter should help, if the porter’s cold, but it generally exploded everywhere.

A take on the Guinness and champagne black velvet and another I didn’t get a chance to try. I did manage to blag a few bottles of the porter on the way out and it was a rather nice dark malty porter that I think would have gone well with the wine. However, it was very lively and if it’s not very chilled then there is distinct potential for porter detonation, as happened to me as I cracked a bottle on the way home after the banquet.


Photo by Carmen Valino

Blagger-tini

What:
2 shots Chegworth Valley Apple and Raspberry juice
2 shots vodka
1 shot Galliano Balsamico
Lemon wedge and basil to garnish

How:
Put ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake. Strain into a champagne coupe (or whatever vaguely fancy glass you can find in the fridge of the nice bar who are hosting you), garnish with basil and a lemon slice.

Invented just before the doors opened by Mel Seasons, this was the success of the night, polishing off the whole bottle of Galliano Balsamico (which was weird but nice and blagged by Huw Gott, Hawksmoor bossman. There may be some more up for grabs in the auctions soon…) and most of the vodka. It took several iterations to iron out the alcoholic punch to the face (ably assisted by official drink guinea pig and 1/2 of the music for the night, Julian of Georgia Wonder) and in the end it was an interestingly sweet and savoury drink, nicely complimented by the flavours of the garnish.

Anyways, the Blaggers’ Banquet fund raising machine continues, adding to the nice pot already netted for Action Against Hunger, with a set of eBay auctions for some more blagged stuff. There may be some booze appearing on there, depending on eBay rules and whether we had anything auctionable left, but as of now there’s tea at the Ritz, a visit from a chocolate van and a REALLY BIG PIE amongst other things. Bid on the shiny, you know you want to.

The bar team were me, Mel Seasons, Dan, Ben Bush, Tim Hayward and Elly