Harviestoun Ola Dubh – #EBBC13

I’ve written a little bit about Harviestoun, and specifically their whisky cask aged Ola Dubh, before, but as head brewer Stuart Cail presented a session covering the beer in much more detail at The European Beer Bloggers Conference it seemed rude not to follow up my previous post with some information from the source. With cask ageing very much now in evidence across many of the young craft breweries, it’s interesting to see what a more traditional brewer has done with the idea, and the impact that they’ve had across the British brewing scene.

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Beery Gujarati Supperclub at DR.iNK of Fulham

I’ve often lamented the lack of good beer shops in London. I’ve not done any research to see if there actually are any other than Utobeer in Borough Market, but that’s never stopped me having a good lament. I do like lamenting. Anyways, while wandering around Whisky Live London I bumped into drinky PR queen Su-Lin Ong who, on discovering that my booze related obsession was not confined to the realms of whisky, invited me along to a supperclub at Fulham Palace Road beer specialist DR.iNK. As she’d just helped me blag my way onto the The Glenlivet balcony for a taste of the 1964 vintage (the most expensive whisky I have ever tried) it would have been rude to say no.

Opening May 2010, DR.iNK, generally referred to using the more sensible name Drink of Fulham, is run by Shrila Amin and was set up with the help of her cousin Jayesh Patel of Westholme Stores in Oxfordshire – a Londis that has rather expanded on its usual corner-shop remit into being a rather well stocked beer shop. Along with the walls full of beer Shrila and her sisters sell a variety of homemade food, cooked to Gujarati recipes. The Gujarat is a western Indian state to the north of Mumbai with lots of good growing territory and the food from the region continues that theme with lots of vegetarian recipes. However, it seems that there’s not much of a tradition of being chefs and as such we don’t get much in the way of Gujarati food turning up in restaurants over here.

One of Shrila’s most recent ideas is to put on a supperclub in her flat above the shop, combining her family’s cooking with beer from downstairs to put on a beer tasting with matched food. Helping her with the beer selection and presentation for the evenings is Alex Barlow of All Beer, master brewer, writer, brewing consultant and self proclaimed beer missionary. Their plan for the evening was for us to try five Gujarati dishes, all vegetarian (although Shrila herself is not veggie and the curry paste that she sells at DR.iNK goes well with meat), each with a pair of beers to compare, and then another couple of beers to bookend the food. Shrila’s sisters manned the kitchen while 16 of us sat around in the front room, a mix of locals, Shrila’s friends, Alex’s family, and a few beer loving bloggery types.

Mort Subite GueuzeThe first beer of the night was Mort Subite Gueuze, brewed in the village of Kobbegem near Brussels. It, as with all gueuze, is a lambic beer, meaning that rather than being fermented using an added yeast it instead relies on spontaneous fermentation, using the wild yeasts that hang around in the brewery. This leads to a much longer fermentation time than usual, around 18 months in the case of Mort Subite, rather than a matter of days or weeks for british ales. This initial fermentation doesn’t convert all of the sugars to alcohol and after the beer is aged various vintages are blended together and bottled for a second fermentation. The resulting beer is sweet and sour, with different varieties varying between those two extremes. The Mort Subite is a very approachable gueuze, much less scary than the super-sour Cantillon that I rather like. On the nose it has a strong cidery smell – real cider, not the Strongbows of this world, with sweet apple, mulchy apple skin and a hint of farmyard – along with a slab of rich malt. To taste it was, as expected, sweet and sour and very cidery – a medium scrumpy. This was chosen to go first as it’s a good palate cleanser – it has no bitterness and served cold some of the sweetness is cut out making it very refreshing.

The first pair of beers were chosen to accompany Dahi Puri – a puri (a crispy poppadomy case) filled with red chick peas, a variety of chutneys and some yoghurt. They reminded me, in a good way, of very high class nachos – crunchiness mixed with creamy yoghurt, beany chickpeas and a sweet, spicy chutney, with all the flavours coming out individually and working well together.

Freedom PilsnerBeer number one was Freedom Pilsner. The brewery started off in Fulham, down the road from DR.iNK, and after expanding into a couple of brewpubs (including one opposite Belgo in Covent Garden that I used to frequent) they shut up shop in London and moved to Staffordshire. This beer was the only lager we were to try all night – while some of the others were lager-y this is the only true lager (lager being the german for ‘to store’), matured after a 10-14 day fermentation for 4 weeks before bottling. On the nose there was grain, grass and a (contradictory) dry sweetness. After Alex pointed it out, as is often the way, I picked up a pile of vegetable notes, with cabbage and cooked onions. To taste it was lightly carbonated and very dry with a lightly savoury hop. It picked up the grainy notes on the nose but kept the sweetness under control – light and refreshing. It worked well with the puri, with the food bringing out more sweetness from the beer and more bitterness, enhancing the flavours and complimenting each other.

Früh KölschAlong with that we had Früh Kölsch. Kölsch is a style of beer from Cologne (aka Köln to the people who live there) with a PDO. It’s light and often taken to be a lager, but it uses an ale yeast so strictly speaking isn’t one. The Brauhaus Früh is in the middle of Cologne near the cathedral and produces a typical and well thought of kölsch. On the nose it had sweet grain and light sour fruit. To taste it had raw malt, sweet butter and a similar vegetable character to the Freedom Pilsner. This time there was already more sweetness in beer and the food mainly accentuated the hops, still going well and in a similar fashion to the pilsner.

The next dish was Paneer Samosas. Rather than using minced meat these instead were filled with crumbled paneer, a cheese made by souring boiled milk with lemon juice before straining and working the curds to remove moisture. They had a pleasantly lingering sesame flavour from seeds sprinkled on top of the samosas and were surprisingly meaty – if I hadn’t been told that it was paneer I would have assumed minced lamb or pork. This wasn’t a traditionally Gujarati dish, as they generally use paneer in desserts such as Ras Malai rather than savouries.

Celis WhiteTo go with the samosas the first beer was Celis White. It’s made by Pierre Celis, thought of as the saviour of the belgian wheat beer after his revival of the style with a little beer called Hoegaarden. Celis White came about after Stella took over the production of Hoegaarden, having taken part ownership of the Celis’s brewery after helping out during some money troubles, and then started tweaking the recipe. Celis decided to brew a beer to his original recipe, and thus was Celis White born. On a bit more googling it seems the story doesn’t end there, with Pierre setting up his brewery in the US (although he didn’t move there), Miller buying the brewery and brand, Miller closing the brewery and selling on the name and, finally, Brouwerij Van Steenberge (home of Gulden Draak and Piraat) now brewing the beer in Belgium. It even seems that there are two Celis Whites, one by Van Steenberge and one by Michigan Brewing, leading to the former being distributed in the US as Ertveld’s Wit, named for the town where it’s brewed. On the nose it is, very reminiscent of Hoegaarden, with citrus and coriander (as you’d expect from a beer seasoned with orange peel and coriander). The familiarity continues with the taste, with more coriander and lemon, a rich buttery wheat and a dry vegetal finish. Dryer than current production Hoegaarden, it worked well with the food, the fruity spiced paneer filling the dry gap in the centre of the beer. The style blatantly inspired Ferran Adrià’s Inedit, a beer designed to compliment food, and it works in a similar fashion.

Saison DupontThe next companion beer for the samosas was Saison Dupont, the brewery being Dupont and the style Saison. Brewed in the west of Belgium it was traditionally produced for farm workers but these days is given a secondary bottle fermentation to produce a stronger beer. On the nose it was pure fruity icecream, like pink supermarket neapolitan, with a thick maltiness – my notes say ‘Like a strawberry malt milkshake”. The taste was big with sweet malt and bitter end – Dan from What Ales You almost ruined this one for me with his loud and true announcement of ‘Juicy fruit chewing gum”. This very much contrasted with the Celis White, but worked well – the sweetness of the beer blended with the sweetness underlying the filling and the savoury notes of the food mingled nicely.

We then moved onto the next dish – Ragdo Pattis. This was a patty of chick peas with a jaggery sweetened tomatoey sauce. My notes are annoyingly light, but I remember it to be tasty and pleasantly sweet, with the fudgey nature of jaggery (which Shrila handed around a bowl of) coming through.

Kernel Citra IPAThe accompanying beer was Kernel Citra IPA. One of the beers I’d tried at Jason’s beer amnesty earlier this year it was one I’d been meaning to try again – after this tasting it’s on my definite to buy list. The Kernel IPAs keep pretty much the same recipe, varying in which hop they use. I’ve tried the award winning Simcoe IPA before but this one is a much more elegant beer. On the nose it had the strong smell of a hop loft, cut with tropical fruit – passion fruit maybe? To taste it was much softer than the smell, with light sweet citrus, seville oranges and a hit of mulchy hop leading to a bitter end. A solid IPA and one that I need in my cupboard. I didn’t think this went all that well with the food, as the softness of the beer disappeared under the strength of flavour leaving just the strong green hoppiness.

Williams GingerThe other ‘beer’ was Williams Ginger. An alcoholic ginger beer rather than a regularly malty one, this was classed as a ‘spiced ale’ on Alex’s list. From the same brewer as Grozet (gooseberry and wheat beer), Kelpie (seaweed ale) and most famously Fraoch (heather ale) this continues that idea of twists on regular beers but with a more traditional recipe. On the nose it had chocolate covered ginger nut biscuits and crystallised ginger. To taste it had only a light gingeriness which dissipated quickly to sugar syrup with a burst of dry root ginger at the end. This worked better with the food, with the ginger adding to the spiciness and the sweetness.

The next course was Idli Sambal, a steamed dumpling served with red lentil dal and yoghurt. I wasn’t a fan of the idli, as it was a fairly bland and mainly used to provide some body to the dish, but the dal was excellent – smooth like a thick soup and rich. We asked how they’d got the consistency and the secret was revealed to be a pressure cooker – a bit of high pressure cooking of the pulses before they’re used helps them break down into a tasty sauce thickener.

Hopback Summer LightningThe first match was Hopback Summer Lightning, which Alex credited with reinventing the British golden ale when it was introduced in 1995, picking up the gold medal in the bottle conditioned beer category in 1997’s Great British Beer Festival as well as a bunch of other awards. On the nose it was quite farmyardy, with mud, hay and fruit as well as an almost wheat beer-like sourness. To taste it was very vegetal, with boiled green vegetables, some mulchy fruit and hints of grain leading to hop bitterness. It worked quite nicely with the food, losing some of its pungency and bringing some vegetable flavours to the soft stodge of the dal.

Copper Dragon Challenger IPAThe second beer was Copper Dragon Challenger IPA. This was my least favourite beer of the night – the other beers we’d tried felt like they’d been designed to work in a bottle and were comparable to a good cask beer, but this one just tasted to me like a generic bottled ale. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not as interesting as the others. On the nose it was solidly beery, with a slug of sweet maltiness balanced with bitter hops (ie. it smelled of beer). To taste it was richly sweet but non-descript without much of a lingering flavour. The food overpowered the beer somewhat, but the sweetness did add a bit to the flavour of the dal.

The last dish of the night was a vegetable curry, made from the curry paste that Shrila sells in her shop, served with rice. The paste is not a particularly Gujarati one but it was rather good, with a gentle spiciness wrapping up the veggies (some squash, iirc) that were cooked in it.

Thornbridge KiplingTo go with the curry we started off with Thornbridge Kipling. Thornbridge have hit a bit of an ascendant recently, with their Jaipur being roundly hailed as a new generation of British IPA, winning the gold in the 2010 GBBF strong ales category, and their other beers gaining prizes and a strong following. The Kipling is a golden ale with a light and fresh nose of lemons, fruity hops and tropical fruit. To taste it is clean tasting with floral notes leading to a delicate hoppy bitterness provided by Nelson Sauvin hops. It did well with the curry, cutting through the spice and adding its own fruitiness to that of the curry paste.

Schneider Weisse Unser AventinusThe last food matching beer was Schneider Weisse Unser Aventinus, a weisse doppelbock (a german wheat beer brewed to be rather strong) coming in at 8.2% and named for historian Johannes Aventinus. On the nose it had bubble gum, bananas, lots of concentrated wheat and, after Alex pointed it out, sticking plasters – a strange hint of the medicinal. To taste it was sweet, dark and rich with equal measures of malt and wheat, matched with some liquorice. The food brought out the bananas I got on the nose and, similar to the Kipling, added fruitiness, although this time with more heavy sweetness.

Harvieston Ola Dubh 12The last beer of the night was a digestif: Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 year old, their Old Engine Oil matured in whisky barrels from Highland Park. I’ve written about the 16 year old before (the age referring to how long whisky had been the barrel rather than how old the beer is) and still prefer the 12 when it comes to price/taste ratio. It’s a thick dark beer, with wood and sour fruit on the nose. The darkness continues into the taste with dark chocolate, coffee and wine fruit up front, and a hint of marzipan when you breathe in after finishing your glass. A good evening ender, happily swamping the tastebuds.

A great evening with a friendly group, some great food and a wide range of beer. There are more supperclub evenings coming up, the dates are listed on the website, and tickets go for £40 a head (which is at the upper end of what I’d expect). The plan does seem to be to vary the menu and beers each time, altering things based on feedback from each session and what new beers and ideas the come up with, and a repeat visit is tempting.

Many thanks to Shrila and family, Alex and Su-Lin for inviting me along – they subbed me in for free this time. It was also great to meet Dan and Anna from What Ales You and Helen from Bites of London, who also has a write-up on her site.

Mort Subite Gueuze
Gueuze, 4.5%.

Freedom Pilsner
Pilsner lager, 5%.

Früh Kölsch
Kölsch, 4.8%.

Celis White
Belgian witte, 5%.

Dupont Saison
Saison, 6.5%.

Kernel Citra IPA
India Pale Ale, 6.2%.

Wiliams Brothers Ginger
Alcoholic Ginger Beer, 3.8%.

Hopback Summer Lightning
Blonde ale, 5%.

Copper Dragon Challenger IPA
India Pale Ale, 4.8%.

Thornbridge Kipling
Golden ale, 5.2%.

Schneider Weisse Aventinus
Weisse doppelbock,

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12
Whisky cask aged porter, 8%.

Jason’s Beer Amnesty

I like to think that I’m a dutiful friend. I am often asked to help people move house and I’m now very good at coming up with convincing excuses as to why I’m unable to assist. But try as I might I couldn’t come up with a reason not to help out Jason of Whisky Squad fame when he invited me along to his carefully named ‘Beer Amnesty’ to help reduce the number of bottles he’d need to take to his new place when he moves shortly.

JasonsBeer
Piccy by Jason

I arrived at the field of battle with a couple of donations of my own and was rather alarmed to see a neatly fanned out arc of beer, carefully arranged in alcoholic-ness order. The alarm was not due the neatness of arrangement or anything so simple, but more due to the middle beer clocking in at around 7%. Glasses were obtained, snacks were put within in easy grabbing distance and battle was joined. My notes are non-existant other than the names of the beers, so here’s a list along with what I remember:

  • Coopers Vintage Ale – Jason started us with a beer from his motherland, Australia. The vintage ale has a bit more to it than the regular Coopers Pale, which is a nice light ale, with a chunk of ‘leave me to mature a bit’ maltiness and a nice chunk of fizz. A good start.
  • Brewdog Zeitgeist – a black lager that has more in common with a mild than Asahi black. Good and malty with a light fizz.
  • Loddon Hullabaloo – the first of several that didn’t quite stick in my brain…
  • Brewdog Chaos Theory – I assume this was a stepping stone on the way to the Hardcore IPA, with less hops (but still quite a lot) and more rich maltiness adding up to a rather tasty beer. I still have a couple of these in the cupboard waiting for a rainy day – it didn’t set the world alight but I will be looking forward to drinking them.
  • Kernel White Ale? – I’ve tried it before and was rather pleased to have it again. It’s still a cloudy mix of wheat beer and ale with some nice citrus. I need to visit the brewery again soon to stock up.
  • Hook Norton 12 Days – The HN Christmas ale and one I tried at The Strongrooms after work recently. It’s got a lot of fruitiness to it (fruit gums and other fruity jelly sweets?) and a nice rich back that holds off from being a full on Christmas ale.
  • DaveExplodeyLondon Brewers Alliance Porter – I’ve opened one of my bottles of this and this one went the same: explode. It’s rather lively and we lost a chunk of the bottle as it tried to escape across the table (Dave took a more paranoid approach to opening his next beer, as the photo shows). However, the bits we did get in a glass were rather good – coffee and chocolate without too much sweetness.
  • Brewdog Prototype 27 – one of my donations. It’s definitely changed a little since I opened my first one, with less hops and much more sour fruit coming through. I wasn’t too keen, but it went down well with everyone else.
  • Monkman’s Slaughter – no memory of this one at all. I think it was one of the few that could mainly be described as ‘beery’.
  • Dark Island Reserve 2010 – the next year’s edition of my Christmas beer and still rather excellent. Big with coffee, dark chocolate, red fruit and rich maltiness. I think I liked my one better after a year of aging, but I’ve no clue if that’s just the batch or the time in the bottle. Even though it seems to have gone up to close to £10 for a 330ml bottle I think I might try and find out.
  • Brewdog Tokyo (12%) – one of the three Tokyo’s Jason brought and the only one we opened (the others accompanying him home at the end for reasons of palate fatigue). Unfortunately I don’t remember much about it, which is annoying as it’s the only one I’ve tried. Brewdog do seem to have stock in again, so hopefully I’ll grab one for myself soon.
  • Kernel IPA Citra – I’ve had the Simcoe IPA but this one blew it away – rounded flowery hops with a touch of lemony citrus combined with the usual excellence of the Kernel IPA. Another one for the shopping list.
  • Brewdog/Mikkeller I Hardcore You – another donation from me and one that I rather annoyingly missed out on buying again recently when they made a second batch. Big and fruity with ridiculous amounts of hops, yet worryingly easy to drink until you fall over.
  • Aventinus Eisbock – strong and concentrated by freeze distilling (the process that Brewdog took a bit further when competing with Schorschbräu) this was a bit treacly in the glass with a very concentrated sweet beer flavour. Not my favourite.
  • X33 – brought back from Prague this was a scary thing. My memory was slightly going by this point but I mainly remember the fear.
  • Kernel Imperial Stout – Thick, dark, chocolatey – this was the LBA Porter with nobs on. I’m going to need a wheely bag when I next get to the Kernel brewery…
  • London Pride – I reckon this one had been in the bottle too long. Musty and prickly in a way that didn’t inspire enjoyment. While some of Fullers’s beers age well, Pride doesn’t. Which doesn’t matter as bottles of it don’t last long in my house anyway.
  • Brewdog Paradox Speyside – a whisky barrel aged dark ale that I rather like, although I’ve not tried the one matured in speyside casks – I’m not sure if they change the beer recipe, but every one I’ve tried has had a different flavour. This one had some nice fruit and a touch of whisky flavour that the other ones didn’t. I’d suspect that some of the whisky had been left in the barrel before filling but a) the excise man doesn’t like that and b) the Brewdog guys would have decanted it into their hipflasks before filling the casks.
  • Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16 – similar to the Paradox, this is Old Engine Oil matured in Highland Park casks that had previously held 16 year old whisky. I’ve written about it before but having come back to it I rather enjoyed it. Being able to taste the difference between the base beer (which I’ve found a few times since I first tried the Ola Dubh) and this has been very useful as it shows the rounding effect of the wood and the various sweet and savoury notes it adds. I’m still not sure that the price differential from 12 year old to 40 year old maturing cask is worth it…
  • Kernel London Porter – I tried this a few days earlier as the SMWS rooms in London now stock Kernel beer. It’s along the same lines as the Imperial Stout but with the sweetness dialled back a few notches. Dry and dark, much niceness.
  • Yorkshire Warrior and Yorkshire Moors – beery. Not bad, but didn’t stick in the mind.
  • Kernel Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale – shockingly this one also didn’t stick in my mind other than really liking it. Definitely one for me to find and try again.
  • Meantime Lager – with the room starting to flag we decided to move onto something lighter and this fit the bill perfectly as well as running us out of beers that weren’t hidden away to fight another day. It was light and had a definite taste of grain and hops, rather than the often found lack of anything interesting in a yellow fizzy beer. I can see why it was used in the most recent Hugh Dennis/Oz Clark road trip to insanity program to prove that lager doesn’t need to be boring.

That was 24 beers, so we decided to round things off with another Coopers Vintage while we digested pork scratchings, considered toasted cheese sandwiches and generally cogitated. If anyone else needs help reducing beverage collections to help with house moving, please let me know – I can always make room in my schedule.

Jason has also written up the various shenanigans over on his own blog.
In my previous post I declared ‘whisky deluge #2’, however a weekend of not drinking after a week that included an embargoed whisky tasting writeup (so as to keep the blind tasting bottles secret for the next few sessions) mean that the deluge has been cancelled. For now.

Quick Tastings

Not all that many, but a couple I want to mark in my brain:

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil – the dark beer that I thought was the base of the Ola Dubh, but after a taste of this at the Vintage Ale tasting I’m not so sure. It’s a thick dark beer with loads of chocolate malt and not a lot that could be described as sweet. Dry and dark, it’s rather good but not as much like Ola Dubh as I was expecting.

Gales Prize Old Ale 2007Gales Prize Old Ale 2007 – another I tried at the Vintage tasting, but one I picked up at Whisky Live this year. It’s a worrying thing but I picked up significantly more beer than whisky, with a bottle of this and a brace of Fuller’s Brewers Reserve coming home with me. It looks like a typically flat and dark old ale, but is rather surprising to smell and taste. My tasting companions were rather split, with its smell of dry cider dividing lovers from loathers and leaving me on the lovers side. It reminds me a lot of the various Flemish red ales that I’ve tried recently (although not quite as scary as  Duchesse de Bourgogne) – thick, sour and fruity with cherries along with an unexpected bitter old ale aftertaste. It’s a bit of the flemish and a bit of the english old ale – I’ll be grabbing some more as soon as I find it.

Blanton’s Gold Edition – after an evening at Bob Bob Ricard (they’re rather good even when they’re not treating you to a vodka tasting, even if they didn’t have the zakuski or vodka I liked best on their normal menu) me and occasional drinking buddy Kosh stopped into Graphic on Golden Square for an evening ender. While I didn’t like the bar (and thought their regular cocktails looked a bit rubbish) they had not only a couple of interesting looking bottles of bourbon on the shelf but also a bartender who knew a chunk about Blanton’s and sorted us out with some of their Gold Edition. I don’t remember much other than that it was definitely the best Blanton’s whiskey I’ve tasted – typically dryer than most of the bourbons I’ve tried and with a nice rich body, with hints of grain, caramel and fruit. Annoyingly I was drunk and don’t remember all that much, but I may have to go back and try some more.

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old – a bottle given to me after doing a focus group about whisky branding. I’ve always thought of Glenlivet as the old dusty bottle that sits next to the Glenfiddich (a whisky that I’m not a fan of) and was rather surprised by this one. On the nose it has apples, linseed oil and caramel, with an overarching theme of the woodland. To taste it lightly sweet, with a hint of woodiness and a bit of richness fading to a bitter finish. There’s a hint of the oil and apple from the nose, and it’s remarkably refreshing for something that is still quite full bodied. A drop of water brings out some a fruity sweetness and lets the oily wood flavour develop at the same time as removing some of the prickliness and burn. It’s not going to go on my must have list, but it’s a perfectly decent dram.

Christmas Booze Roundup 2009

Christmas is traditionally a time of over indulgence and I am far from being someone who wants to buck tradition (any excuse). There may have been turkey, pies, bologneses and casseroles over the festive period, but much more importantly there has been booze. Here’s what I’ve been drinking:

Beer

My friend Mr Utobeer came through for me again, after an unplanned drop-in while wandering around Borough Market with Mondoagogo a few days before Christmas, and added to my bottle of Orkney Dark Island Special Reserve (left until after Christmas so as to be shared with people who love nice beer more than my family). Other than some bottles grabbed as a present for someone (as my order from Brewdog hasn’t been sent yet as they haven’t yet brewed one part of it – a bottle of the second batch of Tactical Nuclear Penguin) I also grabbed, and have since drunk:

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 40 Reserve: I tried the 16 a few weeks back and discovered at the same time that they now did a beer matured in a 30 year old Highland Park cask. Then I went to the SMWS last week and was informed that they also do a 40, which they had a couple of bottles of at obscene prices. Then I found one at Utobeer for the scary price of £7.60. The verdict – much like with the 16 year old it wasn’t all that impressive. It was a marked difference from the younger barrelled beers, with more of a woody whiskiness than before, but still not worth the cost in my opinion. A really nice heavy dark beer still.

Brewdog Paradox: Isle of Arran: They may not have sent me my beer yet, but I still like the Brewdog chaps. And their beer. This, to continue a theme, is another whisky cask matured beer (Innis & Gunn have a lot to answer for) and one that I’ve tried before. I rather like the Arran distillery, producing some of my favourite SMWS whiskies as they have, and I really liked my last bottle of this that I tried. This one was slightly disappointing – not so influenced by the wood as the last one, but still a really good dark ale with more fruit and less vanilla than the Ola Dubh.

Home BrewMy Mate Nick’s Homebrew: Mr Martin, cow-orker and ginger bearded buddy extraordinaire, has recently started brewing and after discussing what he was doing to make his beer presented me with one of his first batch of bottles. I left it to settle for a while and then cracked it open on Christmas Eve. It was rather lively, needing several glasses to pour out into without overflowing with meringue-like head, and in true bottle conditioned fashion was quite sedimenty at the bottom, requiring some care in the pouring. It was very very dark and quite sweet – a definite hint of black treacle without quite so much of its burnt taste. I suffered none of the ill effects that homebrew is famed for and I also rather enjoyed it. The fluffiness and sweetness suggests that maybe it was bottled a bit early but it wasn’t the worse for it. I look forward to brew number 2. Hopefully I’ll get some more…please?

Wine

Realising a few days before Christmas that you have visiting wine loving parents and no suitable bottles on the shelf was a mild concern, as I’m a very lazy man who doesn’t like carrying things back from the supermarket. The nice folks at Naked Wines jumped in to save me with guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery if I ordered by 5pm the day before – I ordered at 4:45. The next afternoon the slightly harassed looking delivery man turned up, dumped my wine and ran away quickly – I think there were a few people who had the same idea as me. Anyways, combined with a few bottles contributed by my visitors I definitely have enough wine now, although still only 3 spare slots on the wine rack.

Milani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Naked Wine, Italy): My first out of the box and grabbed to match a spaghetti bolognese. I quite like Montepulciano and this was slightly disappointing – quite rough, although it did soften as it aired, without as much fruit as I hoped. However, a couple of glasses went in to the bolognese sauce and the rest of it went down quite nicely with dinner.

Vicien Syrah 2007 (Naked Wine, Argentina): Rolled into service when the first bottle from my case ran out prematurely, this was really quite good. A nice full Syrah with a good amount of fruit that got better as it breathed. I stoppered it and finished it the next day and it was still very drinkable.

Howcroft Estate Limestone Coast Merlot 2006 (Tesco, Australia): Grabbed from my step-dad’s wine rack due to the word ‘turkey’ being in the ‘goes with’ list on the back, this was a nice light Merlot, full enough to battle with the dark turkey meat as well as not being too strong as to drown out the (admittedly dry) white meat.

Hardy’s Varietal Range Shiraz 2008 (Sainsbury?, Australia): Another donation from the visitors, this one isn’t quite done yet, opened to provide some lubrication for dinner part 2 – the christmas pud (delayed until evening to allow some digestion of lunch to occur). It definitely needed some time to breathe, having a harsh edge, but it quickly softened (especially when poured through my newly acquired wine aerater [thankyou Dave’nLet] which worked much better than we had imagined) and was a nice, spicy, fruity wine, complimenting the pud better than expected.

Whisk(e)y

I’ve had a Christmas uncharacteristically light on whisky, despite a trip to Milroy’s a couple of days beforehand. I stopped by to try and pick up a bottle of rye to make the Manhattans that my mum had demanded via SMS (she had already bought cocktail cherries specially) and found that they were out of everything but a £180 per bottle Rittenhouse. I turned that down and got upsold when I tried to buy a 70cl bottle of Buffalo Trace, coming away with a 1.75l bottle (with free julep cup). I also grabbed a bottle of 15 year old Glencadam, having liked the SMWS bottling I picked up a couple of weeks back. The Trace is a solid bourbon, smooth enough to go either in cocktails or be drunk on the rocks (something that I’ve done a bit too much of since picking it up). The Glencadam is interesting – similar to the production Arran whisky in a way that I didn’t expect, with a fizzy icing sugar start, but also with a thick wedge of rubbery niceness running through the middle. It seems that I subconsciously do know my taste in whisky and Arran and Glencadam slot into it.

I used Glenfiddich instead of brandy to ignite the Christmas pud – the fact that I consider Glenfiddich to be cooking whisky when not too long ago it was one of the best whiskies that you could expect someone to have on their shelf has been commented on. It is cooking whisky…


Anyways, a vaguely restrained christmas that should continue to be restrained through new year – I’m on call on New Year’s Eve and don’t feel like lugging multiple bottles of whisky down to Shoreham-by-Sea (where I’m going for a party), but I’m sure someone else will look after my boozey needs…

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