Saturday, July 12, 2008

Whisky Cask Ale

What do you get when you cross an imperial stout with old whisky casks? Heaven, that's what.

When my scotch-drinking friend Sandro rolled into town from Joyzee (say it out loud), we both thought it would be a good opportunity to marry the two, and we swung by my formerly estranged old employer-new favorite liquor store Thomas Liquors in St. Paul to pick up a few different bottles of imperial stout aged in whisky casks.

As you can see, all three were dark and oily. As soon as I poured them into tumblers, I immediately regretted the decision and I transfered them to tulip glasses, but only after sticking my nose well into the glass, inhaling, and then taking a sip of each. All were tasty, but I could tell I wasn't getting the full effect. My drinking companion agreed. After letting them warm to about 55 degrees, the flavors and aromas really came out.

First up: Ola Dubh Special 12 Reserve from Harviestoun Brewery in Scotland. Harviestoun partnered with Highland Park distillery to bring drinkers three beers, aged in casks that stored the distillery's 12 year, 16 year and 30 year single malts. The 12 year, at 8% abv had a little more alcohol taste than I prefer--especially compared to the 30--but was still super-smooth, with just a touch of smokiness. It smelled like melting caramel, with a touch of maybe raspberry. You could definately taste the whisky, but it was a lot more subtle than I expected.

We skipped the 16 in deference to both the 30 year and a chance to sample a different brewery's wares. The 30 had similar characteristics as the 12, only better. I had this on cask a month or so ago, and while it was was a lot creamier, it also had a lot more whisky taste. In the bottle all the flavors mellowed and blended, creating a rich, chocolately brew. Magical. And it should be at $17/bottle.

The final beer in our flight was an imperial stout from BrewDog Brewing, also in Scotland, also aged in whisky casks. Paradox Islay, using casks from the Ardberg distillery on the island of Islay, had incredible smoke from the peat that runs rampant on the island. I'm not a fan of smoked beers, but this one was a lot more tolerable, maybe because of the whisky overtones, or maybe because of the 10% abv. Still, the smoke was hard to get over, and while Sandro was a great drinking companion, teaching me a lot about scotch, I would have preferred to share this one with one or two more people.

While the Ola Dubh ("Black Oil") aged in 30 year old casks was clearly the finest tasting beer of the lot, the mouthfeel and aroma were more striking in the Paradox. I'd drink any of them again.

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