Robbie Burns Day Review #7

And what’s a Robbie Burns Day without a little whisky? Here’s a fine quartet currently residing in my liquor cabinet:

Té Bheag: I mentioned this back in my pre-Burns post, and what I said applies still here. This unchillfiltered blend – it used to say it was a blended malt, but now it’s just “Blended Scotch Whisky,” which I take to mean a little grain alcohol has made it into the mix – is lightly to moderately peaty on the nose, a little iodiney, citrusy and smokey on the palate and an outstanding value whisky. Oh, and the pronunciation is not “Tea Bag;” it’s more along the lines of “Chey Vek,” which the label says is Gallic for “a wee dram.”

Oak Cross: This delight from the mad blending minds at Compass Box is a blended malt, and a lovely one, at that. Almost water light in colour, it has a wonderfully oaky nose that put me immediately in mind of leather wingback chairs, old oak panelling and smouldering cigars. The body, however, is bright and sophisticated, almost begging for a drop of chilled water to further accentuate its Highland character. A definite aperitif dram.

Hazelburn 8 Year Old: Speaking of light whiskies, this triple distilled beauty from the folks at Springbank is a true drop of elegance in a glass, with a pale hue, a zesty, slightly sweet aroma with fresh fruit notes like tangerine, Meyer lemon and gooseberry, and a body that turns first floral, then adds spicy vanilla before finally finishing with a lingering suggestion of peppery citrus and oak. Although the distillery notes I’ve received on this whisky in the past say it is entirely unpeated, I repeatedly – no pun intended – find this to be a tad smoky on the finish, making me wonder if it perhaps gets a touch of “contact smokiness” from the maltings Springbank operates on site.

Highland Park 1998: I bought this at the Cancun airport duty-free, which means you’re going to have a tough time finding it unless you’re travelling. But that’s really neither here nor there since the 13 year old displays much of the classic Highland Park character, it being a little of everything, from the marvellously balanced smokiness in its aroma to the full and complex palate blending rich fruit with brown spice and a touch of citrus peel, all ending in a deep, pillowy cushion of satisfaction. Enjoy it before dinner, perhaps with a drop of water, during dinner in a wide-mouthed glass or after dinner in a Glencairn glass; it’s just that versatile.



Robbie Burns Day Beer Review #6

To Michigan now, and a beer with which I’ve only recently become acquainted, Loch Down Scotch Ale from Arcadia Ales of Battle Creek.

Loch Down Scotch AleNow, I’ve no idea if Battle Creek is a hotbed of Scottish culture – I’ve never been – but if you told me it was I’d likely believe you. Because this beer is just so damn Scottish in almost every facet of its being that it’s hard to believe there’s not a Scot involved in some way with its creation.

Deep burgundy-brown of hue, Loch Down has an aroma that goes long and deep, with fruity-toffee maltiness holding notes of roasted plums steeped in brandy and molasses. The body is likewise rich and luxuriant, a hint of chocolate on the front end leading to a raisiny, rich, boozy, warming middle, still with some roastiness, almost a smokiness, in fact, and accents of blackstrap molasses notes. The finish is a admittedly bit harsh at first, with some sharp roast and hop clashing against the more unctuous character of the ale, but it soon settles into a warming and lengthy conclusion.

It’s blowing snow outside my office window right now, and looks somewhere between daunting and miserable. Which I figure is just about the right kind of weather for this 8% alcohol beauty, if only I still had more.

Robbie Burns Day Beer Review #5

Switching things up a bit, for beer number five in my Robbie Burns hit parade of tasting notes, I’m going to do a “live review” of a beer, which is to say I’ll type my thoughts on this brew as they come to mind while I drink it. The review itself won’t be posted live, of course, but will only be delayed by a few minutes.

The beer, a left-over from my Craft Beer Advent Calendar, is Mac Queen’s Nessie, a “whisky malt” beer from Schlossbrauerei Eggenberg in Austria.

Given its Austrian origins, I’m assuming that this is a lager, but it says that nowhere on the label, so I’ll proceed with that as a guess. The colour is orange-gold and the aroma, frankly, is not very whisky-ish at all. (Granted, the beer is straight-out-of-the-fridge cold, but still, surely that’s how most people would drink it.) I get a light hint of phenolics, but more caramelly and honey-ish malt than anything else.

The crisp and thinnish body confirms my lager suspicions, and also leaves me wondering about the whereabouts of the hit of whisky-ish malt I was expecting. There’s a suggestion, for certain, and a bit more in the finish, but if someone handed me this saying it was just a normal Vienna-esque lager, I doubt I’d be noting any peat at all.

Perhaps when my bottle of Nessie was younger and fresher – the listed “best before” date is April of this year, which could mean this is as old as nine months in the bottle – it had more peatiness to it. Maybe it did not. Either way, I have a hard time envisioning this as a beer for Burns Day.

Robbie Burns Day Beer Review #4

As long as we’re talking about Scottish ales, may we take a moment to discuss Ola Dubh, that line of Harviestoun beers aged in various Highland Park barrels? We can? Thank you.

Bottle of Ola Dubh 18Because, you know, Ola Dubh deserves mention, and for multiple reasons. First off, the pronunciation. It’s not “Ola Dub,” folks, more like “Ola Due,” but with an exhaling at the end. It’s kind of hard to explain, and no doubt a Scot who reads this will be thinking “what the hell is he on about,” but the important thing is that the “b” is not pronounced.

Next, its expressions. There were five when I sampled my way through the line-up a couple of years back, each named for the age of the Highland Park whisky that had previously occupied the barrel used for conditioning: 12, 16, 18, 30 and 40. The Harviestoun website, however, now lists only three: 12, 16 and 18. Whether that’s because of a lack of barrels to keep the 30 and 40 coming or just not bothering to list the more rare and expensive ones, I don’t know.

And the taste. Yes, the different expressions do have quite different characters, which should come as no surprise if you have any experience with whisky. (Barrels go a long way towards defining the character of any whisky.) The 40, to my experience, has a depth and intensity that the 12 and 16 simply lack, even though those two latter beers are themselves significantly complex. Is the 40 worth the cost, which when it was in Ontario was $19 for a 330 ml bottle? Personally, I would say no, although I did buy several at that price. (And look! There are six remaining in the province, purportedly at a store in London, Ontario.)

Price and perceived value aside, however, Ola Dubh is a sumptuous marriage of ale and whisky in even its lowest numbered guise, and a beer I have no difficulty recommending most heartily. Which to try, and how much to pay for it, I will leave up to you.

Robbie Burns Day Beer Review #3

Ah, Scotland, I do love ye. Every time I visit the land of grandfather’s birth, I feel a bit more at home, whether supping ale at the Bow Bar in Edinburgh or sipping malt at the Port Charlotte Hotel on Islay.

I love your whiskies, of course – and more on that later today – but you are also home to some very fine ales, including one of the first that so long ago demonstrated to me the meaning of “malty” in beer: Traquair House Ale.

Traquair House AleI’ve been drinking Traquair off and on for years, first in the U.S. as an import from Merchant du Vin, then later in my home market of Ontario and finally over in Scotland itself. I’ve had other real and so-called “Scotch ales” since, but for me Traquair remains the definitive examples, like Westmalle for tripel or Sierra Nevada for American-style pale ales.

Funny thing is, until I read it in Adrian Tierney-Jones’ 1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die, I had no idea it was spiced with coriander, something to which I’m usually quite sensitive. But such is its decadent, plummy, oaky, figgy malt goodness that the coriander, I presume, merely sharpens the beer’s edges, rather than contributing significantly to its flavour.

Some beers that have been around for a long time become neglected, forgotten in the constant pursuit of whatever is newer or more exciting. This is a fate that should never befall this very fine ale. It was, it is and it shall ever remain a classic.

Robbie Burns Day Beer Review #2

As long as we’re talking about my 2011 breweries of the year, let’s look over at my pick for Australasia, Renaissance Brewing, and their very fine Stonecutter Scotch Ale.

R_Stonecutter_16bitrs.jpgAt 7% alcohol, this may be a bit much for sessioning later today, but it’s certainly something I would be most happy to have in my glass come 9:00 or 10:00 this evening. And unlike my first Burns Day beer, this one, even though Kiwi in origin, has “Scottish” written all over it.

Although I’m still uncertain as to whether this truly contains a portion of peated malt – with nine different malts in the recipe, you’ve got to figure it’s at least possible, if not probable – I do find a slight peatiness in the aroma of this deep brown ale, alongside notes of caramel, milk chocolate, raisins, black cherries and plums, and a hint of vanilla. In the body, stewed fruit with raisin and date accents yields to a more chocolate-caramelly, roasty and very lightly coffee-ish body, all ending is a lingering finish with sweet roasty malt, drying hop and alcohol in terrific harmony.

This is a beer I think Burns would have enjoyed, and I know I do!

Robbie Burns Day Beer Review #1

Plaid Dragon, by my 2011 Canadian Brewery of the Year, Edmonton’s Alley Kat Brewing, is the latest in their single hop series of strong IPAs and a beer brewed specifically to celebrate Robbie Burns Day. Thing is, it’s neither single hopped nor is it in any way recognizably Scottish in style.

What it is, however, is tasty. Hopped with Cascade, Simcoe, Columbus and an experimental hop called HBC 342, and as such it has some significant hop complexity and bitterness, not necessarily a characteristic one tends to associate with Scottish ales not called BrewDog something-or-other. Fortunately, it manages to contain all this hoppiness fairly well, until the finish, at least.

Golden-hued and 7.5% alcohol, the nose of Plaid Dragon is a lovely perfumed mix of dried apricot, tobacco leaf, florals and a hint of vanilla. The body starts with a hint of sweet Vidalia onion before quickly transforming to a peachy nectar of sorts, which in turn yields to a progressively bittering character that builds a spicy, citrusy flavour alongside the waning sweet fruitiness. As in other Dragon series ales I’ve sampled, I find the finish to be somewhat sharp in its hoppiness, indeed a bit jarring, but that passes fairly quickly and leaves me ready for another sip.

Overall, I doubt this beer is something Burns himself would sup were he able, indeed it’s probably something he wouldn’t even recognize as ale, but it’s a pleasant enough tipple and a fine choice for a bottle or two this Burns Day.