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I've finally completed the cycle. Ola Dubh is a series of beers aged in different vintage Highland Park Scotch casks. I've already had four of the five available vintages, and they've ranged from the sublime to the merely great. Strangely, the "youngest" vintage was also the hardest to find (probably because it's the "cheapest", though it's still obscenely priced), but it also happens to be aged in the casks of one of my favorite "everyday" scotches, so I figured I should just go ahead and try both during the same session.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 and Highland Park 12
(Click for bigger image)

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12 - Pours a very dark brown with the slightest tinge of amber and a half finger of head. Big aromas of caramel, chocolate, and whisky, with some oak and vanilla and maybe even honey. The taste hits with a surprisingly peaty, smokey flavor right off the bat before settling into more typical caramel malt flavors. But that smoke is kinda ever-present, even in the finish and aftertaste. This is a little surprising given that I don't think of Highland Park as being a smokey peat bomb. On the other hand, while smokey, it's nowhere near as awkwardly balanced as beer aged in Islay Scotch casks, so there is that. But even this amount of smoke makes it harder for some of the more traditional chocolate and caramel flavors to assert themselves. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a little thinner than expected, though there's obviously plenty here to chew on. Well balanced carbonation and it actually goes down pretty easy. Overall, this isn't a disaster or anything, but it is a bit of a letdown when compared to the others in the series, which are just much more balanced and complex. I'm still glad I tried some and it was enjoyable enough to warrant a weak B, but I'm again curious as to what a fresher bottle would taste like.

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/12. Bottle Number: 07449. Bottled in February 2010.

Highland Park 12 - Holy shit, I don't think I ever reviewed Scotch before. What do I do? I'll just pretend it's beer. Pours a golden light brown color with absolutely no head (uh, not that there's supposed to be, but come on, work with me here). Smells, um, like whisky. No, seriously, it's got a very light peat and smoke profile going on (though nothing that I'd think would lead to the smokiness in the aforementioned beer), along with some light caramel and honey, with that high octane, nose-singed alcohol note. Taste actually follows the nose, though some other notes emerge too. Light smoke and peat (again, not so much that I'd expect beer aged in these casks to be overwhelmed by it), some caramel, maybe a little graininess, some spicy character, and you know, booze. Mouthfeel is relatively smooth, with some of that spicy alcohol adding a little harshness. Overall, it's one of my go-to Scotches, it's got lots of complex flavors going on, but it's the complete package. Good stuff. I'll use my Scotch ratings scale. 4942 points.

Whisky Nerd Details: 43% ABV bottled (750 ml, 1 dram pour). Drank out of a Glencairn nosing glass on 11/9/12.

So there you have it. Not quite the face melting night I was hoping for, but enjoyable enough anyway. This more or less completes the cycle of Ola Dubh for me, unless Harviestoun starts sourcing more obscure Highland Park casks or something. Despite my thoughts on the 12 above, the rest of the series has been excellent enough that I'd love to try other vintages/specialty Scotch aged beers from Harviestoun. Speaking of the rest of the series, I think the final ranking of beers based on the vintage of the casks they were aged in comes down to: 40, 18, 30, 16, 12. Unfortunately, these things are obscenely expensive, especially when you hit the older vintages.

Another Dubhel Feature

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Ola Dubh is a series of beers aged in Highland Park Scotch casks. There are 5 vintage of casks used for this purpose, 12, 16, 18, 30, and 40 years old. A while back, I cracked open the 16, which was very nice, and the 40, which was astounding. Today, I'm ticking off two more vintages, so huzzah for that!

Interestingly enough, Scottish distilleries are also huge beneficiaries of the secondary oak barrel market caused by the legal rules surrounding Bourbon. Part of the reason Scotch tends to be aged longer than Bourbon is that the oak is usually on it's second use at that point, and a lot of the easily captured flavors have already been stripped from the wood. Or something. I'm sure there's some Scotch that is aged on new oak too...

For the filmic side of this double feature, I watched a pair of Japanese films from little known director Yoshihiro Nakamura. He was a discovery from Fantastic Fest last year, but unfortunately, most of his work is not available in America. However, they have slowly been trickling over, and the two movies I watched are both available on Netflix. The Booth is an interesting, if a bit unremarkable thriller. It was one of his early movies, and it shows. It's not bad, per say, just not something I'm very enthusiastic about. On the other hand, Fish Story is a wonderful movie that I highly recommend. It's about how a punk rock song saves the world, which is about all I'll say about the movie, because the less you know, the better. One of my favorite recent discoveries, and it went quite well with the beery side of this double feature:

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 18

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 18 - I have to say, I really love the label design of all these beers, even the ones that don't come in fancy boxes like the 30 and 40. Pours a deep, dark brown color with a small cap of light brown head. Smells beautiful - tons of whisky character (not very Scotchlike though - no peat or smokiness), a little oak and vanilla and caramel, maybe just a hint of roasted malts in the nose. The taste has tons of that Scotch character, and unlike the nose, I'm getting a lot of peat and heather in the taste (not much in the way of smoke), along with a prominent oak character. There's plenty of that balancing malt character too, caramel and dark chocolate come through well, and maybe just a hint of that roasted malt flavor. Mouthfeel is surprisingly medium bodied; a light richness, but very easy to drink. Overall, very well balanced, complex brew, definitely better than the 16. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 4/20/12. Bottle Number: 06270. Bottled in February 2009.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 30

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 30 - Pours a little bit deeper and darker than the 18, with a bit more head too. Again, smells very nice, perhaps not quite as strong as the 18, but very well balanced aromas of whisky, oak, and caramel, with a little roast. Taste is very similar. Lots of Scotch, a little peat and oak, some caramel, plenty of chocolate character, and a hint of roast in the finish. Mouthfeel is a little fuller, but but that richness is about the same, and it's still very easy to drink. Overall, it's very good, but I find myself think that it's comparable with the 18, rather than being much better. Don't get me wrong, this is still a great beer, but tonight, the 18 was better. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 4/20/12. Bottle Number: 06942. Bottled in March 2009.

So, after trying four of the five varieties, I'd say the best was the 40, followed by the 18, then the 30, and finally, the 16. Now I just need to get my hands on the 12. Strangely, it seems to always be sold out whenever I see some of this stuff, perhaps because it's also the cheapest of the family (and this stuff really is expensive!) I also have to wonder how the age has impacted these bottles. Every bottle I've ever had has been from 2009, including the two varieties I had last year. Would a "fresher" 30 be better? Perhaps! I guess there's only one way to find out, eh?

Old Engine Oil

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Harviestoun makes a series of beers called Ola Dubh which are aged in Highland Park casks. And they are awesome. It turns out that the base beer they use for that barrel aging is a slightly higher gravity (i.e. higher alcohol) version of this beer:

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil - Apparently the owner and founder of Harviestoun spent many of his formative years working for Ford Motors, and so when he saw this viscous black liquid, it made him think of, well, old engine oil (if ever there was a beer calling out to be packaged in the old-timey oil can style that I mentioned a while back, this is it...). Pours a very dark amber/brown color, almost but not quite black, with a finger of tan head. The nose is very strangely spicy. Typical roasty aromas are also present, along with some nice caramel and fruity notes but there's something else there that's unique. I'm calling it spicy smell, but that's not right - I can't quite place it. Taste is full of rich chocolaty flavors with a just a bit of roastiness. Whatever that thing from the nose is, it's here in the taste as well, though less pronounced. Full bodied, rich, and creamy. I really like drinking this beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 8/20/11.

I'm not the biggest fan of porters, but this is one that I can deal with. Not to mention the Ola Dubh stuff, which I'm definitely planning to explore more of...

Dubhel Feature: Ola Dubh

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A while ago, in a post about Scottish Wee Heavy beer, friend and fellow beer nerd Padraic recommended another Scottish beer called Ola Dubh. The name translates literally as "Black Oil", presumably a reference to the color and goopy consistency of the porter-like beer. This is a series of beers based on the recipe for brewer Harviestoun's more traditional offering, Old Engine Oil, an English Porter. They take a higher gravity version of that beer, then age it in used Highland Park oak casks. This is apparently pretty notable, as most barrel-aged beers aren't aged in traceable casks from a named distillery like this. Their website says it's the first barrel-aged beer with "genuine provenance". This is probably pure marketing fluff, but hell, I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

As of right now, there appear to be 5 different varieties, based on the age of the scotch casks (not based on the age of the beer itself, which we originally thought). On a recent visit to beer Mecca State Line Liquors, I picked up a couple of bottles, and this past Monday, I cracked them open whilst taking in a double feature of How To Train Your Dragon and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I'd seen both movies before, but they seemed better this time around. I have to wonder how rewatchability can and should color my reaction to movies. It's a subject I've mused on before, but as I drink these beers, I'm now wondering how redrinkability should color my reaction to a beer. Most of the reviews on this blog are based on a single tasting, but a really full appreciation should probably require multiple tastings. As such, I'd really like to revisit the below brews. As hard as that's likely to be on my wallet (these are not cheap beers), it would probably be worth it in this case.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 16 - Pours a semi-thick, opaque black color with a surprisingly light tan head. Smell is dominated by chocolate aromas and you can definitely feel the Scotch peeking through. Just a hint of roastiness in the nose. It smells really quite fantastic. The Scotch hits right away in the taste, quickly fading to highlight some chocolate flavors, but then reappearing a bit in the dry finish. Just a hint of bitterness appears in the finish too, lingering a bit on the palate. It's got a full body with medium carbonation... it's surprisingly smooth and easy to drink. As it warms, some additional flavors come out, maybe a little more on the roasty side. This a wonderfully complex beer. I'm really enjoying it. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 6/20/11. Bottled July 2009, bottle number 37471.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 40

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40 - Pours a little thicker, but with that same opaque black color. The head is a bit darker this time. Smell features a bit more of the Scotch this time around, maybe even a little peat smoke, but that chocolate aroma is still clearly there. Again, smells fantastic - a little more complex this time, but certainly along similar lines. Taste has a similar profile, but the flavors are much richer here. The Scotch flavors mix with the roasty chocolate in a more balanced way, and it's just as compulsively drinkable as the 16. Fuller bodied, even. This is an amazing beer. Rich and complex, powerful and subtle, all at the same time. Rating this is weird. I have a pathological inability to give out the highest rating possible (I've only given it once, and that's partially because that beer also has sentimental value and partially because I've had it so many times), but I've only had this once (right now!) Yeah, it's rocking my world, but will it always do so. I'll give it a provisional A+. It's perfect, but given my above musings about redrinkability and the fact that I'm a sucker for the marketing fluff behind this, I'd like to try this again!

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a goblet on 6/20/11. Bottled January 2009, bottle number 54570. Whisky casks are from 1968!

Well then, I now want to pick up the 12, 18, and 30 varieties of this beer. I'd also like to try and compare the 40 vs some other sort of barrel aged imperial stout. As mentioned before, these are quite expensive. The 40 was $20 for a single bottle, which is astronomical, but for me, it was worth it (and there've definitely been times when spending a lot on a single beer has disappointed me, despite the beer being really good - i.e. Allagash).

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

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