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 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.