I'd actually been nosing around whisky a bit lately which led me to my said new friend who works for a whisky-maker called Highland Park which is located on Orkney, a rather unforgivingly windy island off the north coast of Scotland.
Highland Park has been making Scotch Whisky for more than two centuries and is the illustrious maker of Highland Park 18, which was named "The Best Spirit in the World," by F. Paul Pacult who is America's foremost expert on distilled spirits.
So, why am I writing about Scotch here on my little beer blog? Well - turns out that Highland Park has teamed with the Harviestoun Brewery, a small brewery in Scotland that was founded in 1985 in a 200 year old stone byre (which, upon looking up, is either a cow barn, a store house or a lady's private apartment.) Harviestoun has matured its limited release called "Ola Dubh" (or Black Oil) in casks from Highland Park to add whisky notes of wood, peat and smoke to a beer that was brewed "with a nod" to the classic Imperial Porters and Stouts of the 19th century.
Ola Dubh is available in three different "expressions" as they've fermented batches in casks formerly used to mature Highland Park 12 Year Old, 16 Year Old and 30 Year Old scotch. And my new best Scottish friend got me one of each for my tasting and your reading pleasure. I tasted these with Evan Funke, Executive Chef at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica, and here's what we thought about them.
Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 12 Reserve - 8%Grab any of these beers if you can find them. I'm not exactly sure where to get it, but I know that it is imported by B. United International. Its been available in the US since February '08. And there's more to look forward to. They are talking about doing beers fermented in 40 & 50 year old casks.
Wow - This beer pours like soy sauce, which made me worry because I thought that maybe there was going to be absolutely no carbonation in this one. It looked like thick black oil - no wonder the name. The aromatics were like salt-water and smokey bacon. The flavor was there matching the intensity of the nose. The chefs said "Viking Salt." And we all agreed on coffee, and tart and sour wood - dry but not bitter. With a lingering sweet malt and creamy mouthfeel.
This reminded me of a Rauchbier, or Smoked Beer.
Chef Funke's Pairing: Roast Duck with Plums.
Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 16 Reserve - 8%
Whoa. We thought that the 12 year was thick - this one poured even heavier with literally no head whatsoever. The aromatics still had those condensed sea salt notes, but this time there was much more fruit in the nose, like black cherry - and had sweet herby qualities like licorice and tamari. Surprisingly, upon tasting, this beer had much more carbonation in the beer. It was definitely, fruitier- closer to a Dubbel with smoke in the background but with chocolate in the front. This beer had a lighter mouthfeel than the 12. It cleaned up nicely.
Chef Funke's Pairing: Venison with Sweet Potatoes, Huckleberries & Braised Endive.
Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 30 Reserve - 8%
Now, this beer made me go "Ooooooh." And I don't give that out too much! This beer is thick black gloopy oil! However, even though it looks a bit intimidating and 12 oz. of it comes in its own box, this beer is much more drinkable than even the 12 or the 16. This beer is tight! The balance is just there. Black truffle's on the nose - definite earth and whisky peat. And the flavor is amazing. Coffee and chocolate stirred with wild herbs. There is also a strong mineral presence in this one. It tastes as if it was poured through stones. The chefs called this beer a "Lord of the Rings" beer. This beer also was the most whisky like with some good heat in the exhaust, even though the alcohol content is the same as the others. An all round delicious beer.
Chef Funke's Pairing: Pork Belly with Wild Oregon Morels
Mmmm....Scotch. Mmmmm....Beer. I love my life.