Monday, May 11, 2015

Beer Review: Orkney Porter Arran Bere Whisky Cask Edition by Highland Brewing Company

Whisky beers were quite the thing last year, with even the mighty Tennent's getting in on the act and taking their whisky oak-aged beer global to follow in the footsteps of trailblazers such as Innis & Gunn and Harviestoun. The latter's Ola Dubh is one of the best examples of this style.

It's a difficult drink to get right. The beer - generally a Big Beer - is left to mature in whisky casks for anything up to six months, and in some cases much, much longer. The spirit in the cask infuses with the beer, giving off distinctive whisky characteristics typical of the region. The flavours don't always balance, however, and just because you're a massive whisky buff doesn't necessarily mean you'll like a beer aged in the butt cask of your number one expression.

But you will like the latest creation from Orkney-based Highland Brewery Company. Their Orkney Porter Arran Bere Whisky Cask Edition (10.5%) is truly something special, and it's not without reason that head brewer Rob Hill has such a solid reputation among his peers.

Highland Brewery's whisky beer is a twist on their Orkney Porter. It's been aged for a whopping 18 months in casks that contained Isle of Arran malt whisky, made from bere barley that the distillery sourced from Orkney.

It pours a dark, dark brown with a burnt tan head. The aroma's rich, with smokey chocolate malt aroma, vanilla and rum and raisin ice cream all thrown into the whisky-infused mix.

There's a burst of sensations on that first taste. You can't help but notice the strong alcoholic hit, but there are sweet and peppery flavours there too. The notes present in the aroma carry through, but are richer and more vibrant. The whisky, less its fiery edge, is a constant presence throughout, and towards the end a tart grapefruit joins a finely tuned medley of spices, black cherry and chocolate sweet malts to progress into a long, velvet-smooth, hop-laden bitter finish.

This is a rich, well balanced and deeply complex beer, one that opens up and evolves as you sup your way through it. Savour it, and enjoy with a decent after-dinner dram.

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