Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12: Premium taste, premium price
Having finally matured enough to acquire the taste for single malt whisky, I thought this would be a perfect time for me to try Ola Dubh. These are big, dark, ales aged in old casks of either 12-, 16- or 30-year-old Highland Park Single Malt Scotch. Unfortunately, the price for any of these beers is exorbitant. One 11.2 oz bottle will go for more than a six-pack of most any other beer. I was right, though, the timing was perfect. My tastebuds loved the ale. Unfortunately, my wallet is still whining.
The Scotch accent is one I still cannot quite decipher. Somehow Ola Dubh is supposed to mean black oil, which they probably realized wasn't great for marketing, so they disguised the name a bit. But then they go ahead and further panic customers by announcing it is so named because it is gloopy and viscous. As unappetizing as all that sounds, I plunged ahead. Scottish cuisine is downright awful. Everything is either gloopy, or was gloopy until it was deep fried. But if there is one thing the Scottish know how to do (besides drink), it is to make things to drink.
In a glass, this beer is neither gloopy nor particularly viscous. It is black, though. I doubt it would be possible to get a beer any blacker. It is complete-lack-of-light black. The slight head lasts about a second and leaves nothing behind. The aroma is excellent and complex. That's because about half of the nose is from the beer, and half from the scotch. The beer side is mainly roasted malts and smells of molasses, chocolate, vanilla and maybe some ripe cherries. The scotch side brings the smoke, peat and oak. All brought together, it smells better than it can ever sound. For upwards of $8, you want to be impressed, and so far, Ola Dubh 12 is very impressive.
The flavor doesn't disappoint, either. It'll be a little sweeter than you expect, but everything from the aroma is there. The scotch sets a nice base, and is prevalent but not overpowering. Highland Park must be a good, smooth scotch, because there is nothing harsh in this ale. You barely notice the 8% alcohol. There isn't even much carbonation to sharpen the edge. Everything is like silk. Standing slightly above the whisky flavors is all the roasted malt, molasses, chocolate, vanilla, etc. All of this, in an ale that is much lighter than promised. Medium bodied, at most, and very easy to drink. Viscous, it is not.
With all those flavors, there is no point trying to pair it with food. Ola Dubh is very much an after-dinner beer. Other than some very flavorful cheeses, just about anything else would be stomped on rather than complemented. And, even though it goes down a treat, it would be tough drinking more than one or two because of the sweetness. Not to mention the price.
So, there's no question Ola Dubh is a very fine beer, but is it worth the money? Beer drinkers just aren't accustomed to paying in the extreme for quality like wine drinkers are. Sure, we'll plonk down $12 for a four-pack of a fine Belgian now and again, but close to that for just one beer? Most of us just aren't there yet. Nor are the brewers, generally. There are a few beers worthy of a of super-premium price, but not all that many. They don't help their cause by over-hyping some 'limited edition' that turns out to be barely average, either. There is nothing average about Ola Dubh, though. Obviously, it's not going to be a beer you stock the fridge with, but it's the perfect beer to keep a couple on hand for when deserving friends want to try something a little special for a nightcap. Expensive, yes, but it is still cheaper than that Lagavulin single malt you can keep tucked away for the extraordinarily deserving.