by Harrison Dean
It’s staring at me. Pitch black, like oil sludge. I present to you Ola Dubh Special Reserve 18. This is easily one of the most massive beers I’ve reviewed. Harviestoun takes an old ale with big chocolate and malt notes, and then ages it in oak casks that were used to age 18-year old scotch. The appearance is certainly daunting: minimal lacing with medium cream bubbles atop a sludgy black liquid. But at $13.49 for a single bottle, is it really worth it—especially on a college budget?
Immediately noticeable are the scents of chocolate, vanilla, and whiskey as soon as I uncapped the bottle; this is not an understated beer. But there’s also plenty of subtlety just under that, if you dig deep enough: I can pick out charcoal and peat hiding in the back, no doubt thanks to the scotch barrel aging. And on the first sip—
DEAR GOD. WOW.
There is a LOT of flavor in this beer. It strikes me as more of a stout than an old ale: the chocolate is blatantly obvious, but marries with vanilla and hints of caramel. The scotch is blatant and up front: lots of peat, charcoal, and a bit of ale sweetness to round it out. The hop bite is significant, but given the massive nature of the other flavors they don’t stand out. The flavors here don’t fight; they complement. On the tongue, this is an extremely thick beer, with large blooms of heavy carbonation.
This beer is like a fine wine, or an even finer whiskey. I don’t regret spending the large price tag for a ridiculously over-the-top beer, and I’ll certainly be doing it again with this one. If you can manage to track it down, I highly recommend you try what is one of the finest beers I’ve had the pleasure of drinking.