I decided to swing my truck around the other way this nice autumn Saturday, and pointed it west down I-80 headed for Herman’s in Ottawa. The drive is about the same length of time and distance as to Joliet, but with much less idiots and assholes on the Interstate.
I parked in the parking lot right near the front door and bought a candy bar from a little girl and her mom who were posted there selling sweets for some fund raising event.
Herman’s has a bit more room between their shelves and it made it easy to scope out all the beer selections from top to bottom. The store is rather small but they have a great selection of craft brews all the time. Friendly and down-homey if that’s a word.
Down one aisle and up another one and then I spotted something out of the ordinary. It was a beer called Skull Splitter from the Orkney Brewery in the Orkney islands north of Scotland. We’ve had Palate Wrecker and Tongue Buckler and now here’s a new one with an in-yo-face name, Skull Splitter.
The label on the front of the bottle had an illustration of a Viking with the erroneous horned helmet. In an arch across the label top was the phrase, “5000 years in the making” which would be around the times of the ancient Egyptians. Maybe the math was wrong. I dunno the significance of that.
The beer was brewed by the Orkney Brewery in Quoyloo, Orkney, just down a ways from Twatt. The beer was named after a Viking warrior Thorfinn Hauskaluif, the 7th Viking Earl of Orkney who garnered the nickname “Skull Splitter.” No official picture is available anywhere, but the guy on the label looks sorta like that one guy from GoT.
It’s not surprising that there were Vikings in Orkney in the 7th and 8th centuries. Hell, Norway is just across the North Sea. I find it ironic that a Scottish brewery crafts a scotch ale (wee heavy) named after a Viking with a fake helmet. But that’s history.
I haven’t had a wee heavy in many moons and I’m looking forward to describing the drink experience the best that I can. It’d be a nice change from IPAs and saisons and such. Also, a darker beer would welcome in the change of the season.
A few hours later, the beer was nicely chilled. I decided to use the thistle glass which is the preferred glassware to drink a Scotch ale out of, resembling the thistle, the national flower of Scotland. The beer looks great but the glass is a bit oddly shaped, like an oogah horn. The shape does nothing to alter the taste of the beer… just the enjoyment of it.
Shall we begin? Yes, let’s not wait a moment longer.
The beer poured a reddish brown and brought up a 2-inch beige head. When I held the glass up to the light I could see chunks of sediment suspended in the liquid. Carbonation was moderate. That never deterred me before. The beer was bottle conditioned. The aroma was that of grapey dark malts quite reminiscent of some Belgian quads I’ve had in the past.
The first sip was utterly fantastic. Dark fruitiness was everywhere in my mouth. I was hard pressed to find similarities to Oskar Blues’ Old Chub and Floyd’s Robert the Bruce. Skull Splitter was chock full of flavor and will probably remain tasting like a quadrupel until I finish tonight. No hint of hops that I could detect. This may give me some doubt in my own ability to pick out beer styles now that I’ve tasted a wee heavy that is similar to a quadrupel.
With all of this Scottishness, we must remember the difference between Scottish ales and Scotch ales. It is my personal preference to refer to Scotch ales as Wee Heavy. Darker, more malt, more alcohol. I hope the brewers follow along in their labeling and classifying.
I have found over time that while Old Chub is a damn good beer, I get a cloyingly sweet taste after two or three glassfuls. RTB is also good but rather nondescript after a while. You tend to forget what you’re drinking. (I haven’t had a Dirty Bastard in a while so I’ll leave them out of this.) Skull Splitter swings the other way, almost wandering from the style of beer it’s supposed to be.
It’s the perfect fall/winter beer while holding a relatively modest 8.5% alcohol. No heat in the stomach, no alcohol taste in the mouth. The grapey, malty taste is what kept me hanging on wanting another and then another sip. The taste of this beer will be etched in my memory for quite some time.
I wonder why I haven’t seen Skull Splitter around, at least at Binny’s. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking hard enough. I’ll sure to keep an eye peeled for it next time I have an extra sawbuck. Pfft! Who am I kidding?
So if you find yourself at your local bottle shop ogling the new four-pack of Dragon’s Milk with chocolate, oranges, tangerines and aged in walnut cognac barrels, cast an eye or two around for some Skull Splitter. If you find it, you can consider yourself extremely lucky. To paraphrase George Zimmer from the Men’s Wearhouse, “You’re going to like the way it tastes. I guarantee it.”
Style: Wee Heavy
Taste: Sweet, malty, delicious and mysterious.
Smoothness: Nothing spiky or sharp in this beer.
Drinkability: May be a sandbagger. It’s best to go easy.
Bang for the buck: About par for this style.
Amount paid: $11.99 per 4-pack of 330ml (11.2oz.) bottles.
Get it again? Absolutely.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Kinda muddy looking, like it’s thick. (sniff) Oooh. What is that smell? (sip) Ooh. I don’t know. It’s like molasses. (sip) Oh no, thank you. (Wouldya pour it on yer pancakes??!!)
A tour and chat with Andrew Fulton, head brewer at Orkney Brewery [5:11] – try to follow along
Scottish Siri [1:10] – fave