On a recent visit to The Connaught hotel in London, I came across a drink that changed my world – or rather, two of my worlds.
I had some downtime before a big event and popped into the bar for a beer – or, because this is 2018, something from a curated selection of small-run craft beers. Not familiar with any of the makers, I went with the bartender’s suggestion: an ale from Scotland’s Harviestoun Brewery.
What landed in front of me was the pitch-black, curiously sounding Ola Dubh – pronounced “ola-doo” and Scots Gaelic for “black oil” – which, most notably, is an ale that’s been aged in whisky casks. I couldn’t believe it: whisky is hands down my libation of choice and to come across a beer that’s infused with its oaky, malted flavours is, well, the best of both worlds.
As I took in the beer’s delicious notes of smoky-sweet, roasted peat, chocolate and coffee – all held together by a rich and syrupy mouthfeel – I learnt that Ola Dubh is not matured in any old whisky cask, but in the oak barrels of Scotland’s award-winning Highland Park distillery, located on the sea-battered island of Orkney. Meanwhile, Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil serves as the base ale – a dark and gloopy, viscous concoction with hints of burnt toast and sweet caramel. Mature that for around a year in a barrel that previously housed a Highland Park single malt for 12 years, and the result is a rich and complexly flavoured drink that promises to pair well with game, jerk chicken and chocolate.
Ola Dubh is available in 12-year (£12 for three 330ml bottles), 16- and 18-year reserves (referring to the age of the Highland Park whiskies), with each earning an impressive number of accolades since debuting in 2007. A limited edition 10-year anniversary Ola Dubh that’s been aged in a barrel for two years is available by special request and is, like the 18-year reserve, individually numbered, dated and signed by Harviestoun’s master brewer and Highland Park’s master of wood. The beer was in my online checkout basket long before I’d reached the bottom of the glass.