“Ola Dubh” means “black oil”, and is a fitting name for this beer. The Ola Dubh is a beer which I had been aware of for some time, however it had only first crossed my path at the end of the summer 2009. I had done some reading about this beer previously, as well I have had a few of Harviestoun’s other creations. So knowing that this is a Harvieston Imperial Stout aged in 12 year old Highland Park Single Malt Whisky Barrels encouraged me to buy several bottles.
The Ola Dubh is a bit different than other cask conditioned beers aged in oak whisky barrels; its not aged in fresh oak barrels, but rather the barrels in which the Imperial Stout is aged are previously used 12 year old Highland Park Whisky Barrels. The Harviestoun Brewery and Highland Park Distillery have formed an alliance ensuring that this will be the only beer aged in Highland Park Barrels.
The 12 year is one of four expressions of the Ola Dubh. Harviestoun also ages their beer in 16 year, 30 year, and 40 year old Highland Park Barrels. These bottles do get pricey jumping to upwards of $20 for the 40 year old. But consider that the Highland Park Cask Strength 40 Year Old bottle is $800. It is a different beast, but that is the type of prestige that we are living in here. The 12 year comes in a 330ml, foil wrapped, individually numbered bottle at 8% abv. We are discussing bottle no. 45525, which was bottled in July 2009. The Ola Dubh poured smooth and oily with a powerful aroma roaring from the glass immediately. The beer seemed to fall heavily into the glass as if there was stronger gravity at the base of it compared to anywhere else. With a twirl you expose thick legs on the walls of the glass and only a film of tan head that caresses the glass gently. The beer is black, and scarily reminiscent of engine oil. Into the light it does glimmer with a tint of ruby, but beyond all other lights, it is black.
The nose is rich and aggressive brining smoke, roasted malt, sweet whisky, tart oak, anise, and muddled spices. Its a very creamy aroma; all of the flavors seem to meld together as one. It does have a light peat like smoke which rings around your nose the whole time suggesting its hibernation in Highland Park barrels.
After looking at this beer and smelling it I was sure, and also unsure of what to expect. I knew something of great strength and supreme smoothness would with no doubt be gracing my lips. But would it be balanced? Would the power of the whisky whose character has been embraced by the beer be to much too raw? Well, thankfully, is is balanced and the whisky is sublime!
I served it at cellar temperature around 12 degrees Celsius (45F). The beers melts over your palate in a slow and gentle wave of peaty smoke, oak, whisky, and roasted coffee. It has a light dark chocolate note floating in the background accompanied by some more Imperial Stout flavors like dried fruits, a touch of spice, molasses, and vanilla. There is very little if any carbonation on the palate, so the beer is not really all that live when you are enjoying it. It more or less gets in your mouth, then takes over and makes its presence known. Almost as if it knows that it doesn’t need the carbonation to prove anything to you; its just going to lye there and do its thang!
And it does it well. I was supremely impressed with the distinct Highland Park Whisky character which the Ola Dubh retains, as well as how the beer carries its flavors. It has a lot of powerful flavors working here with some roast and hop bitterness, but no noticeable hop flavor. The dark malts are dominant without being controlling. Overall the beer was a pleasure to drink, and also an extremely unique representation of a wood aged imperial stout.
I do have three more bottles relaxing in my cellar, so look for a one year tasting in July 2010, I am already starting to get excited for that one!