Please welcome Josh the Mad Capper to the Beer Sensei Blog. Starting today he will be penning a beer review column every Friday. Check back weekly for his recommendations on your weekend libations.
Today I have the pleasure of introducing Orkney Brewery’s menacingly named Skull Splitter Scotch ale. Taking its name from the 10th-century Viking Earl of Orkney, Thorfinn “Skull-splitter” Torf-Einarsson, this award-winning beer weighs in at a considerable 8.5% ABV and describes itself as a “rich sophisticated ale” that is “satiny smooth with deceptively light character.”
Also known as a “wee heavy,” Scotch ale typically has an ABV in the range of 6.5-10% and a rich malty character that may include roasted or caramel-like flavors. While hop flavors and bitterness are often present, they should be fairly low-level, merely complementing the predominant malt. Fruity esters from the yeast may be reminiscent of dark dried fruit.
According to the brewery, the Skull Splitter is made using a generous amount of pale ale malt as well as crystal malt (which contributes a sweet, caramel-like flavor), chocolate malt (which contributes flavors akin to chocolate, coffee, and nuts), and spicy, flowery East Kent Goldings hops.
I found the Skull Splitter to be all-around solid. Its various qualities work well together, particularly the judicious and well-structured flavors and the carefully attenuated carbonation and crispness. The flavor and aroma are consistently complex and expressive but not overwhelming, as can sometimes be the case with high-gravity, malt-forward beers.
The aroma includes toffee and a little chocolate but is not overly sweet. Spiciness and dark fruitiness are present, accompanied by some soft but pronounced woody, roasted malt. It appears mostly clear with a lovely, orange-ish mahogany body and a light tan head. There is plenty of rich malt in the flavor but its “deceptively light character” is apparent. The malt is somewhat sweet but not as toffee-like as in the aroma, and instead has more of a woody, roasted character. The flavor overall produces an impression of skillfully balanced sweetness and bitterness. Some warming alcohol appears briefly and quickly fades, and contributes nicely to the pervading spiciness and dark fruitiness of the esters. What lingers is a lightly sweet and grainy maltiness with just a bit of astringency from the roasting. It has a smooth texture with a mid-range body—neither too heavy nor too light.
Today’s beer was purchased at Tanakaya in Mejiro, just a couple minutes’ walk from Mejiro station in Tokyo.
―The Mad Capper