Orkney: Dark Island Reserve (Scotland: Old Ale: 10% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Thin brown head that quickly vanishes to just a rim and a dusting.

Nose: Very vinous. Very spirity. Sour red wine. Rich sherry. Alcohol soaked raisins. Rum. Honeycomb. Golden syrup cake slices. Charcoal dusting. Hot fudge cakes.

Body: Cake sponge. Light charring. Smoke. Brown bread. Bitter core. Dry toffee. Thick feel after being light for a couple of seconds. Dry rum. Sour grapes. Dry sherry. Bitter chocolate cake. Lightly sour touch. Brown bread. Dry plums and dry figs.

Finish: Bitter chocolate cake. Sour touch. Sour grapes. Sour figs. Bitter cocoa dust. Wet moss. Smoke. Dry sherry.

Conclusion: Ok, this took me a bit of time for me to get my head around. Mainly because the aroma, the body and the finish all feel massively different while still having enough in common to give a coherent theme.

The aroma is the most spirity, vinous thing you are likely to encounter any time soon. It is thick as hell, heavy, with thick sweet syrup notes and tons of the old ale style and dark fruit notes. Every element you can imagine from its description is here and huge.

So, with that in mind, on first sip I was expecting pretty similar. Instead I got a drier, bitter chocolate cake, smoke and charring thing up front. Bitter in character but fairly subtle despite its weight. Then, over time, the old ale style sourer but still thick and heavy set of notes comes out. Subtle sour grapes, but more evident than that are the dry spirity notes. Far drier in how that are expressed in the full bodied aroma, but most definitely there.

The finish flips that a bit. It still has the bitter opening but then goes heavily into the sour, old ale like notes first, before finally the dry spirit notes show themselves around the edges.

It is not an instantly rewarding mix, which is kind of why I find it so engrossing. It had my interesting instantly with the aroma, but I had to take my time waiting in the body as it slowly laid its cards out after that, making you wait for the best notes at the latter half of the beer. It is never a bad beer, still solid early on, but the best comes to those who wait.

The beer never ends up the boozy beast that the aroma promises, and I kind of miss that – it smelled like it was going to be epic, but the drier, old ale sourness meets dry spirity character meets smoke and dry chocolate cake thing is a heck of an experience, and not one I can say I have seen like this elsewhere.

This earns its reputation, just takes a short while to do so. Give it that time and you will be rewarded.

Background: I have known this beer by reputation for ages, but somehow never got my way around to grabbing a bottle. Which changed last Christmas when I had a 750ml bottle to myself for lock-down Christmas! I didn’t do notes on it then, and have meant to for ages since. So this is me doing that , finally pulling my thumb out and doing something. For some reason this, smaller bottle, stylizes the name as DRK ISLD RSRV. Maybe because they hate me. That is most likely. Anyway, this is Dark Island that has spent time in whisky casks. Makes sense. Though considering the Dark Island I tried was sub 5% and this is over 10% I’m guessing they brewed up the recipe a bit. That or it was a heck of a wet barrel and there is a serious amount of whisky in this. Which seems less likely. Anyway, I think this was one of the earlier attempts at barrel ageing beers in the UK, but I couldn’t be sure on that. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to Ulver: ATGCLVLSSCAP. I wanted something haunting to go with something this big, and as always Ulver provides. Considering the album is basically live improvised remixes of existing songs it speaks highly of Ulver that it is still so amazing.