Name – House Ale
Brewer – Traquair
Classification – Strong Scotch ale/'Wee heavy'
Strength – 7.2% ABV
Verdict - At A Glance
On the eye – Very, very, very dark. Possibly room for at least one more 'very'. Faint sunset orange when backlit. Very. There, I said it.
On the nose – Huge aromas. Oaked, char-grilled malts. Zingy, almost grapefruit hops. Peat whisky overtones.
On the tongue – A banquet of rich, dark-beer complexity.
On the subject – Trading significantly on the fact that their home, Traquair, is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, there is little doubt that the occupants have learned a thing or two about the art of beer production whilst in residence. The house itself is something of a multi-faceted industry, serving as a venue for corporate events, weddings and a high-end bed and breakfast – the brewery is merely a part of a much wider operation. You'd think, though, brewing was the only thing these folks had ever done.
On the market – Not the world's most freely available product, but worth seeking out as a matter of grave urgency. Try online at Beer Here.
On the whole – 9/10
Well, here we are. The 100th bottled beer review here on The Year.
It's been quite a journey so far – as an examination of the Beer Year Chart will clearly demonstrate – and it was always going to be tricky deciding which brew to select for such a momentous occasion.
I wanted to have a special beer for this review, but it also had to be one that was entirely new to me. My decision, therefore, could only be based on what I believed might be a special ale.
In the end, then, it all boiled down to presentation. It became about the bottles themselves, and which gave the greatest hint that its contents were likely to be superior.
After surprisingly little deliberation, Traquair's exquisitely presented House Ale became that choice.
Very few beer bottles have this much visual allure. I've actually had two requests for this empty bottle once I've finished with it so that it can be used as either a candle holder or a bookend, depending on who I give it too. The fact is, though, I might just keep it for myself.
This, you see, is seriously sexy glassware.
However, having made my choice of beer based purely on these fairly arbitrary factors, my only fear was that the drink inside would go on to disappoint.
I can say right now that any such fears were utterly without foundation.
This is not only among the best packaged beers around, it's also one of the best brewed.
This is an unceasingly delicious, rich and powerful, highly complex strong ale with all the charm and elegance of a fairy tale prince, and all the rugged Gothic ferocity of the legendary beast he must slay.
The dominant flavours constantly interchange – the signature of a truly complex beer – and those flavours vary from licorice, cocoa, dark chocolate and black treacle to the zesty stings of ultra-high citrus and herb notes from blackberries, gooseberries, nettle, wild-grasses and more.
But as intricate as this interplay might be, there's very little point in pretending that this is not a properly fearsome brew. At 7.2% ABV – it is almost obliged to be. But the alcohols don't dominate as much as they might, because the ultra-delicate construction of the ale simply does not allow for it. In other words – it has just been too well brewed.
It has exactly that 'home made' feel that it's label suggests, whist also being possessive of a strong sense of heritage and established excellence.
And the sense of geographic placing is also in evidence here – this is very much a Scottish strong ale, with all that full bodied richness, the sheer potency of flavour, and the inevitable sweetness – which in this particular case comes in the form of an almost unending caramel fruitiness in the finish, which is a taste experience as rewarding as any beer could hope to deliver.
It's an ale of tremendous character and self-awareness.
I was fond of it right from the off.
In fact, I was somewhat in awe of it.
I suspect I always will be.