Scottish people enjoy booze. There, I’ve said it. Scotch ale, as a style, certainly reflects this fact. Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewing is a solid representative of this moderately heavy, malty, rich, and boozy lineage. At 8.5% ABV, it’s certainly neither a Belgian nor a truly Big Beer, but it packs a wallop, hence its name.
As the weather turns warmer, I’m left watching my beloved Mets come back to earth from their hot start, and I need a beer to shepherd me through their west coast road trip. Also, there is a large pile of dishes from the party we just had with our neighbors. Perusing the beers my buddy left in the fridge, I find a little gem of joy to counteract my baseball-induced sorrow. So, for me, that wallop is welcome.
Actually, the name Skull Splitter comes from an Orcadian hero: Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson (Thorfinn Hausakliuuf), the seventh earl of Orkney. “Hasuakliuuf” translates from Old Norse as “Skull-Splitter.” That’s a pretty bad-ass honorific, and gives this beer some big shoes to fill. While it doesn’t carve a path of destruction through dark-ages era Scotland, it certainly feels like a worthy Viking brew, especially when you go back for round two. And three. And four. And…well, you get the picture.
Let’s take a second to talk about Scotch Ales. “Scotch Ale” is a 19th Century term given to ales brewed in Scotland (duh), and, as ales are wide-ranging and hard to pin down, Scotch Ales are a varied breed. Some are only strong by American macro-brew standards, running 5.5%-6.5%. However, others tend to be a bit heavier – in fact, an alternative name for the style is “Wee Heavy,” which, I’m sure we can all agree, is just a better name than “Scotch Ale.” Weaker, paler Scotch Ales are, generally, about as exciting as a big ol’ plate of room temperature noodles, but their bigger, badder brothers can be truly exceptional.
So then, Skull Splitter is a Wee Heavy named after an Orcish warlord from the 10th Century. As such, it does its job very well. It has a nice dark amber color and smells of rich malts and caramel. Its taste is complex and rich, if a bit alcohol-forward; when people complain about this beer, that’s their issue – the booze. However, I view this as a feature, not a flaw. You’re drinking a beer, goddamn it, not having a damned juice-box. You want to taste the alcohol so you know it’s there, doing its job.
There are other versions of Scotch Ale that I prefer, truth be told (Oskar Blues’s Old Chub, anyone?), but this one is light enough in texture and viscosity that you can go back to the well a few times, which is important, as you watch your team lose at baseball and avoid doing the dishes from the barbecue that just ended.