Dark Island Dark Ale

Dark ale from the Orkney islands of Scotland.

Dark Island Dark Ale

By Bill Lau | Potable Pastime

4.6% ABV dark Scottish ale

The Orkney Brewery, Quoyloo, Stromness, Orkney, Scotland

Today’s post heads into sadly neglected waters on my blog, to wit, those of Scottish ales. Not that I don’t like Scottish beer, mind you. I’ve simply had a tendency for some time now (as you may have noticed) to focus more on the hoppier beers and Belgian styles for the most part. So today we rectify that a bit with this offering from Orkney. Orkney is an archipelago off the north-eastern coast of Scotland, home to neolithic sites and standing stones (depicted on this ale’s label), and The Orkney Brewery.

By and large, Scottish beers tend to focus more on the malt character, no doubt due at least in part to the fact that hop growing country is a long ways away to the south, so historically hops were not as widely available in Scotland. Not to mention that Scotland possesses a good climate for growing barley (lots of it, too, as evidenced by all the malt needed not only for brewing beer but for making those many diverse and wonderful varieties of Scotch whisky – another topic overdue for attention here on Potable; but, one post at a time, right?).

The producer bills this as “the authentic Orcadian ale” on the label; their website notes that it is their flagship beer, and in its cask form has twice won CAMRA’s (the Campaign for Real Ale) Champion Beer of Scotland award. Certainly sounds promising, so let’s dive in!


Appearance (4/5): Dark, near-black, with deep reddish-amber glowing highlights. The pale beige head starts out around a quarter inch high and settles to a sustained collar and patchy, thin film.

Aroma (7/10): I get dark malts, with some roast as well as a deep, sweetish aroma bordering on treacle or molasses and a nutty note (filberts or Brazil nuts).

Palate (4.5/5): Very smooth with some viscosity and moderately full body. Carbonation is light and very finely beaded.

Taste (8/10): Opens with some roasty coffee notes, followed by some bittersweet chocolate, then brings a tangy edge to the middle with deeply caramelized malt; again, I’m thinking treacle or molasses. Bitterness is fairly restrained until the finish, then asserts itself in a gently drying manner. Notes of baked dark pit fruits join in as well. Blurs the lines between Scottish ales I’ve tried in the past and porters/stouts.

Overall (15.7/20): Lots of character and flavor for a beer under 5% ABV for sure! Should pair wonderfully with roast meats and smoked cheeses, English-style puddings, and shellfish.

Disclosure: The author has received no reimbursement or compensation for this article. All opinions and remarks are those of the author alone.

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