HARVIESTOUN OLA DUBH—ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

My Fellow Inebriates,

I was shattered when Christine left our house this morning. By which I mean, when I woke up hours after she’d gone and realized the fact, I felt betrayed. Not by Christine, who can do no wrong. (Christine arrived at our house yesterday afternoon with her special canvas bag containing two fine whiskies, two unique craft beers, and an outstanding Shiraz she’d been cellaring since 2003.) Christine is beyond reproach.

But I felt sort of let down by my parents, who didn’t bother to shake me awake to say good-bye. I actually meant to stow away with Christine this morning in the canvas bag. Although it was still occupied by two bottles of Scotch, it had a compartment I could have slipped into if I weren’t comatose at the time of her departure. Evidently my parents couldn’t entertain Christine until I finished sleeping off last night’s alcohol; I didn’t even get a chance to pant after her booze or press my nose against the window.

Why are my parents so boring? I can’t imagine why anyone visits them at all. What a testament to their dullness that any visitors they do get must bring alcohol to make the visit tolerable. (Come to think of it…well, it’s kind of a wash. If my parents were more interesting they would get more visitors, but the visitors wouldn’t need to get hammered to endure their company.) But still, last night was pretty cool.

First out of the canvas bag was HARVIESTOUN OLA DUBH SPECIAL RESERVE (18). Translated as “black oil,” OLA DUBH is so named for its “gloopy and viscous” mouthfeel. It is “the first ale to be aged in malt whisky casks from a named distillery and, with traceable casks and numbered bottles, the first with genuine provenance.” Christine found this 8% brew at a specialty liquor store in Olympic Village where it commanded $8 for its Highland Park–cask aging. Short glasses seemed fitting, so the humans poured it three ways (I gadded about between the three glasses, ending up with the lion’s share).

“Black oil” is not a misnomer. In the glass OLA DUBH is thick, oily, and darker than Coca Cola. Harviestoun compares its appearance to that of “used motor oil,” but I don’t know of any automotive waste that exudes such symphonic waves of dark chocolate, espresso, sherry, and peat. This breathtaking aroma is but a prelude to an exquisite cascade of malty, smoky, leathery toffee-tinged gloriousness—enveloping the palate and winding up with a soulfully bitter cocoa finish. Prickling the tongue with gentle carbonation, OLA DUBH is a rhapsodic hybrid of whisky and beer, warming and mellow yet curiously tingly on the palate. Sweeter than a stout and infinitely more complex, OLA DUBH wrenches a forbidden word from even the most hardened and obdurate taster—the taster who has sworn never to utter the word—yes, against his will and without resistance, my dad said it: OLA DUBH is sessionable.

Because if you could—if you possibly could—you would want to draw your experience with OLA DUBH out over several hours. With its glass-clinging, massive body and absolutely subjugating intensity, this beer takes over your mind; it controls you; it OWNS you.

After everyone drank their two fingers of OLA DUBH, there was no way we could immediately sample another beer. It wouldn’t have been fair. So everyone sipped Carmenere while my mother concocted one of her meals seemingly designed to bother and disconcert everyone’s palate, and together those incongruous new tastes helped arrest everyone’s pining for the OLA DUBH.

In all honesty—although this may be the sort of creeping determinism my furry head cooked up to cope with the emptiness of the OLA DUBH bottle—I doubt you could drink such a viscous beer all evening. At least humans probably wouldn’t want to. But we bears have some crazy stomach enzymes. 😉

SLEEMAN HONEY BROWN LAGER—not sessionable, and not for wankers


I don’t get up early enough to verify this, but apparently the morning ritual around here involves the kids begging for “honey spoons”—spoonfuls of honey that precede breakfast. Any bears who are up at that time have to suffer, watching them gobble up the precious stuff. Even though I don’t really do solid food, honey makes me salivate as all good bears do when they catch sight of a beehive, but in my case it also makes me think of SLEEMAN HONEY BROWN LAGER.

I’ve mentioned this elixir before as a good go-to beer that measures favorably against a host of craft-beer variations on the honey brew. I like it, peeps; it’s refreshing and clean-tasting, with just enough weight and a nice long finish.

But beer wankers disagree with me. They disparage it!

What do they dislike about SLEEMAN HONEY BROWN LAGER? Well, wankers say it reminds them of high school, that it’s so “macro,” and that it doesn’t taste good warm—i.e., they can’t have a long, drawn-out beer-wanking “session” with it.

I didn’t know what “sessionable” beer was until I read beerbecue’s skewering (ha!) of the term. His contention that “session beer” is a pretentious term elicited 19 comments—more than he likely would have netted had he proposed adopting a Soylent Green policy or suggested we all kill a puppy.

If you’re not familiar with the idea that a <5% ABV qualifies a beer for a “session” during which tasters may sip and consider its qualities without getting thoroughly trashed, check out the article. But for alcoholics like me and probably some of my friends, a word like “sessionable” is utterly meaningless. A beer session for somebody like me goes on until the beer is gone or I pass out. If the beer is COORS LIGHT the process takes a little longer, but it still happens. I only weigh a few ounces, my fellow inebriates, so I don’t emerge from any drinking session unscathed, and nothing—save an abomination like O’DOUL’S—dilutes the eventual drunkenness that is in fact the express purpose of opening a bottle of anything, sessionable or not.

Being a live-and-let-live bear, I don’t mind what terms are bandied about concerning beer. But when the house is dry, I tend to surf the net and read about beer. And what I see is my fave daily beer being trashed by “session” beer drinkers. OMG! They say they wouldn’t have bought it but “it was in the house” (magically) or “someone brought it over” (lucky) or they “thought they’d give it a chance” (decent of them).

Here’s the skinny on SLEEMAN HONEY BROWN LAGER. It’s a gorgeous, clear amber with off-white foam and some lacing. The scent is slightly malty with honey up front, an aroma that pays off as this effervescent brew hits the tongue. Generous caramel notes open up as the fizz settles in the mouth with a crisp, quenching mouthfeel and a nice balance between sweet and bitter. The taste lingers satisfyingly, making for an interesting taste experience that categorically differs from most so-called “macro beer” experiences.

Yes, it is a mainstream beer with a reasonable but not bottom-shelf price. It’s refreshing in summer but weighty enough for winter (unusual for a lager)—and therefore ideal for spring and fall too. I totally love SLEEMAN HONEY BROWN LAGER.

But supposedly honey itself is almost more awesome. Did you know that honey is a natural antibacterial agent? Scientists are testing its potential to combat hospital-borne strep infections (constantly evolving to be one step ahead of even the most powerful antibiotics) and finding that honey kills off most strep cells. Wow!

Admittedly, I prefer SLEEMAN HONEY BROWN LAGER slightly to honey, which means that if I ever get a strep infection I might be an idiot and make a poultice with beer instead of honey—and end up as bear meat for flesh-eating disease. Wouldn’t that be disgusting? And then it would travel to my brain and turn me into a beer wanker.