Happy humpday everyone! Thanks for joining me for day five of the 13 Beers of Halloween. For anyone who thought I met my horrible demise after last night’s review, don’t worry, I escaped, but the Ram-Beast is still at large. But, this brew train stops for no one, not even warlock-summoned Cthulu-ish domesticated animals. Our next stop has been chosen specifically for its name, which is epic on a normal day, and downright awesome in the spirit of Halloween. It’s Orkney Brewery’s Skull Splitter, a scotch ale brewed in honor of Thorfinn Hauskaluif – a kick ass viking who ruled over Orkney back in the day, when men were measured by both the length and girth of their claymores, and everyday had the potential to become bloodier than a Saw movie, you know, when they weren’t enforcing rape laws and ensuring child support was delivered on time. (Vikings were well ahead of their time. True story.) But anyways, with a name like “Skull Splitter”, you bet it’ll be on this list. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to glue some stag horns onto this helmet before I start drinking.
Mustering all of my beard-given power, I popped the top off the bottle and began my journey. The initial aroma was a potent burst of malts and mild “spice-drop” spices that weren’t as strong as a wit style beer, but enough to add complexity and richness to the mix. Tangy fruits pop in and out of the aroma, adding a sweet yet heavy punch to the overall profile. There’s an underlying smell that reminds me of Fig Newtons – sweet and slightly savory at the same time. It’s a great description of the initial aroma, because the full roastedness of the malts is huge, yet yielding enough to allow the lighter aspects of fruits and spices to make noticeable appearances. Finally, an edge of alcohol finished the aroma with a brief, bracing purity that slices through the malts and punches you in the nose.
The first bottle taste reveals super toasty roasted malts that make a tasty bread backbone, while layers of sweet molasses, figs and apples fall on top, each adding another level of flavor and complexity. This initial burst of flavor rolls over the tongue slowly, building momentum until ending with a kick at the back of the tongue. Along for the ride are hints of nutmeg, brief cinnamon, and a dash of ginger, just enough to add a subtle burst of zest to the big picture. Despite the number of flavor notes, they all combine to create a great, sweet-yet-hearty beer flavor, with dominating malts that stick to the tongue for ages. There aren’t too many bells or whistles, just beer with some added life. However, the final component is what pulls you into the world of the Viking, battle-axe in hand as you await the arrival of an approaching army. What is this mythical power that can send you back in time? It’s the fact that this beer is crazy strong! It doesn’t have the highest ABV, but its 8.5% isn’t masked at all. The sweet notes from the fruits and malts try to tone it down a bit, but like a broadsword to the face, this is an eye opener. That keen edge of alcohol spills over the tongue, rolling crisp and slightly dry as it sends your mouth ‘atingle and starting a low, slow burn down your throat. You’ll definitely need to go slow with this one, but the first few tastes will definitely light a fire under you. Which is good. You’ll need a little kick now that a snow storm has started as you and your clan stand shoulder to shoulder against an unseen enemy. Only drum beats and the rumbling of feet remind you of their steady approach through the fog shrouded frosty night. You know who these midnight warriors are though, a thought that brings you no comfort. It isn’t an army of mere men. It’s the Frost Eye clan, a savage band of massive warriors who are said to kill themselves by burying into the snow for an entire season, only to arise as unstoppable reapers of frigid death…
Well now, that escalated a bit. Where were we? Ah yes, poured into a pint glass, potent floral malt notes rise up slowly, bringing an alcoholic tang in addition to the same fruity sweetness from before. This is one disciplined beer. It doesn’t change, it doesn’t flinch. It only grows stronger, building upon itself over and over in the face of oncoming destruction. You’re a warrior of the Skull Splitter Clan. You don’t know fear, or cold, or defeat. These Frost Eyes are no different from any other enemy you’ve crushed. Feel your blood surge through your veins, sending burning life into every inch of your body. Excellent, the rage is starting to build. The beer pours a deep, roasted copper with a subtle opacity underneath a creamy, white head that hangs on for as long as it can.
The Frost Eyes finally crest the hillock above you. Their midnight black furs and steel absorb what little moonlight makes it through the fog, and their faces are hidden under masks of dried skin, burnt black and painted with stripes of red and white. Summoning your courage and channeling your furious hatred into a bellowing war cry, you lead your brothers in a glorious battle charge. This beer tastes just like that once it’s been poured. Crazy strong and brutal in both taste and feel. The alcohol edge is a sharp as a sword, and the malts seem to draw power from Thor himself, bursting across your tongue like a hammer blow. The fruits and spices are still there, but they’re pushed to the back in order to make room for the uber taste explosion that detonates within your mouth. The flavors cling despite the alcohol, lingering as a slightly fruity, massively toasty maltiness. Everything about this is huge, powerful, and angry in the best way possible. Just like a viking.
All around you, sparks shower against the frozen ground as steel strikes steel in a flurry of swords and axes. Clouds of blood fill the air, flesh parting under the sharpened edges of blades. Early in the fight, one of the bastards managed to cleave a deep gash into your shoulder, but it only fed your rage, feeling as nothing compared to the bloodlust-induced fury that powers you forward. Forward to your destiny, for in front of you stands the Frost Eye King himself. He will soon feel your wrath.
Drinking this beer is like hearing a retelling of an epic viking battle. Better yet, it’s like actually fighting in an epic viking battle. There isn’t any flash – just pure, malty beer potency, with enough kick to make Odin cough. Subtle fruits and mild spicing adds a little life to the brew, and an extreme edge of alcohol slices through the mouth, but it still remains quite tasty, refreshing, and drinkable. Be sure to go slow, or else the alcohol will obliterate most of the flavor.
A few awesome occasions for drinking this include whenever you find yourself with a huge bowl of stew in front of you, or on a cold, winter night, after your fire has died and you need to stay warm until morning. Also, in the midst of a viking berserker charge. As you feel your axe sink into Dalgruff Frost Eye’s neck, remember to keep your fury burning. It is said that no mortal can kill the Frost Eye King, a myth that you now realize as truth as Dalgruff’s massive shadow suddenly looms over you. My horror genre is a bit of stretch, but I’m suggesting whatever Valhalla Rising would fall into. I’ll call it…Brutal Viking Horror. Sure, it’s not “horror”, but there’s enough blood in it to fill 37 long ships, or almost an entire viking beer horn. Orkney’s Skull Splitter Scotch Ale earns a glorious A.
Lasting Strength: 10/10
Overall: 9.5/10 A