This has been sitting in the pantry since last year and I do rather feel that I may have jumped the gun a little in opening it so early. Let me explain, this is a proper ale of the sort that one ought to leave a long time (like the couple of bottles I have lurking to be opened some time in the next six years) but I didn't know that until I opened it. However, far be it from me to let such things go unsaid in a beer review. It's been a long and tiring day with much to vex, much to celebrate and much to mull over. Cold, wet and miserable weather but are we down-hearted? No! What better way to relax at the end of all of that than by having some of the venerable Traquair House Ale brewed in the oldest inhabited house in Scotland?
Seriously, is there a better way? I'm not sure that there is, truth be told, though I do still have some of that Sink the Bismarck (here) hanging around so maybe that can come afterwards. In the meantime, I am having me some of this here dark and treacle-textured ale because that's just how I roll, would you like to know more, laddie?
The aroma is strong with this one, like the Force but less like a scary force of mumbo-jumbo that Han Solo disagrees with and more like a veritable slap in the face to wake you up. Part of that is the simple strength of the brew, at 7.2% ABV this can claim to be a strong ale and, in normal circumstances, will be quite the strongest you grab to have. Mind you, I say that owning and having had some bonkers strength ales. The next thing is the very slight carbonation, there's a bit of a head formed as you pour but this rapidly dissipates and is replaced by... well, not very much. There's a sort of whiskey smell to this one, at once warming and drying, that makes me feel hotter for having smelled it. I am beginning to regret opening this unchilled at the end of a warm day with sunshine, seems like it ought to have waited until the depths of winter with the wind howling outside and some old Scotsman declaring that there are "nae candles" which I think must be a joke that only I get.
Nevertheless, there's a richness to this. It belongs in the past with kings and queens, with the gentry and to an era that never actually happened where people respected one another and people with land were bred to rule. You know, like in real history, in Westeros. So, not a real time. In many ways it's a little like people hankering after the 1950s and missing out all the corporal punishment and bullying in schools, the violent crime and the death-defying driving that was perfectly normal back then due to a lack of crumple zones and the like. Still, this ale has class and character to be above such petty considerations, with a spiced malt on the nose and the barest hint of some hops on the edges that allow for some bitterness.
The deep amber colouring is nearly back, and almost cloudy (but it totally isn't) so that you know this has had a good deal of malt chucked at it and then it has sat around for a good long while before being bottled. While we're on appearance, look at the jacket this thing has - that's nice and understated, does what it needs to do and skilfully avoids much of the current vogue for looking 'revolutionary' through use of font and printing prowess. This is no nonsense and clear, I suspect the packaging hasn't changed an awful lot for quite some time but I could be proved incorrect and be happy.
When the taste hits it's heavy. First there's a drawing in of air, almost, like there's no flavour at all, but then it all hits at once. The malt is the main feature, dark and smooth, with the fiery undertow of the yeast and the alcohol brimming forth like the flames licking a longboat from a Viking funeral. Somewhere on the shoreline there are soldiers firing flaming arrows tipped with hops that carry a small amount of bittering that bypasses the tongue and floods straight into the charred remains of the ship slipping into the aftertaste. A conflagration of yeast, spice and deep malt makes up the central part of the brew, filling the mouth and lighting the encroaching darkness fit to guide a warrior to the hunting halls of Valhalla. Or perhaps this is just the start of the revenge of the '45 when the Jacobin warriors will return with their chosen King and put right the failures of their chosen head, maybe the bear gates will once again open and maybe not.
This needs intrigue and winter to work at its best, gather in the bairns and the family, light the log fire and batten down all your hatches and windows. Outside the wind will howl and the ice will form, dogs will bark and the snow will swirl but ye and your family will huddle close and share the warmth with clouding breath. The Head of the Household shall hold forth with a bottle and eat well of meat and vegetables roasted over open flames before sharing and thus shall all eat and be merry in the dark of the evening. A second will follow as the meal draws to a close and a third will flow with conversation and then shall sleep come, to be followed by a massive hangover because these are 7.2% ABV a pop!