As a natural hoarder, I tend to have quite a few beers (and other drinks!) lurking in the back of cupboards, either being saved for a "special occasion" or because I'm just never in quite the right mood for it. It turns out that I'm not alone in this, because Mark Dredge over at Pencil and Spoon came up with the very sensible idea of creating a special occasion just for opening those bottles. He calls this community blog project OpenIt!
My OpenIt!, then, is Islay Ales' Bruichladdich 2008 Peat Ale, a 7.6%, bottle conditioned beer brewed especially for the Fèis Ìle – Islay's annual week long whisky and music festival. As I'm a huge Islay whisky fan, Kavey took me to Islay for my birthday a few years ago, which rather handily falls in Fèis Ìle. We returned for a second visit 2 years ago, again during the festival. Being a big beer fan as well, I had to visit the only brewery on the island, and came home with a couple of bottles of this very unique beer.
First, a quick whisky lesson. Whisky is, essentially, distilled beer. They make a beer, only rather than pouring it into casks and bottles, they put it into stills instead. Unlike for beer, the barley used for whisky is traditionally dried and malted over peat fires, which is what leads to the smokiness which is especially evident in Islay whiskies.
Islay Ales have developed a tradition of brewing a Peat Ale for the annual Fèis Ìle using malt that has had the heavy "peating" treatment usually reserved for whisky making, rather than regular beer-making malts. The result is a strong, smoke-filled brew which evokes more mental images of distilleries than of breweries.
On opening, it's quickly overflowing the bottle; it's a very lively beer - no doubt because it's 18 months past it's best before date. It pours a little murky, with the rather appropriate colour of a light Bruichladdich whisky; the head is fine and frothy with plenty of fine bubbles still rising. The smell is overpoweringly smoky, of bonfires but with a definite sweet malt underneath.
In the mouth, it's got a good firm body to it; the smoke is still pretty intense, lingering past most of the other flavours. The malt is sweet and subtle, and there's a real citrus lime tang with a dryness that leads into the smoke. It really doesn't taste like the 7.6% on the bottle. What it does taste like is that you're sipping a rather interesting beer whilst stood next to the peat fires of a distillery's malting floor.
It's a very odd beer, which I didn't particularly like when I originally tried it - and to be fair, I can still see why. The smoke is overpowering, and it comes dangerously close to tasting like some tyke has put out his cigar in your beer. It's *almost* delicious, and if they can cut back just a touch on the peat I'd be begging them to brew it all year around. Seems like a reason (if I needed one) to get back to Islay for another festival!