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Classic Beer of the Month February 2014: Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, 6%

As beer names go, Old Engine Oil is not the most flattering. It takes me back to the 1980s, to a pub I occasionally visited in Wales where the sole cask beer was known to all and sundry as 'Sludge'. I don't know who coined the term but it was a remarkably accurate reflection of the standard of cellarmanship.
Harviestoun Old Engine Oil
Old Engine Oil, however, has more wholesome origins. The name derives from the former career of one Ken Brooker, founder of Harviestoun Brewery, in Alva, Scotland.

Before donning his brewer's wellies, Ken was a man from the motor trade. He worked for Ford in Dagenham.

When, in 2000, he developed a new, dark, somewhat gloopy beer to enter the Tesco Beer Challenge, he couldn't resist calling it after a substance he knew all about.

Prize Winner

Old Engine Oil is today labelled a porter but it has also been branded simply as 'dark beer' and has been described by various writers as anything from an old ale to an imperial stout.

Such terminology, while it may trouble the pedants, is somewhat irrelevant, as the beer in the bottle has impressed from day one. It won that Tesco Beer Challenge and has claimed further prizes since.

The beer is a big, nourishing beast that packs 6% alcohol and yet never allows its potency to undermine its flavour.

Pouring viscous and near-black in colour, it presents a biscuity aroma of chocolate liqueurs – a welcome that both tempts you in and also suggests that you should treat what's to follow with due respect.

Conjured from a grist comprising pale malt, roasted barley and creamy malted oats, flavours on the tongue resemble rich chocolate and bitter coffee with a pinch of liquorice.

The texture is thick and smooth, the taste bittersweet and vinous, with hops, as you would expect in a beer of this style, knowing their place. The mix of Fuggle, East Kent Golding and Galena adds to the complexity without hijacking the palate.

In the thick, velvety, softly warming finish, the roasted barley really comes into its own, leaving bitter chocolate lingering on the tastebuds.

If you'd like to try an even bolder version, look out for a 9% derivative called Engineer's Reserve, or seek out a bottle of Ola Dubh, the brewery's acclaimed whisky-cask beer, which is based on a similarly upscaled version of Old Engine Oil. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

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