Alley Kat’s latest Big Bottle series beer is a Scotch ale called Darn Tartan. It has been out for a a month or so already, but I finally got around to trying it (all those damned Advent beer are getting in the way of my regular sampling!). I really appreciate the style, and rarely do I find one that nicely fits the bill. Most are either too modest or one-sided in their approach to what is a complex beer.
Darn Tartan presents light brown with ruby highlights with a light tan head that drops away fairly quickly. The aroma is caramel, earthy dark sugar and accents of smoke. The aroma teases a bit – hinting at sweet but then offering some sharpness that keeps you guessing where the beer is going to go.
The sip suggest it is both. It starts with soft caramel, grainy malt, toffee, and some breadiness, accenting toward sweet. In the middle the beer begins to sharpen as some darker malts and a bit of dryness comes through. It finishes surprisingly dry with a smoky hint at the end – not too big but enough to be noticed. The linger has light roast, smoke, chocolate and toffee with touches of warming alcohol. It is a more complex beer than you might think.
The hints of smoke are what work for me here. It adds a degree of complexity and sharpness to the beer. It has the a lovely malt base which is then countered by the drier finish, preventing a cloying character. Most interpretations forget about the need for a hint of smokiness, which is what brings this version to near the front of the pack for me. A solid effort that offers a nice pre-Xmas sipper for a cold night.