As a proud drinking nation, Scotland has many a liquid tradition, and one of the most enduring of these is undoubtedly the half and half – or, to give it the proper title, the hauf an’ a hauf. A beer and a whisky, drunk in tandem. A half and a nip. A wee chaser. Now, at this point I have to hold up my hands and say that it’s not something I’ve ever really gone in for (more on why, later). But it’s an institution with a long history, so when a suggestion was broached by Ewan from Alva’s Harviestoun Brewery of a multi-faceted hauf and hauf experiment, it wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up; particularly as the tasting was also going to be leant a touch of class from the rampaging cold steel of the Edinburgh Whisky Blog.
Ewan suggested a series of hauf and hauf tastings, with each of the three pillars of the Forth drinking community bringing the goods, at least once. So for the first outing, hosted by the good folks at Drinkmonger, Harviestoun supplied their beers, to be matched with a range of whiskies. An ‘away’ round for us, we pitched up, empty of hand and open of mind, to be greeted by a sturdy table groaning with tasting glasses, whisky bottles, and cases of beer. The four we were to try were Ola Dubh’s 12 and 18, Schiehallion and Old Engine Oil – the latter being the beer that kick-started the resurgence of Scotland’s love affair with beer and whisky, when aged in Dalmore casks back in 2002 (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise).
First up, the twin Ola’s – each paired with the respective vintage of Highland Park; the single malt used in its creation, nudging Old Engine Oil along. Ola Dubh 12 and HP12 certainly emphasised the smoky flavours in each, softening the beer, and rounding out the edges. The 18’s, though, were a different story. The Highland Park 18 rolled over the Ola Dubh. Despite still being perceptible, the beer took a seat further back with each sip. As someone not familiar with the hauf and hauf , I found this fascinating. The HP18 removed and replaced the element of the Ola Dubh 18 that the whisky had given it in the first place, as it aged (if that makes sense).
If anything, we’d have all expected the 18’s – both being stronger, fuller, more determined flavours – to complement each other better, but it really wasn’t the case at all. Equally interesting was the next comparison – Schiehallion and Glenfarclas 15 versus Glenfarclas Heritage, against Harviestoun’s Orach Slie (Schiehallion aged in Glenfarclas casks). The Heritage gave a strong whisky burn, wiping the beer out, making it porridgey. But the 15 was perfect; soft and lozengy, the sweetness made the beer zappier, and when going back to the whisky, the Glenfarclas took on a sweet, caramel, honeyed fig flavour that was absolutely incredible.
I think that was the moment when I realised that beer and whisky pairing can really work. In the past, I would never, ever, have considered doing a hauf and hauf. Why? Because I come at it entirely from a beer perspective. I know they can improve each other, but even if so, why would I want to change the flavours the brewer intended? To give full consideration to the work of the beermaker, surely you should at the very least get the complete, unaltered picture of how it should taste. Otherwise, how can you assess the success of the brewer, and the cellar-keeper? I guess that’s simply a close-minded attitude to how one of our national drinks can really let the other shine (and vice versa).
A case in point; the final hauf and hauf, involving Old Engine Oil. The 2002 batch of OEO aged in Dalmore was bought, en masse, by the US importer following a single, ‘Man from Del Monte-esque’ sip. Pairing it with Old Pulteney made the beer wheatier and bready, whilst giving a coconut sweetness to the whisky. When put up against Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve (which the Whisky Blog guys were hopping from one foot to the other about), it made the beer delicately smoky. I don’t know how expensive the Founder’s Reserve is, but it’s rip-roaring, that’s for sure. The colour of buttered toast, it’s walloping, and worked with the OEO, even if, I actually preferred the Old Pulteney pairing.
I guess the bottom line here is what do you want from a hauf and hauf? To get loaded, quicker? A US-style ‘Shot and a beer, Dolores’? Or to give a depth of flavour to each drink? It seems, judging from the conversation, that the way half and halves are being seen is changing, as a newer generation of beer/whisky fans indulge in the practice as a tasting exercise, rather than an end-of-shift exercise. A highlight, rather than a hit. Anyhow, it’s something I’m seriously glad I have now been able to experience, and it leaves me wondering quite why I had never considered it before. Clearly, getting out of the beer box every now and again is a good thing.
Next up, the onus falls on the BeerCast – we’ll be supplying four beers to be paired with whisky suggested by the Whisky Blog guys. The styles we have in mind are:-
1) Saison – something with lots of citrus, like Brew By Numbers Lemon Wa-iti
2) Big IPA – because, well, y’know…
3) Coconut Porter – How will the sweet coconut change the whisky?
4) Sour – a whisky sour? What’s not to love?
Whisky Blog/Harviestoun ; over to you…