Today, I’m reviewing The Skull Splitter: The Orkney Brewery’s homage to the great—or terrible (depending on who you are)—Thorfinn “Skullsplitter” Hauskaluif—spelled how it sounds (depending on who you are). The beer nearly got pulled from market a couple years ago after concerns were raised that its name and logo were encouraging violence (obviously, Orkney isn’t an American brewery). And while Skull Splitter was never linked to acts of savagery, the beer does possess a famously aggressive flavor.
The beer poured easily, which was a surprise considering its Viking roots, and flourished into a tall, off-white head. The smell of it was fruity, most likely from the malts, enriched with tones of chocolate and fig. All together, the beer smelled powerful. I prepared myself for the first sip and was surprised by its body.
The Skull Splitter, like a number of other fine UK ales, manages to pack a lot of flavor without making the body of the beer feel heavy. Honestly, “smooth” is a great descriptor for the sensation. The flavor itself began with a marriage of malts and fruit, most notably fig, lending to the beer what could have otherwise been misinterpreted as the taste of raisins (but who wants a raisin flavored beer?). Spice (perhaps from molasses) and hops eventually overpowered the malt in a dazzle of carbonation, tickling the taste buds and layering the palate in a finish of chocolate and the undeniable tang of currant.
Now, perhaps you’re reading this right now and thinking, that is exactly what I need. But for those of you who are not accustomed with drinking strong ales, be forewarned: Skull Splitter deserves its title. The flavors can be overpowering, and I imagine even ruin beer for the irregular drinker (a warning that should be probably be given with more of those sensationally flavor-packed microbrews cropping up across the world). I’d probably only take this to a PHM party, or a craft brew tasting. It’s not something you want to drink a lot of in one sitting, and I suspect getting drunk off it might lead to Viking nightmares.
Still, after all that, I liked the beer. It was intentionally crafted, unpredictable, and remarkably layered. You don’t get your flavors all at once, or even in the order the bottle describes, but you get them all eventually. The beer carries with it a lot of history and tradition, and it boldly stands as a landmark of freedom for craft beer everywhere.