Half’n'Half Part One: Old Worthy

OldWorthy_Tap_Label_v2

Half’n'half /hawfnhaf/, whisky and chaser, a dip and a nip. An Edinburgh institution, an art, a way of life.

Really?

Well, no. Half’n'half is right now hardly what I’d like it to be. I was first introduced to it some years ago in the form of a Tennent’s and a nip of Grouse. I was surprised how well it worked. Then a malt whisky obsession came about and for a while after-work drinks were all about Belhaven Best paired clumsily with Laphroaig. It just seemed cool, there was no other rationale behind it.

Fast forward another few years. Our chum – Nick Ravenhall – founds a beer brand. And not just any old beer, a Scottish Pale Ale made with some peated malt from Ardmore and brewed to absolute fucking perfection on Isle of Skye. Old Worthy is the name and the beer doesn’t make apologies for being made with half’n'half in mind. It’s a Scotch beer to go with Scotch whisky and no, that’s not a cucumber in my pocket. You can imagine that when Nick asked us if we’d like to test ride Old Worthy we howled so loud that he could actually hear us in Oslo.

But seriously, this inspired us to have a long hard look at half’n'half. This is but the first of a series of posts I’m going to write on the subject. A half’n'half revolution is in the air.

The Beer

The name Old Worthy actually has a great little story behind it. Worthies was a term used in reference to distillery workers on Islay who would indulge in sneakily obtained pint or two of distilling wash – the strong beer which is then distilled and becomes new make spirit.

Old Worthy isn’t however wash. Far from it. It’s a Scottish Pale Ale, a new twist on the famous India Pale Ales. The hop content is slightly lower by comparison to IPA (Challenger hops used) but a huge flavour punch comes from the fact that a proportion of malt used in the process is peated, in this case at Ardmore Distillery to 10-15ppm. This is in addition to Marris Otter winter barley and crystal malt. Now, 10-15ppm on only a proportion of the grain mix may not sound like much peating at all but bear in mind that this is not distilled and not cask-aged and therefore loses very little of that original phenol content along the way. The result is a malty, creamy, fruity ale deliciously wrapped in this amazing wood-smoke richness. Oh, and Old Worthy uses a small amount of Highland heather honey as a fermentable too. Just to make it even more ridiculously Scottish. Om, nom, nom.

Love this beer on its own really. In fact worked my way through a couple of bottles at room temperature just like that, to enjoy and admire the brew. But the real reason why Old Worthy enlisted our help was to pair it with some sick whiskies and kick-off match-making for the whisky blogosphere. So here we are. To serve!

Half’n'half

This is where it gets a bit tricky. Every half’n'half we’ve ever done before revolved around the whisky – we’re whisky fanatics, it’s only natural. But this time the beer is the starting point. We’re here with a glass of slightly chilled Worthy and a house full of single malt.

My first though was – smoky whisky isn’t going to work. Not sure why I though that but just made sense. So for the initial flight we lined up some youngish cask strength Clynelish from ex-bourbon cask (Manager’s Choice in fact, haha), mid-age Balvenie from sherry butts and a mature Bowmore (1985) just to see whether the peaty theory was right.

The Clynelish combo to start with was great. Think – structure, creaminess, vanilla but all that well in the 50′s in terms of ABV so with a considerable oomph. The beer dominated this half’n'half slightly but that was to be expected.

The Balvenie just didn’t work. The rich fruitiness of the whisky didn’t go with the beer in my opinion. The sweetness of the whisky clashed with the slight acidity of the beer and overall the conclusion was that the first attempt was better. And it wasn’t the whisky’s fault, the dram is great on its own. Welcome to the twisted world of pairing things…

The Bowmore. Uh, ya fucker. Whisky in first, a coat of palate and swallow; then beer, same procedure. When the beer went down it just disappeared straight away from the spectrum because the whisky finish was still going. The Bowmore we used is truly spectacular but confirmed my suspicions. Old Worthy doesn’t need any more smokiness. It was too much no matter how we approached it. Back to Clynelish then.

Then, just for shits and giggles, Old Worthy was introduced to Ardbeg Supernova (2). It perished. After half a dram of the Ardbeg we could have well been doing a half’n'half with a glass of water. What people do when they get intoxicated, eh? It was a waste of great beer, don’t try this at home.

This was by no means a comprehensive test so some time later EWB team gathered at Lebowski’s to once again put this approach to a test. This time Clynelish was replaced by BenRiach 16yo, Glendronach 15yo took the place of the Balvenie and there was some Caol Ila to hand to commit a ritual suicide by peat at the end. The results corresponded pretty much with what had been established during the first session although this time there were some rogue members of the tasting panel who actually dug the Glendronach combo. I personally don’t like that Glendronach at all so was hard pushed to see their point but apparently that sulphury beast stood its ground against the beer.

General pointers

To re-cap, we’ve noticed that generally bourbon cask works better than sherry cask, higher ABV helps a great deal and peated whisky just turns it into a Japanese TV show. As to the technique, we’ve tried it all (including some blending action in the mouth) and generally whisky in first, then beer works for us.

But the most important piece of advise I would give to a new Old Worthy fan would be – forget what you just read and do it yourself all over again. The second session really proved that there is no right or wrong here so explore and find your own G-spot. And then tell us!

For more info on Old Worthy make sure to sign up for the newsletter on their website (still in development) and check out the Facebook page. Also, feel free to email us if you have questions.

Next time I’m going to explore other beers and try to find some general rules/pointers that would make life easier for budding half’n'halfers. So do let me know if you have any cool ideas, if there are any sets you think I should test or if you have any questions you want me to cover.

Comments

  1. Great post, Lucas – really a good read and will welcome further discussions on the half’n'half. I’m sure you’re already on it, but the Harviestoun Schiehallion they serve at the SMWS is a great beer for a whisky (unsurprisingly). Seems to go with almost everything.

    Personally love Cornish IPA (either St. Austell’s Proper Job or the M&S Cornish which is probably the same or very similar) with whisky. I like it with Laph 10, but I’m a deviant.

  2. Lovely Read Mon ami.

    HnH is not really big in Israel at all. i think most people never even know about it.

    will give it a try, which ones do you recommend which are widely available, we dont get this one here

  3. Great read!

    The best half’n'half combo I’ve found is Glenmorangie Signet and Guinness. They compliment each other so perfectly.

    Cheers!

  4. Thanks for the suggestions, chaps. Will have to try them all (and the selfless research continues…).

    Gal, I would suggest picking an ale you like and just doing some trial and error. I’m also new to doing this consciously so we can swap notes.

  5. Great read.

    Who can I contact if I have some more questions on this for an idea I have?

  6. Thanks, Ben. You can get in touch with us on edinburghwhisky@gmail.com

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