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Skull Splitter - Orkney Brewery

Not Rated.
Skull SplitterSkull Splitter

Displayed for educational use only; do not reuse.
BA SCORE
92
outstanding

1,848 Ratings
THE BROS
100
world-class

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,848
Reviews: 927
rAvg: 4.08
pDev: 12.75%
Wants: 139
Gots: 146 | FT: 0
Brewed by:
Orkney Brewery visit their website
United Kingdom (Scotland)

Style | ABV
Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy |  8.50% ABV

Availability: Year-round

Notes/Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

(Beer added by: BeerAdvocate on 10-08-1998)
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,848 | Reviews: 927 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of Atlas1
3.73/5  rDev -8.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I know very little about the Wee Heavy, but I was excited to see this at the store recently and grabbed one to try at home. I'm glad I did so.

Poured from the bottle into a belgian-style goblet. I wasn't sure what the proper glassware was for a scotch ale such as this, but this seems to work just fine. The color ranges from deep mahagony in the body to ruby red at the edges. It's a pretty looking ale, but it would be even prettier if the head hadn't been so thin and quick to dissipate. The nose is sweet and malty. Some prune and apple notes with hints of banana and maple syrup. Maybe some vanilla as well. Distant hints of black cherry. This is quite a tasty beer. The cherry makes a profound appearance here, hitting up front on the tongue. Subtler fruit flavors take over as the ale settles iin the mouth. I can definitely feel the heat here too. At 8.5% ABV, it's hard to hide, even with all the fruitiness. Malty banana floats around with prune, and a hoppy finish helps clear the palate in the finish. The complexity continues to expand as the beer warms up. An interesting ale, to be sure. The mouthfeel is a tad thinner than I would have imagined, but not weak. Overall, this is a tasty brew, though not one to be taken lightly. The high alcohol is present and noticeable, but not overpowering, and this badboy could really sneak up on a person. Split some skulls even, if they weren't careful.

Atlas1, Jan 23, 2007
Photo of RidiculedDisplay
3.58/5  rDev -12.3%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured into a standard pint glass.

Appearance: Pours with about a finger's worth head, which settles into no perceptible head, and finally nothing. Lacing is spotty for a while, but the beer soon becomes solvent-like and laceless. Body is a brown with hints of sea green. A LOT of floaties in the body. Sort of gross looking in that aspect. Might just be my bottle, however. Overall a little unappealing in terms of body color, and the head is nothing to scoff at.

Smell: A sort of smokey, bready funk hits the nose first, almost reminding one of a Rauchbier at times. A soy sauce-like quality. Bread crust, dark fruits, a little alcohol, a little sting in the nose from maybe some mild hopping.

Taste: Again with the Rauchbier-like smokiness, sourdough bread, dried, chile-covered mango, a little general candy sugar sweetness on the tongue. A dry finish. A little complexity, but the smoky-bread malt quality sort of provides a bit of unbalance.

Mouthfeel: Bordering on very dry toward the end, medium-bodied carbonation. Too dry for my liking.

Drinkability: This is a brew with a deceivingly strong aroma and flavor, for it is surprisingly drinkable. However, the appearance of my bottle was borderline gross, and the smokiness borders too much on a Rauchbier for my taste. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Rauchbier every once in a while, but it seems unbalanced for this style.

RidiculedDisplay, Jan 23, 2007
Photo of 1fastz28
3.48/5  rDev -14.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

not much of a head to it, and it dies rather quickly has a fruity taste to it with no real distinction of a hoppy or maltness to it. alocohol stings the tongue but not in a bad way, very unique taste to it, the more i drink, the more fruits i can smell/taste, banana and apple especially

1fastz28, Jan 20, 2007
Photo of SkeeterHawk
4.25/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Appearance: Pours a very clear reddish brown color with a small 1/8" head of tight tan bubbles that faded within about 30 seconds. There is a little bit of lacing left on the glass after swirling and the head fades. There aren't really any bubbles rising to the top, so the head disappears and ends up as a small ring around the top of the beer where it meets the glass.

Aroma: Malt driven aroma with a hint of cherry. There may be a little bit of oxidation here, but it adds to the complexity rather than taking from it. I don't get any hops in the nose, and the often overdone peat aroma is very reserved.

Taste: The favor is much more complex than I suspected from the aroma. There is a real depth to the malt that allows you to taste the dark caramel malts as well as a truly defined dry bready flavor. This all accents a slightly burnt toast flavor that seems to be there the entire time. The cherry is definitely there in the flavor, but that is about it for fruit flavors. The rest is a medley of malt flavors to round out the beer. Obviously the malt leads the finish with the only real dryness coming from attenuation. There is a subtle but present warming on the back of the throat that sets in a good while after the sip.

Opinion: This is a really tasty beer. I like that it is different from the typical Scottish Peaty Monsters. This beer scratches an itch on my palate that can only be satisfied by a Bock or Doppelbock. It has a defined maltyness and reserved hops and other fruitiness that makes it go down really refreshing and full flavored. This beer doesn't lack anything, and I would certainly drink it again.

SkeeterHawk, Jan 05, 2007
Photo of demcorhip
4.4/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Appearance
This ale poured a clear, deep reddish amber. Big 3-4 finger off white head formed on a relatively gentle pour. Finely carbonated, with a few vigourous sources of bubble from the bottom of the glass.

Aroma
Big malty nose. Carmelized malt sugars most evident, as well as tangy, slightly smokey yeast, all on top of a pleasant, mellow, earthy grassiness.

Taste
Very nice caramel and toffee flavours, overtop of nicely toasted malts. Almost whiskey like in flavour, and complexity. Has qualities of earthy peat (yeast?, hops? malt?) as well as an essence of the sea. A light, grassy, and earthy hop finish to round it all out.

Mouthfeel
A very well balanced, slightly warming (due to the alcohol) big malty beer. Slightly dry, even with all the caramel and toffee flavours. Does a great job of showcasing quality scottish malts.

Drinkability
Very drinkable. Perfect for a warming session on a rainy winter's night. Should also appeal to any whiskey drinker, especially those who enjoy scotch. Very glad to have found this tasty treat, may have to take it head to head with some of the other wee heavy's available to me.

demcorhip, Dec 31, 2006
Photo of kernalklink
4.5/5  rDev +10.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Great addition to the style- dark amber pour, nice and cloudy. Sweet candied malt aromas with a little spice. Taste was all over the place- burnt sugary caramel, slight dried fruits and a hint of bitter hops; roasted biscuity deliciousness. Great drinkability- refreshing without sacrificing flavor or ABV!

kernalklink, Dec 25, 2006
Photo of instrumentality
3.85/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I picked this brew up at Vin de Pays liquor store in Long Beach, an establishment for which I gain new respect from one trip to the next. They have a relatively small selection of fantastic brews, but that selection rotates periodically, so the key is to stagger your visits enough where you'll be able to try something new each time you visit.

I'm at a point in my relative newness to the BA world (about 8 months) where I have become a huge fan of scotch ales, but only a couple have really impressed me. My favorite so far is Founders Dirty Bastard, which I had from the bottle after I had already thrown back a few, so I don't know that my senses were totally up to speed. I also greatly enjoyed Alesmith's Wee Heavy on tap, but again, I had already thrown back nine tasters before I took this one on, so I may be a bit biased. Out of the bottle it was still enjoyable, but not nearly as good. Moylan's Kiltlifter was drinkable but nothing special, and McEwan's Scotch Ale I could pretty well do without.

I've heard good things about the SkullSplitter, and with a little encouragement from BA's seagoat and TheLongBeachBum, I had to grab a sample.

Poured into my Stone Russian Imperial Stout tulip glass (like everything else these days), this brew emerged a rich, opaque mahogany with about a finger of off-white head that quickly settled to a very thin lace with a thin halo of foam clinging to the glass. A quick swirl revived the head slightly before it dissolved back into a halo.

The odor wasn't as potent as some others of the style. There was a small trace of burnt malt that is one of the main draws of a good scotch ale for me, along with the faint emanation of toffee and caramel, but nothing too potent. A good smell, but I would have liked for it to have a bit more strength to it.

The flavor was definitely more interesting, although still not what I'd call the definitive scotch ale. It started off with an intense burning sensation from the alcohol, followed by a burnt maltiness mixed with an intriguing flavor that seemed to evolve from sweet to mildly bitter, first caramel, then toffee, then roasted coffee beans. The finish felt slightly chalky and tasted burnt and subtly sweet, almost like peeling off the charred skin of a roasted marshmallow and letting it dissolve in my mouth.

As I delved deeper into my glass, the sweetness seemed to become more prevalent, almost cloying, like a red wine that's gone a bit beyond its peak.

Maybe it's sacrilege for me to say I enjoy scotch ales made in the U.S. more than scotch ales made in Scotland, but so far, that seems to be the trend. This beer definitely blows out McEwan's, upstages Moylan's Kiltlifter, and has a bit more bite to it than Alesmith's Wee Heavy, but for me, Founders Dirty Bastard really raised the bar (I wish I could find it out here) and this one, which definitely tasty, has some noticeable flaws. I see enough potential, however, where I may have to pick up one or two more and let them age for some time and see if I have better luck.

instrumentality, Dec 23, 2006
Photo of BlackAngus
4.08/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A - Dark brown, maybe a deep red color. No head to speak of.

S - Dark fruits, bready, caramel.

T - Caramel malt, bread, more dark fruit, a touch of roasted barley. This particular bottle had a funny, metallic off-flavor to it, but I'm chalking that up to age, as I'm sure it had sat in the back of the bar for a while. I've had this beer before and didn't notice any off-flavors.

M - Thick and syrupy, no real carbonation.

D - I really enjoy this beer, but I couldn't drink more than two in a sitting. But a very good beer.

BlackAngus, Dec 19, 2006
Photo of scruffwhor
3.4/5  rDev -16.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 4

Pours a sappy looking cognac amber. VSOP!!! Par head with very ambitious retention. Leaves a film on the glass. very thin and small. The aromas were that of an alcoholic biscuit elixir that would help a Skullsplitter before he goes into battle. The taste is a little syrupy with light bubbles tickling the front of my tongue. Some alcohol and hearty sweet malt bread hits in an almost gruel like fashion. The palate is a little resiny. Like tree sap sometimes.

scruffwhor, Dec 18, 2006
Photo of seanyfo
4.83/5  rDev +18.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A-
poured into a duvel tulip glass, pours a very dark mahogany colour, holding it up to the light produces a nice ruby hue. 1 finger persistant head.

S- lots of prune, sherry, raisins and bready malt, smells like a hearty desert in itself

T- OH MY GOD! this is nectar! absolute nectar, a beautiful toffee hazelnut quality in this beer, lots of sweet sticky raisins and sherry like alcohol finish. Not at all dry, i cannot find the alchohol in the finish as i was expecting, so damn smooth, magnificent!

M- low carbonation, with thick syrupy mouthfeel, just what you want on a cold winters nite

D- not high drinkability of course for the abv, but each small sip makes me want more and more. This is my ideal winter warming firesider! well done Orkney Brewery, a true world champion!

seanyfo, Dec 14, 2006
Photo of Shovelbum
4.22/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a thin white head over a crystal clear dark reddish-copper body. Aromas of sweet malt, caramel and a hint of chocolate. The flavor is a veritable explosion of malt. Robust caramel sweetness, light biscuit and a bit of roasted barley and peat in the finish. Respectable hop bitterness balancing things out, but little in the way of hop flavor or aroma. Smooth mouthfeel, full bodied, lightly drying finish.

A well-balanced, smooth drinking wee heavy. The clarity of the ale is quite remarkable-- filtered? No matter, the malt complexity is a lot to wrap you mind around—perhaps the origin of the ‘skull splitter’ moniker.

Shovelbum, Dec 06, 2006
Photo of Beaver13
4/5  rDev -2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

11.2 oz bottle, purchased 6 months ago. Pours a cloudy tea color with some yeasties. It has an off-white head that quickly diminishes to a thin film.

The aroma is smoky and vinous with some oak, dark fruits and tobacco.

The flavor is sugary sweet with some dark fruits and smoke leading to a lightly bitter dry finish. The mouthfeel is medium and creamy with some slightly sharp carbonation.

Overall, this was a very nice brew. It's hard to classify - a little smoky, and some belgian qualities. It's definitely not a typical Scotch Ale.

Beaver13, Nov 30, 2006
Photo of Damian
3.5/5  rDev -14.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Drank from an 11.2 fl. oz. bottle purchased from Charles Street Liquors, Boston, MA

Poured a clear, mahogany with a one-finger, bubbly, light tan head that quickly faded to a thick ring of lace. Some sporadic, drips of lacing were present.

Smell was very malty, sweet and smooth. Rich, caramel malts and candied sugar came through strong, along with hints of alcohol soaked raisins, dried fruits and a general woodiness. At times some maple sugar-like qualities were apparent.

The taste however was markedly less appealing. Some malts and fruits were noticeable up front but the alcohol soon dominated the palate. Alcohol was astringent and biting and created a substantial warming from start to finish. Through this however, caramel and smoked malts as well as raisins and dried fruits were apparent. A touch of hops was detectable on the rear of the palate and this helped to create some semblance of balance. Sweet, toffee-like resonating aftertaste.

Mouthfeel was syrupy and smooth yet a bit thin. Carbonation was minimal.

Overall, a good beer that could be far better if the alcohol was not so overwhelming.

Damian, Nov 29, 2006
Photo of germanatheart
5/5  rDev +22.5%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

So I was at dinner one night, and ordered a skullsplitter. Wow. It poured a beautiful dark brown, creamy head (just enough). First sip? It was so good I literally shed a tear. Rich, deep, flavor, malty sweetness followed by just enough hops to not be overbearing. Left a delicious, sweet aftertaste in my mouth. When I start brewing, this is what I want my beer to taste like. My favorite of all time.

germanatheart, Nov 28, 2006
Photo of tcfishler
3.88/5  rDev -4.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Dull medium brown, with a good head for a brew of this ABV.

Lots of alcohol aromas, with some yeast as well.

Broad, smooth, very barleywinelike mouthfeel, with laidback flavors of caramel and fruit.

"Dangerously drinkable" is definitely appropriate.

tcfishler, Nov 17, 2006
Photo of beveritt
4.2/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Alas, I have no thistle glass, so this goes from the 12oz brown bottle into a English pint glass. Ouch, sorry William Wallace.

Appearance: Pours a clear ruby red-brown color with an inch thick off-white head. Many beers seem to be brown with a hint of red, this is more red with a hint of brown. Head falls off, but leaves a coating of foam.

Smell: A soft and nutty smell, not nearly as tied to the taste as most beers. Unusual.

Taste: Sweet, malty and tons of caramel. Full of fruity and nutty flavors. Just the slightest hint of bitterness on the finish.

Mouthfeel: Great body, really feels substantial on the tongue. Carbonation level is average, helps to mitigate the sweetness.

Drinkability: A very nice beer. At 8% ABV, not a session beer, but it hides the alcohol well.

beveritt, Nov 11, 2006
Photo of cproioi
3.18/5  rDev -22.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

The beer pours a nice brown body with a soft tan head sitting a top it. If held up to the light one can see carbonation. The aroma is full of sweeet malts and raisins slight hints of alcohol present also. The taste follows the aroma closely but with a more pronounced alcohol notes to it. Medium to thick body with no carbonation present and a warming alcohol to it. The beer leaves a lot of residual sweetness behind coating the tounge which isn't bad for this style. It's a good rendition of the style.

cproioi, Nov 09, 2006
Photo of kkipple
3.6/5  rDev -11.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

A: Huge 2.5 inch frothy head composed of massive bubbles, nearly meringue-like. Most impressive. The beer itself is clear and medium amber color with a few bubbles and some yeast sediment. The once-mighty head flees rather fast to just cover the beer. Oh yeah, there’s a neat Viking on the label.

S: This smells good and hearty even when cold. Sharp malts and yeast with a metallic tang.

T: Malt sweetness with a slight peaty smoke flavor. There’s that metal tang again and a bit of bit of DMS that imparts a corn flavor. Warming. Dry. Reminds me of a Dubbel for some reason. There’s a fruitness here that’s not unwelcome. Also reminiscent of heather ale.

M: Goes down smooth, slight solvent bite though. Drinkable but not a style I’m used to.

Final thoughts: Well worth a try if you’re adventuresome, or if you’ve a Viking fetish.

kkipple, Nov 07, 2006
Photo of johnniemarg
3.85/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

11.2 oz bottle (330 ml). says 8.5% abv. Poured into a delirium tulip.

Pours a deep brown with very little head. Holding this in front of my computer screen I see that the entire beer is filled with large suspended particles. And there's still a ton of junk left in the bottom of the bottle.

Smell is rich, sweet and malty. Yet another of the beers that I can't help but notice that it smells like a thomas hardy's. One day I will figure out what that smell is so I can describe it better.

Taste is basically in line with the smell. Sweet and malty in a brittish barleywine kind of way. There is a slight acidic tatse that I think is because of the sediment in the glass. Of course, I would have tried to avoid that if I had any idea that this might be an issue. Still tasty though.

Mouthfeel is medium bodied and slick.

Decent beer. High abv wouldn't be good for sessioning. I admit I need to figure out what makes these UK-based big beers taste similar. I want to be able to understand what it is I like about them so I can explain them better.

johnniemarg, Oct 15, 2006
Photo of xymyl
4.72/5  rDev +15.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: dark mahogany brown with a creamy light brown head that slowly settles. Small bubbles.

Aroma: Smoke, milk, dried fruits and spices with sweet dark malt aromas and a bit of alcohol.

Taste: A big mouthful of complex fruity sugars, starts out full and fruity with a slightly acidic note and quickly moves to richer sweetness and nice smoke leaving the acidity behind, although it dries out toward the end there is a long lingering interwoven, toasty sweetness mingled with some slight spice/herbal notes.

If you drink it by itself you may not notice the strength of the smoke, but drink it after any other beer or while eating and the smoke can seem huge. Personally, I like this level of smoke in a Scotch ale. It is similar to the feeling I get when drinking a great island Scotch Whisky (like Lagavulin or Ardbeg) where the smoke masks the more subtile and complex flavors beneath and you need to learn to find your way through by slow and methodical exploration.

It is on the high end of medium in body. Every sip of this beer explains why there are so many Belgian Scotch ales. What great brewer wouldn't want to adopt such a beer and let it become part of the family?

xymyl, Oct 09, 2006
Photo of Zorro
4.7/5  rDev +15.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

In the glass this is a clear brown colored ale with a disappointing amount of tan head formed.

Smell is sweet and smoky with a faint sour edge to it. Heaps of malty aroma give this a scent of molasses. Slight metallic aroma possibly from the smoke. After this warms a bit more the fruity aromas come out. Fig and raisin mostly with a little grape.

Taste is VERY smoky at the start and I really like that. You can't really under describe the smokiness of this beer it is definitely in Rauchbier territory. A great amount of maltiness lingers and it fairly sweet which I did not notice at the beginning. No real fruity flavors develop. Decent amount of hop bitterness with a faint tobacco after taste. An excellent example of the style for the BJCP guide and surprise this is listed as an official reference beer.

Mouthfeel is great.

An exceptionally pleasant ale with the provision you had better like the taste of smoky Scotch. To me this is a VERY pleasant beer but I like smoky scotch. Probably the same reason that I love DFH Immort ale.

Zorro, Oct 08, 2006
Photo of edskirk3
4.43/5  rDev +8.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

I've never been to Scotland, but when/if I do, I'd definitely check out the Orkney Islands. It is the region of Scotland that has intrigued me the most, because of its Viking heritage. Plus, they arugably make the world's best scotch.

I have here a 12 oz bottle with a Viking warrior pictured on the front label (presumably Thorfinn Hausakluif, the Skullsplitter, who is mentioned on the back) and no freshness information. I am not worried about freshness though, as this ale weighs in at 8.5% abv.

Great stuff. Big and sweet. Caramel. Toasted malt. Twinge of tea? Very comforting. My skull feels massaged rather than split. I wish I bought more than one bottle. I can always go back...

edskirk3, Sep 26, 2006
Photo of Byeast
4.53/5  rDev +11%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured a deep, darker brown/auburn , with a frothy off-white head. Sweet and roasty malt aromas , light smoke , very slight dark fruit , burnt caramel. The taste is exellent. Rich, malty and complex , some slight burnt flavor ,caramel, sweet maltiness , bit of earthy hop bitterness , slight scotch, raisin, and a nice smokey finish. The mouthfeel is slick , creamy, and full. An exellent brew.

Byeast, Sep 18, 2006
Photo of Sammy
3.75/5  rDev -8.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A smooth drinking scotch ale, smooth medium plus mouthfeel. Muted smoke and fruit flavour. Appropriately average carbonation. Sweet malty finish. More drinkable than the style, more muted flavour. Good lacing. Alcohol spice aroma. Alcohol sledgehammer afterwards.

Sammy, Sep 17, 2006
Photo of Wasatch
4/5  rDev -2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A - Pours a dark brown color, some carbonation, nice tan foamy head, nice lacing afterwards.

S - Scents of sweet malts, slight toffee, and yeast.

T - The taste of kinda sweet and slightly tangy, nice dry finish which also has a slight warming feel.

M - Medium body.

D - Drinkable. This is a nice brew from Orkney, glad I had a chance to check one out.

Wasatch, Sep 17, 2006
Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery
92 out of 100 based on 1,848 ratings.