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Skull Splitter - Orkney Brewery

Not Rated.
Skull SplitterSkull Splitter

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1,906 Ratings

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Ratings: 1,906
Reviews: 932
rAvg: 4.08
pDev: 12.75%
Wants: 148
Gots: 169 | 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:
Beer added by: BeerAdvocate on 10-08-1998

No notes at this time.
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,906 | Reviews: 932 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of EPseja
4.33/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

Hearing that I was a fan of woody beers and smoky scotches, this one was recommended to me by beer manager Jon Hartlage of Smart Buy Wines in Fort Lee, NJ. Thanks a ton, Jon!

Served in a pint glass at recommended temperature.

A - Pours a clear, deep amber color with crimson highlights and an explosive tan head made of medium sized bubbles and a pillowy, tiny bubbled top. The head subsides to 1/4'' after a minute or two, and the lacing remains intact all the way down the glass.

S - Aggressive malty nose with medium bodied hoppiness, roasted nuttiness, and light raisiny brown sugar notes. Only faint hints of the alcohol contained within.

T - Smoked, peaty malts hit you right off the bat - somewhat surprisingly since I did not get this at all in the nose. Some of the roasted malt sweetness comes through in the middle and toward the swallow. The finish is laced with spicy hops and is quite dry and vinous (in the vein of a dry sherry). There is a warm alcohol afterglow which reminds you that this beer is well fortified, despite the fact that the ABV is masterfully disguised. Very complex.

M - Initially watery, but not thin. Opens up ever so gently to become airily creamy on the palette. The swallow is fast and easy. Wonderful!

D - The well disguised alcohol coupled with the very wide taste profile on this one makes it disturbingly easy to quaff (and ponder) despite the big ABV. Delicious!

Photo of karst
4.2/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a dark brown chestnut with ruby highlights and a creamy 1-2 finger head lacing the sides of a New Belgium glass. The head evolves into a thick cream colored halo ring.

Smoke/ peat malts, caramel and toffee.

Taste is similar to aroma - Caramel malts, toffee, dark fruits and alcohol for a slight dry finish.

Mouthfeel is slick.

Has well hidden 8.5% ABV Wee Heavy. Most drinkable.

Photo of abcsofbeer
3.88/5  rDev -4.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

This one was poured from an 11.2 ounce greenish brown bottle. The nordic dude on the label is pretty cool. Pours a clear, bubbly, Coca Cola color with light amber shades on the fringes. The head is tan colored, bubbly, but not thick. There is no lace until you get to the bottom of the glass even though the head sticks around nicely.

The nose is buttery, fruity and semi-sweet smelling.

The taste is fruity and malty with breaks of alcohohic flavor. I think the aftertaste was somewhat hoppy, and, mildly salty (a new one). It finishes with more alcohol in the bottom of the glass. I like the scotch ale. It's good.

Photo of Sigmund
4.47/5  rDev +9.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Cask conditioned at the 32nd Cambridge Beer Festival, gravity dispense. Dark reddish brown colour. Complex aroma of dark fruits, spices and oak, various woodwork, some chocolate. Flavour is spicy, oaky, malty, chocolate, there’s vinous qualities (old sherry, marsala). Nutty / dusty hops finish. A great beer!

Photo of Fish113d
4.05/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

served into a pint glass, from a refrigerated bottle, it pours a chestnut brown color, a bit hazy, with a rather huge head, due to a pretty aggressive pour. The head is a milky off-white color that begins to settle a bit with some slow, nice cascading. Some slight yeast remains at the bottom of the bottle as well.

Aroma is mostly of some caramel malts, maybe some oak (dryness), and some nice hops. Nothing overpowering, but decent overall.

Taste is of some smoke flavors off the start along with the nut brown malts and sweetened with caramel a bit, with some decent alcohol burn, and a hit of hops then yeast to finish it. Reminds me a lot of drinking somethign aged in bourbon barrels maybe. Nice overall flavor.

Feel is nice and smooth. Carbonation is not ridiculous, and the alcohol helps to balance out the smootness of it. Rather easy to drink for a medium-bodied brew.

Overall, one i had tried a few years back due to the bottle being cool looking, but one I have tried again due to remembering that I rather enjoyed it!

Photo of bigbubba
3.33/5  rDev -18.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

This is a clear, brown beer with a slight redness. The head is a very light tan, about 1/2" tall. It smells very good. There is a sweet malty aroma with a little vanilla. The taste is good but nothing special. I expected more flavor, it seems a little watered down. There is an odd flavor, this might be an old bottle. The mouthfel is a bit too thin.

Photo of Chadbrew
4.72/5  rDev +15.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

This ale doesn't pour so much as ooze out of the bottle a deep red color with a half inch of fluffy dirty colored head. There is beautiful lacing left along the sides of the goblet as I swirl it around.

The first thing I smell is alcohol and butterscotch, maybe some raisins soaked in rum. Very powerful malt smell with light hops not what I expected considering the head brewer at Orkney calls this a barleywine, a style I am used to being highly hopped at all levels.

Taste - There's the hops! Bitter up-front that makes the tip of my tongue kind of numb-like. There are subtleties of banana and figs and much like the smell there is some butterscotch and alcohol. There is a lot of malt in the finish which I'm not really used to in a beer this big.

Mouth - Big full body and a blast of really fine carbonation followed by an ultra clean finish.

Drinkability - A very rich beer that like its namesake is not to be reckoned with lightly. It's as high in flavor and character as it is in alcohol. Loved it and will be purchasing more.

Photo of deejaydan
4.7/5  rDev +15.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a beautiful deep ruby with tiny bubbles running through it. Nice compact sustaining head with good lacing. Toffee-molasses aroma which is lovely. Flavor is rich carmel-chocolate malt. Slightly sweet, hop presence is restrained if not nil. Mouthfeel could be a touch thicker. Perhaps a tad less carbonation too.
A good beer, but at $13 a 4 pack, not an everyday drinker. A great special occasion beer.

Photo of cncbofh
4.68/5  rDev +14.7%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Pours a swamp-like brown.

Took a little while for the smells to really come out... when they did they were rich with figs, burning wood, some fruit and no noticable hops.

Taste was thick with caramel malts. Sweet and fruity with a deep earthy and leafy background. Where is that alcohol hiding? Amazing! Very complex and gets better as it warms.

Due to the amazing taste, no noticeable alcohol and creamy smooth carbonation, this beer gets a 5 for mouthfeel and drinkability. Incredible.

Goes well with some aged Irish cheddar and rye crackers.

Photo of whynot44
4.2/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Full bodied, nice clear dark garnet color with a moderate creamy off-white head. Without the head, this would look a lot like 10w/20 motor oil.

The aroma is sweet caramel malt, slightly vinous.

The taste is also overwhelmingly malty with a rich caramel, spicy, raisin/fig tone. The finish is sticky sweet with a piney, peaty aftertaste that lingers with a hint of smoke. A beer for serious malt lovers and cool weather.

Try this as an after dinner drink during the holidays.

Photo of ken3c
3.9/5  rDev -4.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Reddish brown with a good one finger head. Many bubbles rise continuously to feed a solid layer of foam throughout the beer.

Dark malt smell with a strong sense of smoke. Some hops as well.

Sweet and smoky. A little carmel and melon. A slightly bitter hops aftertaste.

Medium-heavy body with a foamy feel.

The aroma put me off a little but I love a good BBQ and this beer is like a good BBQ.

Photo of canucklehead
4.35/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

It poured with a surprisingly big head and had that nice mid dark dense body. The nose was pure malt and peat and was a thing of beauty. This beer is a big bad Scottish ale with an inherent smoothness that makes you want to slow down and think about each sip. Excellent and very original.

Photo of SupaCelt
4/5  rDev -2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Beautiful dark ruby ale. Two results off the pour ( from two seperate samplings ). Once a massive head, once a small head. Both samplings demand a look at the colour. This is a most attractive glass any way you slice it. Rich and hearty colour and plus or minus headage. Heads are fine and dandy, but the flavours are what we come for. Heavy headed pour yielded lace while the tame pour gave just a few random islands that evolved from the foam ring around the rim. Carbonation is evident although not riotous in both samples.

The smell is similar to an ESB with the dark malt sweatness and roasty goodness omly less hop characteristics. Caramels jump out as well as an old ale molasses sweetness. Slight dark fruitiness pairs with the caramel to give a sugar cane feel that says sweet all the way. Crystal sugars. Quite pleasing to the nose.

The taste is yet again reminiscent of an ESB. Me brethren and I were feeling ESB impressions. The two styles may be yet too undifferentiated for my fledgling palate. Guesswork during the tasting told me: old ale/ ESB / wee heavy. Wee heavy seems to be the official, so I can advocate that nomination. As far as imported brew, this one has the best taste I have encountered thus far in my travels. Massive caramel malts punch in at the first shift. Their sweet tones lend heavily to the overall components. This crystal coated sugar flavor is the most dominant of all. Very clandestine hop flavors creep in to add accents, but never proclaim any authority. The finish remains smooth and sweet, non-bitter. I must say this old boy is quite tasty. Delightful toasty accents. No alcoholic overtones, just a sweet sipper with capabilities to split ones skull the f*ck open. Very robust and overpowering sweetness makes this a good drinker, but less than superb. A very good rep of the wee heavy style. No import off flavors which is the ultimate wink and nod for this old boy. A nice Celtic love juice to get loose. Cheese infested label and all. Arrrr!!! I'll slop up to this mofo again.

Photo of arizcards
3.95/5  rDev -3.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Picked up a 330ml bottle for $2.59 at AJ's back in January.

This is a dark red brownish colored brew that is leaving a nice lacing down my glass. Nose is of caramel malts and somewhat peaty. Taste is very smooth and complex. A heavy dose of malts greets you with some hints of dark fruits in the background with a nicely slight dry hopped finish. Mouthfeel is creamy and wonderfully smooth. High ABV is well masked. This is a finely crafted brew!

Photo of padjo1
3.85/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Mouthfeel, appearance and taste all outdo the smell. Therefore, we have to take points off of the balance,hence not a very good one. This cripples the promise of the Orkney's, being a Iron Age Europe stronghold and all, known for its Celtic associations, nevertheless those pertaining to beer. Still, the taste has orange peel notes, as well as maple, coffee and caramel undertones and a slight hint of cinnamon. Cloves? No. That bitterness is coming from the coffee blending with the caramel, methinks.

Photo of Shultzerdugen
4.22/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Reddish-brown with light colored, tight bubbled head.

Caramel is my first impression upon sniffing. And second. A definite smokiness, a little bit of dark fruit.

Again caramel takes off across the taste buds. Floral and strong citrus from hops, maybe even a little evergreen. Vinous, and again a bit of dark fruit, like very ripe blackberry. Very slick and grainy.

I've seen the 4 packs of SkullSplitter for over $11 dollars. I wouldn't pay that much for it--(a friend gave me one)--but it's pretty damned good.

Photo of horndecker
4.4/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Rich walnut color with a fine tan head. Lots of froth, capuccino colored.
A funky citric nose with notes of cocoa and burnt malt. A little walnut aroma appears after it warms a bit.
Flavors of roasted malt, chocolate and oddly, soy. Not a salty soy, just a dark roasty vegetal funk. Very delicious actually.
Wonderful rich mouthfeel, chewy and satisfying. Alcohol warms you up a bit, but there's no burning throat or numb lips.
I'm happy to get my skull split any old time.

Photo of BuckeyeNation
4.05/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Dark reddish bronze with orange peel accents. The beer itself is clear, but is filled with a large number of chunky particulates that one doesn't usually see in this style (at least I don't). Atop the liquid is a moderate-sized, toasted tan head of sticky foam that is deposits a short, thick collar of lace with a few scraps higher up the glass.

The nose is nice even if it isn't quite as complex as the noses on the very best versions. Dark butterscotch, sour peat and whisky are the main components. I don't believe it's quite as dark as some Scotch ales; there's very little cocoa or molasses for instance.

There's plenty of flavor and plenty of power, but it still strikes me as a bit short on complexity. This is still very good beer however. The flavor profile is essentially a reprise of the nose. It's both sweet and sour (bitter appears on the finish), delivering a big, malty, whiskyish flood of goodness with each mouthful. Nuance is cast aside for power and strength, as it should be in a beer named SkullSplitter.

It becomes smoother and still more peaty, phenolic even, with warming. This beer is starting to remind me of Islay Scotch due to the emerging medicinal phenols (think Band-Aids, but in a good way). The finish is long and lingering, the better to savor the flavor, and the medium-full body has a pleasing, mouthcoating lubricity.

SkullSplitter is aptly named. It isn't a 'float like a butterfly, sting like a bee' kind of beer, but more of a 'rush the bastard and plant an axe between his eyes' kind of beer. That isn't entirely fair, it's more refined than that, but it is on the straightforward end of the Scotch ale spectrum. This is a beer that I'll be sure to look for again.

Photo of ElGordo
3.65/5  rDev -10.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Poured from the 330ml bottle into my Duvel tulip glass. Body is a deep, rich reddish brown, topped by a half-inch coffee-colored head that subsides pretty quickly. Initially I thought it smelled pretty nasty, like spilt lager, but after those esthers wore off, a nice pleasant aroma emerges. Sweet notes of dark fruit (dates? prunes?), brown sugar, roasted malt, and alcohol. Palate is rich and complex. A rich malty base is accented by a molasses-like sweetness, with a significant alcohol presence on the finish. Mouthfeel is creamy, velvety, and a tad foamy, depending on how big your sip is. An interesting brew, originating from one of the most remote and mysterious locations on Earth.

Photo of bark
3.1/5  rDev -24%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

The colour is deep wine red with a tint of brown. The foam is gigantic, pale beige, soft and built of medium-sized bubbles.

The smell is dominated by an almost wine-like touch of alcohol. There are some notes of smoked roasted malt, matured cheese, wheat flour, dark bread and a touch of leather.

The carbonation is pretty mild, but it is almost overshadowed by a liquor-like alcohol.

The taste is dominated by a generous, full-bodied taste of roasted malt and alcohol. I could also trace some notes of sweet dried fruits, nuts and a quite mild bitterness. The aftertaste is rather short with flavours like marzipan, hazel nuts and some bitter hops.

This beer is way to strong for me. I prefer the Belgian strong ales.

Photo of RootedFool
4.33/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured straight down into my Maudite goblet from an 11.2 ounce bottle purchased at the North Coast Co-op in Arcata, California. I love the bright red neck foil and label graphic that depicts Thorfinn Hausakluif, the "skullsplitter" in Scottish history -- it's too tacky not to love.

A dense and mighty head rises right to the rim of my goblet, thanks in part to my nearly vertical pour, light tan and creamy in appearence. The body is a very dark brown -- deep, deep mahogany -- with crimson highlights when held to direct light.


Ah, a big waft of earthy sweetness, like brown sugar caramelizing over a grill out in the open post-rain storm air, somewhere in the middle of the woods. The finish reveals a nice, although thin, sourdough twang.


Big sweetness right out of the gate: plums, golden raisins sauteed in rum and sugar (yes, rum; the alcohol is felt), baked green apples. Toward the middle some hops appear -- sharp and sizzling, but still understated -- and prevent the sweetness from becoming overpowering. The finish is a lingering tickle of alcohol bite and meaty sweetness all around my palate, and an alcohol warmth throughout my throat and spreading around my gut. Lovely.


Plenty of carbonation, which helps hold up the thickness of this brew. Has the consistency of whole milk, if not slightly heavier in consistency.

I'm glad I finally decided to give this brew a try.

Photo of GClarkage
3.85/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

01/02/05- Purchased at Beverages and More in Oakland, CA

Presentation- 11.2 oz bottle with a viking on the front. No expiration date. I know I've had it for at least 6 months though. Poured into my La Chouffe tulip glass.

Appearance- Dark cherry-auburn color. 1/4 inch head which didn't last long. Just the slightest of lace.

Smell- Not a very outward scent. Had to struggle to get some sweet raisins and maybe dates and prunes.

Taste- This beer has a lot going on. At first you can taste some dark cherries. Then the caramel, dates and raisins hit. Then it turns to a roasted dark flavor, almost a bit smoky.

Mouthfeel- Higher carbonation than expected. A fairly full beer. Maybe even a bit thick.

Drinkability- A very interesting beer. Many little nuances all in this little beer. At 8.5 it's pretty drinkable. To bad the lack of smell and appearance brings down the beer a bit. Pretty tasty.

Photo of HappyHourHero
3.63/5  rDev -11%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Medium sized, dense, light brown colored head doesn't last long, but leaves some specs of lace. Deep mahogany colored beer with a caramel hue. Mildly sweet caramel aroma with a bit of malt and pinch of wine. Some chocolatte, dark fruit, and some roasted malt in the flavor. Finish is kind of cocoa bitter. Body doesn't seem very thick. There's a burst of carbonation up front, but the beer becomes watery towards the end. The carbonation seems a bit off and there's a strange vinuous aroma hiding in there, but otherwise the beer is pretty nice.

Photo of GreenWBush
4.38/5  rDev +7.4%
look: 5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

Ruby brown. A gigantic head that keeps going and going. Flecks of red coagulated proteins, but no apparent oxidation. Top notch lace.

The nose is indecipherably complex. Fruity esters sit amongst smoky Scotch peatiness, hints of cider and red wine, and a strangely contrasting leathery booze-bread.

Wow, that is tasty. Its been years since i've had a skull-splitter and its much better than I even remember. Major malt complexities and ample but refined hop presense make this immensely drinkable with no hint at the almost 9% ABV. I'd really like to see what this does with age.

Photo of PorterLambic
4.47/5  rDev +9.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours a deep, rich brown with a hint of red. Good head, tight & firm with some scattered lace. Smell is malty sweet, smoke, peat, nutty with a hint of oak barrel to it. Taste is oakey, malty, smoky, roasty, with a peaty presence and a kind of whisky flavor to it. Alcohol becomes more noticeable as it warms but not overpowering at all. Mouthfeel is smooth, rich, creamy, full-bodied and warming the back of the mouth and throat. Drinkability is very high. The 8.5% ABV limits you but the great flavor, balance and complexity command you to drink this hearty brew like a good Viking should.

Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery
91 out of 100 based on 1,906 ratings.