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Skull Splitter | Orkney Brewery

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Skull SplitterSkull Splitter
2,213 Ratings
Skull SplitterSkull Splitter

Brewed by:
Orkney Brewery
Scotland, United Kingdom

Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 8.50%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by BeerAdvocate on 10-08-1998

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Ratings: 2,213 |  Reviews: 1,009
Photo of imbibehour
4.2/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from the bottle into a proper thistle (tulip) glass.

Appearance is of a dark tannish color, with a decent sized head (one finger) not too big, not one that disintegrates so easily. Cream to off color white head. Head sticks around manages some average lacing.

Bouquet is a good combination of maltyness, and a roasted nut that I can't quite pick out. Very enjoyable, not sweet on the nose whatsoever. VERY enjoyable.

Taste transforms into a desirable very well balanced beer, with good malt characteristic, faint not overbearing sense of caramel, no bitter finish and extremely clean in aftertaste.

Drinkability oh yes VERY good I want another one... This might very well be my benchmark for a Scotch Ale until I find one that surpasses it! Drink up!

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


I'm currently on a Scotch Ale taste test to try to replace (and if possible, eclipse) my long-time favorite - McEwan's. We can't get McEwan's anymore in the US.

As I've mentioned, I don't feel qualified to simply add more commentary on beers, so I try to switch it up to bring a little something new to the table. This time I am taste-testing FOUR Scotch Ales (yes, I'm going to bed soon) and putting them all to my McEwan's Litmus test against the "real one". In this case, the real one is the McEwan's. No fancy Jacobites tonight - we are comparing McEwan's to :

Skull Splitter
Duck Rabbit
Arcadia Ales

The only other real Scottish product in my batch tonight. This ale pours and laces beautifully like a plaid-crazed prop from Braveheart.

Color is a bit light and gives me pause - caramel and umber but oh the head! This is a significant froth with a substantial creamy texture and staying power. I usually couldn't care less about the head. This one is worth pouring hard just to sip the top slowly.

We may have found a new champion. or I might just be well in the bag. :)

Taste is where it excels. Sweet, but light. Not as heavy, malty or distinct as McEwan's for sure, but certainly a good example of the "wee heavy" designation.

I think I prefer the unique, quirky character of the McEwan's to this - there's not a lot under the initial sweet malt here. But it is a welcome respite from the hop-laden American versions.

There's a little pull here and the fact that it is true Scottish makes me want to cuddle it up in my arms and sing sea shanties to it. Why, oh why, must all the Euro-breweries do such a better job than most American craft beers?

This is a tear-jerker. I wish it were a wee bit heavier, darker and more complex. BUT so far - this would be my McEwan's surrogate until I meet a better contender.

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

Rich brown with an easy forming dense foamy white head, this deep brown 'wee heavy' is deep,rich ,full,complex and chewy. The toffee elements are superbly integrated into the whole. Sure has one mean and supple backbone too but still very very cosy and very delicious.

For me this has been brewed by someone who thinks of the home market first and understands the virtues of beers designed to battle a cold climate.

Undoubtedly one of the very finest examples of the style to be found anywhere. Effortlessly slaughters all imitators.

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Photo of vlodko62
4.65/5  rDev +14%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

Appearance: deep brown, with a hint of amber. Like dark buckwheat honey.

Aroma: wow - the toasty grain on the nose is amazing!

Taste: malty, with a hint of the grain from the nose. No detectable hops.

Mouthfeel: medium to medium-heavy.

Overall: a great example of the style. Scotch Ale is not a style I often drink, but this is an outstanding example.

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Photo of Bouleboubier
4.85/5  rDev +18.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

This is my benchmark Scotch Ale. It was my first such - before I knew what one was - before I really knew what beer was. I first crossed paths with Thorfinn in the desert in the middle of Arizona in the middle of August 2001. Had the privilege of sampling a half-pint (actually 3) of it on draft in Edinburgh at the Guildford Arms, August 2009. Quirky (because they refused to pour me full pint) and immemorable.

SkullSplitter is the color of my blood. The head pours small due to it being pulled down by the brawny weight of the brew. I don't trust a Scotch Ale that has a fluffy head. The aroma is rich, dry, malty, cherry-fruity, delicately smoky and swampy - it vaguely resembles an altbier as well. For the style, the flavor is big and bold - absolutely perfect. Alcohol barely intrudes, if at all. No over-hopping nor over-smokiness. At its core, whiskey, cherry, and burnt wood lead the flavors, nougat and butter-cookie at times, with a lightly sweet, mostly dry, tobacco-lined aftertaste. Man flavors. The feel is nearly flawless - moderate density, motor-oil smooth. This is the best goddamn Scotch Ale in existence, and that statement is only marginally influenced by the bad-ass label and tale about the namesake. The ale is eternal, invigorating, inebriating, and revelatory. Hail SkullSplitter!

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Photo of grittybrews
4.44/5  rDev +8.8%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured a ruby-tinted mahogany into a tulip with a finger of light tan head. Strong, complex aroma of sweet cherry, grape, slight yeast funk, caramel, and a trace of smoky bourbon.

Moderate carbonation and a light, slightly syrupy mouthfeel. Toffee malt up front followed by dark fruit and raisin. Alcohol warmth on the finish is complemented by just a touch of hop bitterness.

This beer is on the sweet side, but there are lots of nice balancing flavors going on here and the smell is really exceptional.

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Photo of gopens44
3.95/5  rDev -3.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

A - dark ruby. Burgundy almost with no real head

S - malty and full of grape smell. A touch nutty.

T - much like the nose, grapes and malty. It reminds me alittle of MD 20/20, but in agood way. A tad boozy, but not a mess.

M - silky smooth and a wee creamy with medium to high carbonation.

Drinking this beer is like going to a dark metal techno bar with a vampire thing happening. It's odd but really cool and sexy while being hard edged.

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Photo of keithmurray
3.98/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

appearance - ruby red/mahogany with very little beige head

smell - cherries, malt, bourbon, smoke, molasses

taste - malt, caramel, cherries, bourbon/scotch

mouthfeel - medium to full bodied, medium carbonation, slightly sweet upfront and slightly boozy on the finish, smooth and well balanced

Drinkability - for 8.5%, you would barely notice, this is a very good beverage that I wouldn't mind revisiting

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Photo of DrDemento456
3.93/5  rDev -3.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Had this beer a while ago and got a bottle to review it. Got it for 4.00 take out price at D's six packs

A - Dark hazy brown in color with a pretty nice inch of fluffy head. Slight lacing on the glass from the foam.

S - Well I can smell it from here and I get a nice wave of bourbon, raisins and other dark fruits and maybe slight caramel.

T - Starts off with bourbon which doesn't really burn or overpower with boozy flavor so that's a plus. Next is sweetness of fruits and slight caramel then finishes dry with a mild alcohol burn. wow.

M - Very heavy beer and should only be sipped to appreciate it.

D - well I pretty much got this because of the cool cover art (viking? Hells yeah) but I got it again since I have been dabbling in wee heavy's and this one is just a mild step below founders dirty bastard. I may have it again but really it's a one per sitting type of beer. Pretty nice flavor though/

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Photo of DaBrewsNIU
4.17/5  rDev +2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Love the bottle art! That horned helmet is awsome! But, we need to work on adding a freshness date Orkney? Come on now!

A: Pours a deep copper, brown/ caramel color with no head retention. Looks damn tasty!
S: well the alcohol esters sting the nostrils but only after the dark raisin, plum fruitiness makes me take a LONG sip..
T: Raisin, a wee bit of plum, but mainly dark roasted chocolate malt is present throughout. This all intensifies to a stinging alcohol flavor. This is a top notch beer Lets take another LONG sip...MMM
M: Thick, creamy, not over bearing and with everything going on, it actually doesn't overwhelm the palate.
D: This beer could easily be downed in 5 minutes, but the drinker would hate themselves for it, because they would miss out on SOOO many unique flavors! I gave it a 4 on drinkability purely on the fact that one should enjoy this beer over 15 or so minutes and appreciate all of the characteristics which present themselves as this been warms, and trust me they are vast!. I highly recommend this beer!

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

Poured from 12oz bottle into my favorite beer drinking glass -

Poured a nice carmel color with a two finger head that dissipated quickly - thin lace .

Smell was very malty with Carmel (toffee) hints .

Taste was smooth and very light hints of carmel and toffee -

extremely drinkable brew -

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Photo of drabmuh
4.1/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

I've had this beer on at least 4 different occasions and each time its been different. The first time was way back in 2001, it tasted like soy sauce with sugar in it, the second time was in 2005 in a bar because someone described it to me as "their favorite beer" and didn't believe my soy sauce story. That time it was quite good. The third time was about a year later, completely soy sauce. This review is based on the most recent tasting, last night, definitely not soy sauce.

Beer is clear and dark brown almost ruby but dark. Thin brown head that breaks quickly leaving some lacing on the glass. Carbonation is low. Beer served at near room temperature in a tulip.

Aroma is mild, mostly sweetness, some malt, minimal roast, overall its a little weak.

Beer is medium body with a lead off sweetness and a blank finish. There is some toffee and maybe a little bit of sweetness in the mid to late palate and no carbonation. The beer seems to thin the more I drink it, its moderately peaty. The earthiness to it is minimal but overall its a good beer.

The teetertotter I've been on with this beer is a little frustrating. If I were to guess, I would say the two times I had horrid experiences with it, the bottles were old or improperly stored and that this latest bottle is really fresh and young. I would drink a GOOD one again, but I'm batting 500 right now and may not want to tempt fate.

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Photo of Gosox8787
4.32/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Presentation: 12 oz. bottle with no freshness date. Poured into a Smuttynose snifter and brought to room temperature.

Appearance: Medium brown in color with ruby red highlights. One finger beige head that recedes to a rather thick lacing.

Aroma: Molasses, cherries, oak, and caramelized apples all fit together brillantly. Not much booze here at all. Incredibly smooth.

Taste: Caramelized apples and molasses dominate. Cherry and a touch of spicy oak are nice supports. The booze really does not show here at all. Neither does any hop bitterness. Very sweet.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied and syrupy, with an almost dry finish.

Drinkability: The ABV hides really well to the point where the strong flavors are the only thing to keep me from drinking more of this.

Overall, a really interesting, complex and smooth strong ale. Definitely ranks among my favorite English ales.

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Photo of HuppMJH
4.44/5  rDev +8.8%
look: 5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Look: This beer has a nice brown color, with a hint of orange when lifted up to a light. It's a darker liquid, but still see through. This is what I picture when I'm thinking of how a nice beer should look. As I drink the beer, I notice the head will stick to the sides of the glass, but as I near the bottom of the glass, there is minimal head still stuck to the top of the glass. Still a successful head within this beer.

Smell: I notice the alcohol level more in the smell than in the actual taste; like a subtle hint of whisky.

Taste: This beer does Scotland proud. It has a nice carmel taste with a good finish. As I said earlier, I notice the alcohol content more in the smell, but it's still present in the taste, although not too overpowering. A nice mix.

A very appealing beer with a nice taste and smooth character. I could easily see myself ordering this beer when going out, or picking up a 6 pack when staying in.

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

Despite its rather cheesy label, and luxury price tag, this beer is a fantastic representation of a classic ale.

A = Dark as coffee in the glass, with a thin but long-lingering head. Lacing was very mild in the glass, but overall a very appetizing look.

S = Subdued aromas of chocolate and roasted coffee, no harsh alcohol smell at all.

T = Smooth and very well balanced flavors that echo the aromatic qualities, along with the ever-welcome bite of those beautiful hops.

M = Smooth, small bubbles left on the tongue. Thick and resinous texture, with virtually NO dryness from too much alcohol.

D = Perfect with (or after!) a good, hearty chunk of roast beast. For it's simple yet assertive flavors, this brew really delivers as an impressive beverage to compliment and showcase a session.

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Photo of BaronRVH
2.34/5  rDev -42.6%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

A - Great looking beer. A beautiful red with quite of bit of carbonation.

S - Smokey but sweet. The malts are upfront.

T - I was very disappointed! I was really hopeful in trying this beer because Orkney has my favorite, everyday Whisky in the 12 years old. This was cloyingly sweet, over malted and almost flat.

M - Thick, not well balanced. Coated the tongue with no brightness on the finish.

It makes me have to think that the bottle got heated pretty badly on the trip across the pond and completely killed the balance of the beer. That's the only explanation I have because I have read some great reviews of this beer. Of course, I finished the 4-pack.

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

Poured into tulip

Appearance-Pours a deep, murky red-brown with significant ruby highlights all throughout. A tanned off-white head rises from the pour but bubbles back down leaving a thin film and abundant lacing, a few swirls get the head kicking back up briefly. Beautiful color.

Aroma-Dark and creamy malts upfront, very sweet and roasty with scents reminiscent of dark butterscotch, I can also detect a bit of woodsiness and the stingy tinge of alcohol.

Taste-Sweet and malty upfront but it then gives way to a phenolic, peaty-smoke character (I love me some peat) that meshes with the sweet malt on the finish. Deceptively complex.

Mouthfeel-Medium-syrupy body with moderate to moderate-low carbonation.

Drinkability-It starts off sweet but the complexities afforded mid-palette prevent it from becoming cloying and keep me coming back for more; this is a top notch brew and my favorite Wee-Heavy/Scotch Ale that I've had.

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Photo of Seanibus
3.78/5  rDev -7.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Pours a rich mostly clear brown with an impressive head, though it falls quite quickly. The aroma is rich and roasted malt, with a woody, peaty edge. The flavor is intense and dark and roasty, with a cherrywood smoke feel. There is plum and peat and a raisin sweetness The mouthfeel is thick and a bit prickly. The alcohol is well hidden.

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

11.2 oz bottle. Anytime the label has anything to do with vikings, that is pretty bad-ass.

Pours a clear, rich mohagony, with a very nice and sticky tan head. Smell is sweet and of caramel. Taste is dark as well, and of roasted malts and roasted sugars. Very molasses-like. Super smooth and super easy to drink. Finishes just a tad bitter and very slightly hot. Feel is ever-so viscous, like a wine. Just a fine example of how to blend rich flavors comfortably, and also mask a higher alcohol %. If I were a viking, I'd be glad to loot a case of this..

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Photo of MBPChead
4.51/5  rDev +10.5%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

I've had this one a couple times now I just hadn't gotten around to reviewing it.

Appearance: deep burgendy brown in color with a creamy foamy head. Gorgeous

Nose: very pungent smell giving off nuts, oak, dark cherrys, brown sugar, caramel, and alcohol. Not bad but a bit faint and a tad boozey.

Taste: immediately comes with a sweet sweet flavor of bread, burnt caramel, nuts, plums, prunes, raisins, oak and dark chocolate extremely malt heavy. In the subdued elements are hints of dark cherries and brown sugar. One final note I have about the taste is that its pretty boozey overall, which really isn't a bad thing and helps it live up to the style. Truly outstanding flavor.

Feel: thick smooth and sticky with a pringly sensation on the tongue that quickly turns into a wonderful thick and smooth creamy goodness.

Drinkability: honestly it drinks wonderfully but I'm more than good after one, its a decently high abv plus its thick and fills you up with 11.2 ounces quite nicely. All in all one of these is all you need in my humble opinion. Definitely one of my all time favorites.

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Photo of claspada
3.86/5  rDev -5.4%
look: 2.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Pours a clearish, dark brown, almost chocolate color. Has an zero retention.

Aromas are crazy; rich, sweet malts and a boat load of toffee. Some chocolate too. Quite rich on the nose, but no alcohol burn.

Taste, is how do you say, HUGE, and it's a good thing. Quite sweet on the start, almost burnt caramel, a bit of dark chocolate, some fruity sweetness. Zero perceived bitterness, but has a very clean finish I'm assuming comes from the style or the yeast.

The carbonation is light, probably too light really, but is just enough to offset the richness of this beer. Had the mouthfeel been heavier and denser, this could have become a beer that was hard to enjoy a full sip of because of the extreme flavor. To elaborate, this is not syrupy so do not be scared off...

I really enjoy this beer but I would still classify it as a sipper. Interesting flavor to be worth getting four at a time, but not consumed all at once.

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Photo of Jesstyr
4.06/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Randomly grabbed a dusty bottle of this down the street, and was pretty pumped with the find. No date, but I'm guessing its a 2008/2009 vintage, and was certainly no worse for wear.

Dark brown, with slight amber hues. Beautiful foamy head, two fingers and very well formed. Excellent lacing throughout the drink. Very subtle nose, nothing too special, lightly malty, a little maple as was mentioned before.

Great flavor, very much the standard wee heavy, but without the over the top fullness in the mouth - just a slight bit too light. Chocolately, very malty, a tiny bit of sweetness to it. I didn't feel the alcohol, it was nice and smooth, and remarkably easy to drink for the style.

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

A - Pours a fairly clear amber brown. Off white head sticks around for the long haul. Some nice sticky lacing too.

S - Smells malty and sweet. Notes of maple syrup and caramelized sugar.

T - Wow very flavorful. Bittersweet maltiness and peat overtones dominate. The sweetness is definitely balanced out, but there is some delicious maple and caramel notes here. This is absolutely spot on to style.

M - Full bodied but no at all heavy. I would have expected this to be more syrupy given the alcohol percentage but thats not the case at all. High carbonation level gives it some kick.

D - A very dangerous beer, you wouldn't even notice the alcohol level until it hits you. The quintessential Wee Heavy? Perhaps it is, you could make that argument.

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Photo of gfreed
4.8/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

If I could drink several scotch ales every day, and could do so without falling over drunk, this is what I would drink. An exceptional aroma of oranges, bread toasty malt erupts from the thin but dense head, with a good burn of alcohol to carry it to the brain. There's a dense, opaque body the color of cloudy iced tea, and then there's taste-- flavors of oak, vanilla, fruit, malt, bread and even some carrots (?) just burst from the glass as if the beer were being sprung from a corset five sizes too small. Not as smoky as other scotch ales, but there's a hint of peat pulsating in the background which keeps the hops in check. Looks strikingly handsome in a thistle, too. The low carbonation and overall density make this something to sip after dinner with a good movie. It's the kind of beer that makes me glad I drink beer.

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

Poured from a 12oz bottle into my Gordon's thistle.

Clear cardinal red body with faint ruby highlights and a slender dense beige head. Hefty strands of lacing and faint legs run down the sides.

A touch of melanoidin-laden malt along with caramel and toffee aromatics...

Sweet and biscuity on the palate - with a touch of barley. A bit of winter fruit and a hint of fig gives way to a peat flavor that adds a bit of tartness and dries out the finish (along with the help of some mild hop bitterness). Strong and clean, but with a surprising subtlety as well.

Medium bodied, creamy, with sufficient carbonation.

An excellent example of the style - and a good value to boot.

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Skull Splitter from Orkney Brewery
Beer rating: 4.08 out of 5 with 2,213 ratings
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