Church-Key Holy Smoke Scotch Ale | Church-Key Brewing Company

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Church-Key Holy Smoke Scotch AleChurch-Key Holy Smoke Scotch Ale

Brewed by:
Church-Key Brewing Company
Ontario, Canada

Style: Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 6.25%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
This unique beer was made as a connection with John and his Celtic family heritage. Ne Oublie, is the Graham Clan ancient family motto, indeed all that have tasted Holy Smoke can say that this Beer will never be forgotten. The Graham clan tartan is also used on the packaging. Holy Smoke Scotch Ale is a dark, strong ale that uniquely utilizes Scottish imported peat-smoked whisky malt, it is smooth, rich and malty, dominated by these peat roasted smokey notes.

17-35 IBU

Added by BeerAdvocate on 12-05-2002

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Reviews: 49 | Ratings: 105
Photo of EricVonStein
3.88/5  rDev +6.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

aggressive pours nets a large frothy thick tan head that sticks well and laces out. dark amber on colour and clear where the light cuts through.

as advertised nose is smoke from a hardwood. salty smoked ham. leafy earthy hops.

taste is more roasty with sweet honey glaze smoke. oats, sweet malts, bit bitter molases.

creamy, smooth, low carbonation. not a tonne of body.

overall a nice balance of smoke, roasted grain, honey glaze and earthy hops. not too complex but keeps it interesting.

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Photo of DenisKolkin
3.77/5  rDev +3.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

650 ml bottle purchased on sale for $4.25 CDN. Served fridge temperature into a pint glass.

Appearance - a dark ominous garnet coloured beer is poured with a small finger of head that doesn't last. Clear but too dark to see much of anything through the beer. Minimal lacing and barely a cap of froth on top.

Smell - a whole crap ton of smoke on this, not quiet rauchbier class but not that far off. Wood and smoke without the meatiness of that unique German style. Don't get much of anything from the whiskey notes.

Taste - holy smoke is right, plenty of smoke, burnt wood and a trace of meatiness. Trace of caramel lying underneath. No whiskey except maybe the heat at the very end.

Mouthfeel - the taste is all rauchbier, but the body is what gives this away as a scotch ale as the carbonation is nearly non- existent. Body is surprisingly light.

Overall - not something I'd drink everyday, but given the price, pretty good value for a smokey as hell scotch ale. Quite good and worth a try. A name for a beer has really been more suitable.

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Photo of Beccy
3.57/5  rDev -1.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Look - Bottle is a nice monotone print which stands out on the LCBO shelf against all the cheap paper labels which are common for smaller breweries. Cap is unadorned, would be nice to have some decoration there too.

Beer itself is a dark reddish brown with little head or lacing

Smell: Smoke & beer basically, quite savoury.

Taste: First sip is almost unpleasantly smokey but definitely gets nicer. Dark chocolate, smoke, leather, wood. I would call it a manly beer but I like it so I'll just say the flavours are masculine.

Feel: Medium low level of carbonation, perhaps even less would be ideal for the flavours.

Overall: A good change and worth a try, but I doubt I'll buy it again.

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Photo of Tilly
3.75/5  rDev +3.3%

Nothing pretentious about this beer. Nice tab head, toasted malts, earthy aroma. The flavor doesn't fall to far from the aroma bit has done nuttiness. Definetly smoke with a single malt finish. Gets me right in the back of the tongue!

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Photo of SebD
3.74/5  rDev +3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Appearance: It has a nice deep mahogany/amber color to it. It has a nice creamy beige head that dies down moderately fast and leaves little lacing.

Smell: The aromas definitely give out hints of toasted malts, chocolate, a bunch of smokiness and some woody notes as well.

Taste: Like the aromas, it has some smoky notes, toasted malts, light chocolate, some sweet caramel and faint wood.

Mouthfeel: It has a medium carbonation with a nice overall balance and feel.

Drinkability: It's a very smooth drinkable beer accompanied by good flavors and aromas.

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Photo of Organdrew
3.69/5  rDev +1.7%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

I bought a 650ml bottle from the local liquor store. I was a little skeptical about buying this as it is more expensive than other beers and smaller in serving but I figured if it was .ore expensive, it should be good. I was right.

Look: bottle seemed like some sort of weird gothic or cult type symbols. Not really my style but mysterious nonethless. The contents came out just as dark as the bottle.

Smell: was not wowed by the smell. Reminded me of other dark craft beers. Slightly reminded of guiness.

Taste: this is where I really liked it. With very low carbonation and creamy. I prefer medium-high carbonation in my beer but this was okay. Smoke, peat, malt, reminiscent of sausages over a bonfire or barbeque. Almost has a red-wine flair to it, but not a bad thing.


Many review say this pairs well with food and I did pair mine with oven grilled sausages, good pair. Some say it's not sessionable but I could drink one maybe two In one session. This is simply not like watered-down lagers you can pound back. A real "man's taste" and bold. This is closely similar to noire de Chambly by Unibroue. It does seem to get overwhelming after a while, but if you like strong drinks and black coffee, this ones for you. It seemed a little flat and I longed for some carbonation, but it was a treat. I would reccommend. Like many say: different but not bad. Simply a specific taste that not many like.

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Photo of BuckyBeerBeaver
3.08/5  rDev -15.2%
look: 3.75 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Founded in 2000, Church-Key Brewing is located in an 1878 Methodist Church on the outskirts of Campbellford, Ontario. The only microbrewery in Northumberland County, Church-Key features a variety of award-winning hand-crafted ales including its flagship Northumberland Ale and today's beer, Holy Smoke Scotch Ale ("HSSA"). All of Church-Key's ales are made in small batches from four ingredients: malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. Open daily from 10am until dark, the brewery's web site says that visitors are always welcome to take a guided tour of the facility, with samples available in their tasting room afterward.

Despite the first scotch he tried many years ago, which tasted like falling face down into a peat bog with his mouth open, Bucky resolved to try a bottle of HSSA from his favourite LBCO store. HSSA came in a brown 650 ml bottle with a "best before"date of Jan. 3, 2013, and was 6.2% alcohol by volume. HSSA sells for $5.95 per bottle.

The beer poured a dark brown colour with a ruby core when backlit, with 1/4" of tan coloured head that faded to a thin ring of foam and patchy film within two minutes, leaving some minor spotting and lacing down the glass. Its aroma was dominated by smoked peat, which was not overpowering at first, but as the beer warmed this aroma become stronger and began to remind me of burning rubber. Fortunately, HSSA never developed a burnt rubber taste; smoked peat, dark malts, and a certain sweetness were evident though. A smoky peat aftertaste lingered for a few seconds after swallowing the beer. The carbonation was fairly active and well suited to the brew, and I would describe the beer as medium bodied.I believe that a 650 ml bottle of HSSA is best shared, and paired with something like a beef or pork dish, and may even go well with some cheeses. I found two glasses to be a bit of a struggle though, due entirely to the burning rubber smell that developed as I made my way down the bottle.

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Photo of slitherySOB
3.89/5  rDev +7.2%
look: 2.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Got this at the LCBO, and since it mentioned my Scottish family heritage, the Graham clan, I had to pick it up. This beer pours a dark brown colour with a two finger head that dissipates into nothing. Was not that impressed. Smells a bit like a decent scotch. Nice peat moss, toasted malts, bit of chocolate, slight hint of coffee, and a light hint of smoke. Taste is lovely. Sweet toasty malts up front, with a bit of caramel and chocolate. Ends with bitter chocolate, coffee and that hint of smokiness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, medium carbonation, smooth and refreshing. I like it, and will be picking it up again, as well as any other offerings I see from this brewery.

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Photo of Cramshawbar
2.5/5  rDev -31.1%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

Way to not know how to make a quality smoked beer. If you want lessons, perhaps it's time to contact Ovisholt Brugghus, whose Lava is so much more superior to this, that it is close to embarrassing.

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Photo of Jeffo
3.47/5  rDev -4.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Got this one at the LCBO in Waterloo.

From a bomber into a snifter

APPEARANCE: Pours a one finger, off-white or light tan head with decent retention. Quickly fades to a splotchy wisp and ring. Clear dark brown body and modest levels of carbonation. Splotchy wisp remains but leaves no real lacing down the glass.

SMELL: Some peat notes, leather and light chocolate on the nose. Toasted grains, brown and chocolate malts and lightly smoky as well. Not nearly as smoke dominate as I'd feared, but actually well balanced and nuanced.

TASTE: Brown and caramel malt sweetness up front, with light notes of peated malts and leather at the swallow. Mild but lingering of smoked malts, some caramel sweetness, bitter chocolate and peat flavors. Pretty well integrated and well balanced.

PALATE: Medium body and medium carbonation. A touch light on the palate, creamy, goes down smooth and finishes a touch dry. Good feel.

OVERALL: This was actually quite good. A solid smoke beer for sure. Well balanced and quite interesting and complex as well. Glad to have tried it. Not something I'll have to rush out for again, but easy to drink and definitely something for fans of the style. Recommended.

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Photo of IdeaSpeeder
3.88/5  rDev +6.9%
look: 3.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Serving Type - 650ml bottle poured into a snifter

Appearance - Pours a dark brown colour, almost black...slightly darker than a cola. On top sits roughly two fingers of light brown/caramel coloured head which fades almost immediately.

Smell - Smoke, smoke and more smoke. Some peat and wood in there as well. Sort of reminds me of peat-heavy scotch.

Taste - Lot's of smoke and peat here as well. Actually thats almost all I'm getting here. Underneath all that smoke there's a surprisingly toffee and caramel. It's everything you would want in a smoked beer (namely a whooole lot-a smoke). That said, if you're looking for a more balanced, session-able pint, this probably isn't for you

Mouthfeel - Extremely low carbonation. The body is quite light. The bubbles combined with the texture of the beer is reminiscent of a good way.

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Photo of FondueVoodoo
3.58/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

thanks to Cattersley for this trade.

A: First to note - sharp white graphic on the bottle is striking and sophisticated. the ale poured a deep black brown and glows a deep garnet when held to the light. Capped off with a finger of velvety head - it settles to a solid ring around the glass.

S: Solid smoky peat, wet wood and wet hay, deeply earthy and reminiscent of a old animal barn.

T: Reflects the smell to a T - Peaty smoke with plenty of wet wood and that barnyard funkiness. Very powerful smokiness that somewhat overshadows some of the other scotch ale notes, but as the palette adjusts to the smokiness notes caramel and dark toffee notes shine through.

M: Very subtle buzz of carbonation that supports the peaky smoke. A medium mouth feel that holds in the mouth.

O: A powerful smoky offering that pulls no punches - it's unabashedly forward in the smoky smell and taste and offers a deeply earthy and barnyard profile. It may be somewhat one sided, but does so boldly without attempting to be something it isn't.
Would be terrific with jerk chicken or bar-b-que steak, as a side dish.

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Photo of decimator
3.58/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

650ml bottle poured into a pint glass. ABV 6.2%.

A - Pours a dark cola brown but if exposed to light the colour is dark red. 1cm cream head reduced to a bubbly ring. Minimal lacing.

S - Smoke, roasted grains, earth. Not as smoky as a typical Rauchbier though.

T - Roasted grains, some caramel, some smoke, hint of bacon, mild tea notes in the finish. The smokiness isn't as present as in the aroma.

M - Medium-heavy carbonation, medium-heavy body, some creaminess, thinning finish.

O - A bit one dimensional but it is certainly drinkable.

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Photo of Kremlock
3.48/5  rDev -4.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2.75 | overall: 3

A: Pours a deep brown with hues or red in it. Pours a 1/4 inch head that then settles to a thin film around the glass.

S: Peaty, smokey with hints of dates.

T: Peaty with a slight meaty taste to it. Some dates present, light maltyness present through the peat smoke.

M: Thin, watery. A bit of puckering on the tongue.

O. Lack of maltiness and thin watery body does not make it appealing.

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Photo of funkengruven
3.87/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

This is an interesting beer. It poured a dark brown with a bit of tan head that subsided quickly. Smell is sweet and smoky, rather nice. Flavor is very rich and full, sweet, malty and smoky, reminiscent of a peat smoked scotch whisky. Mouthfeel is smooth but a bit boozy.

This is unique but definitely pretty good. Worth a try.

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Photo of mick303
3.95/5  rDev +8.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

650 mL bottle, 6.2% couldn't find a freshness date. Poured into a wine glass, colour is pretty much black dark brown, head recedes really quickly, leaving a slight film and a trace of lacing.

Smell is strongly suggestive of smoky and ash notes. Charred barley malt. Bonfires, maybe a trace of smoky dark fruit underneath. Burnt chestnuts. So earthy hoppiness but it is pretty buried. Together its pretty unique, a bit dominated.

Taste as expected has a bit smoky impact but it is far from being one-dimensional. A bit coastal and briny, with seashore fires, fishnets and a bit of lightness to it. Some of the char aspect but some really unique other flavours going on, with a slight sweetness also. Bitterness is pretty mild, lots of (heavy) roast malt profile. Finish is pleasantly smoky

Mouthfeel is moderate, heavily toasty, slick and smoky, a bit thin with a light carbonation. It does drink pretty well and could be considered refreshing despite its somewhat intense flavour. Really nice. Alcohol doesn't really come through.

I had heard this was a love-or-hate-it beer. I was pleasantly surprised. Smoked a nice amount to give it definite character, and would make a nice food paring, but not so much as to ruin the beer for my palate. Quite a cool flavour interplay, could use a bit more body, and maybe a bit dominated by the peat and char, but otherwise worth checking out.

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Photo of thehyperduck
4.09/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

650 mL bottle from the LCBO listed at 6.2%; best before Mar. 6 2013. I've generally heard good things about Church Key, but since I live outside of their distribution range, finding any of their offerings has been a tad troublesome. Grabbing this one while shopping in London was thus a bit of a no-brainer, but the fact that I haven't tried a new smoked beer in the better part of a year also factored into the decision. Poured into a mug.

Pours a brownish cola colour - seemingly opaque at first, but holding it up under the light reveals the liquid's inherent clarity (and some ruby red tinges). Topped with one finger of light beige-coloured head that recedes relatively rapidly, leaving behind a dense collar around the edge, and a thin, wispy film at the surface. The aroma is rich and enticing, with plenty of roasted malts and molasses underlying notes of bacon, glazed ham, peat and hickory smoke, with a faint hint of coffee grinds that is difficult to separate from the rest of the bouquet.

This is tasty stuff, with a wide range of different flavours mingling and (more importantly) complementing each other nicely. Roasted malts, caramel and molasses come through first, followed by some ambiguous hints of dark fruit. A few peaty notes. The smoke is only an ephemeral presence at first, but surges forth in the finish, imparting hints of smoked wood and bacon/pork that linger into the aftertaste. The flavour definitely improves a little as it warms. On the lighter side of medium-bodied, with mild carbonation that gives this brew a smooth, slick mouthfeel. Very drinkable, but more suited to washing down your dinner than sessioning.

Final Grade: 4.09, a solid A-. Church Key's Holy Smoke Scotch Ale is one of the more interesting brews I've had in the last month or so. The smokiness is not as intense or meaty as in genuine rauchbiers, but it's still a constant, distracting presence throughout the flavour profile, which I feel makes this particular brew a perfect introduction to smoked beers for any interested newbies. I enjoyed this bottle on its own, but this is the sort of beer that is really begging to be paired up with (or used in!) some sort of hearty pork/beef dish. All in all, this was a fabulous OCB offering that I wish was available locally! I'll definitely keep an eye out for more stuff from this brewer, and would eagerly encourage others to sample this.

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Photo of EgadBananas
3.87/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Thanks to cattersley! He was wounded, but not dead!

Pours a dark brown with ruby edges. Given the circumstances, the slight ring of head and bubbles are beautiful! The aroma is meaty, smoky, and rich with caramel. Taste is sweet, somewhat nutty, smoky and with a mild bacon not. Not as robust as the aroma. Good feel overall.

Enjoyed me a meaty, bacon smoked beer!

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Photo of biegaman
4/5  rDev +10.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer looks smoked alright, but not charred. Despite the blackish colour a surprising amount of clarity is afforded; I'd liken it more to a shadow than a piece of onyx. It is underlined by sleek, polished brown highlighting. Its head is tinted the shade of dirty snow and, accordingly, melts all away.

The aroma smells less of actual smoke than it does smoldering pellets of hickory and mesquite wood; it's less the smell of a smoke-house than that of a kitchen with a wood-burning stove. Despite the first impressions of hickory and mesquite, the beer is far from 'Southwest' in style - it uses peat smoked malt after all and if the bouquet is to be placed anywhere in the world it's undoubtedly Scotland.

Besides that, roasted chocolate malt and hints of kettle caramelization lie just beneath the surface. The flavour, similar to the bouquet, is grounded in a tarry, roasted and rather heavy maltiness that is somewhat coffee-ish in character and has bold notes of carob. There is also a prominent amount of cured meat flavour (probably owing to the impression of hickory); it might deceive you into thinking it was brewed in a deli.

The smoky character is best described as 'smoldering' (a slow burning smoke with no flame - ironic, since peat burns quite fast). It doesn't seem like the result of a forest fire nor does it reek extensively of bacon. If anything, it's closest to a single malt scotch like Talisker or Laphroaig. It compromises not a single ounce of smoke and yet comes across a bit more approachable (and a bit less intimidating) than a bona fide rauchbier.

It's about damn time Church Key bottled Holy Smoke! I've enjoyed the beer for years on-tap but it'll be far more convenient now to keep my own stash at home (especially as this pairs so well, as one might imagine, with barbecued meats). The beer's peat-y scotch qualities make it an excellent candidate for slow sipping, although it is quenching enough to gulp right down. Either way, it's always greatly enjoyed.

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Photo of JohnnyBarman
3.45/5  rDev -5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

On tap at Volo.

Poured into a nonic. Dark brown-ruby, left a fairly sturdy head with a thin ring surviving the first few minutes.

Nose is dark malt, bread, smoke, a bit of meat and dark fruit.

Nice little smoked beer, good character to it. Smokey, but not oppressively so, as the brew has some decent malt character, caramel, chocolate and fruit to it as well. Very tasty.

Thinner bodied, slightly harsh carbonation.

Decent smoked brew, nice find on tap. Would be fun to BBQ with.

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Photo of liamt07
3.82/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

On draught at WVRST, into a pint glass. Scotch ale made with smoked peat. Alcohol on this was higher than listed here, around 6.3% I believe.

Dark red/burgundy, with clarity around the edges. Bubbles serve as a very transient head, but ultimately, nothing retains and only shreds of lacing. Nose has chocolate, light peatiness and strong dark caramel notes. Taste has smoked wood, peat and a bit of burnt plastic, but this subsides as the glass warms. More chocolate and rich caramel notes. Malty scotch ale character comes through in the finish. Medium body, low carbonation and a nice pairing with my Boerewors. Easily consumed and I would hit this up again.

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Photo of bylerteck
3.84/5  rDev +5.8%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

I'll go ahead and say I don't typically like smokey beers but the sample got me interested. Pint at Black Tomato. From notes.

A - Poured black with a one finger eggshell head. Some carbonation coming up the side. Small lace chunks left over with an island of filmy retention.

S - Really strong malt, some roasty notes are mild, dark fruit is prevalent, chocolate and smoke too.

T - Roasty with smoke that isn't overpowering. Some chocolate, dark fruit, and bacon in the finish.

M - Nice carbonation, medium body, a little dry in the finish with lingering smokiness.

O/D - What I want from something smoked. I don't want that to be the only element. Smokey enough to make it interesting. Good.

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Photo of peensteen
3.7/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Brownish ruby colour with amber hues, light off white head, some lace. Smell is malty, roasted, caramel and toffee, light alcohol notes, smokey malt. Taste is smokey and roasted, caramel, sugars, toffee, some alcohol, smokey and bitter hop. Medium carbonation, medium body, good full feel. Not bad and at times a tad on the sweeter end of things but fairly well balanced and quite good.

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Photo of Reinheitsgebot71
3.72/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

The body is black with hints of brown. A thin tan head of low retention and no lace caps this.

In the aroma are hints of smoke and toasted sesame seeds almost of a burn nature. Overripe fruity molasses, whisky malt and bourbon barrel scents round out the nose.

The beer is smooth, rich and malty dominated by roasted notes. Some smoked flavours mix with hints of coffee bean. A drying finish with some astringency from the roasted malts cuts off suddenly with a hint of iron like tang. The body is smooth but remains light with a medium low carbonation level.

There was far less smoke character in this beer then I was anticipating which was a bit of a letdown.

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Photo of 604growler
4.07/5  rDev +12.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

On tap at the Black Tomato in Ottawa

The amazing this about this beer is the contrast between the smell (can't put my "finger" on it) and the taste (smokey goodness). The mouthfeel is a bit thin but this beer is a very unique experience. I don't think you'd want more than one or two though . .very intense and definitely worth a try

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Church-Key Holy Smoke Scotch Ale from Church-Key Brewing Company
3.63 out of 5 based on 105 ratings.
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