Highland Imperial Gaelic Ale | Highland Brewing

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Highland Imperial Gaelic AleHighland Imperial Gaelic Ale
27 Ratings
Highland Imperial Gaelic AleHighland Imperial Gaelic Ale

Brewed by:
Highland Brewing
North Carolina, United States

Style: English Strong Ale

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 8.70%

Availability: Limited (brewed once)

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by GCBrewingCo on 09-24-2006

This beer is retired; no longer brewed.

Bros Score:
User Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 27 |  Reviews: 24
Reviews by AlexJ:
Photo of AlexJ
4.13/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

This refridgerated since birth bottle poured a striking deep scorched mahogany brown with a fabulous head of oat colored froth that leaves epic lace. I certainly wasn't expecting a 2 year old bottle of nearly 9% beer to pour like this.

Aroma is deep, complex, and sinfully warming. Deeply scorched malts and toffee with candied orange and grapefruit peels. Undertones of dark fruit and pine shavings. Fruitcake spiked with Grand Marnier Reserve.

Flavor is equally impressive and similarly structured. A massive and complex malt base with almond toffee, caramel, and scorched brown sugar meets caramelized orange and grapefruit peels. The drying hop finish is still bold and has notes of pine, bitter citrus, and earthy floral notes.

An excellent beer. I did try it fresh but neglected to review it. I recall that it was a bit more full bodied and definately hoppier. By no means have the hops fully faded, this is still an intense beer. Probably not a lot of bottles left out there in Beer Land, jump if you get the chance to try this!

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More User Reviews:
Photo of merlin48
4.15/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1 liter swingtop bottle, 2006 Limited Edition, many thanks to mntlover for going to the trouble of picking this up at the old downtown Asheville brewery last fall. Pours into a snifter a dark copper body with a one finger beige head. The head quickly falls to a skim with some ring and spot lacing. Garnet hues are revealed when held to light. Striking in appearance.

Aroma begins with toffee and molasses, followed quickly by notes of nutty almond, brandy, and nutmeg.

Medium bodied in the mouth with soft carbonation and a slight alcohol burn.

Taste initially evokes toffee, earthiness, and nutmeg. Upon warming, the complexity kicks in. An earthy hop bitterness transitions into a heather like hops presence that is slightly herbal. A mild alcohol burn works well here and is appropriate for style.

Another excellent ale from Highland. Drinkability would be enhanced if you share this one with a friend, or two.

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Photo of dirtylou
4.2/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

big 1 liter swing topper....i had a bottle of this right after it came out but did not take down any notes

the regular gaelic ale is one of my favourite drafts in NC

appearance: pours into my new bells tulip glass, dirty and murky mud-red colour, thick foamy tan head with nice soapy lacing, nice garnet highlights

smell: those gaelic hops are still right up front - the aroma is just flat out dirty (and i mean that in a positive manner) - caramel, nutmeg, butterscotch, thick malt, dehydrated dark fruits, fig, raisin

taste: this seems a lot different than when it came out but what do i know...biting pine hops up front, then you bite into the thick and chewy caramel center before getting smacked across the face with pine again...very well spiced - oregano, nutmeg...woody, a touch boozy, green tea, pretty interesting beer from my favourite (by far) NC brewery

mouthfeel: bitter hop presence, thick and chewy

drinkability: pretty nice

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Photo of thagr81us
3.5/5  rDev -14.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

This one was a part of cmrillo’s 40 Beers* @ 40 Birthday Bash! 2006 Vintage! Served from swing-top bottle into a Cantillon taster flute. Poured a deep red-orange with a minimal off-white head. There was no lacing evident throughout the glass. The aroma was comprised of sweet mat, caramel, wood, and sugar. The flavor was of sweet malt, peat, caramel, and wood. It had a medium feel on the palate with medium-high carbonation. Overall this was a decent brew. I was really surprised to see this one come out during this tasting as I never knew it even existed if I’m honest. I do enjoy the regular Galeic Ale, so it was nice to get the chance to try the imperial version. I was surprised to find a peat aspect going on here, or perhaps it was oxidation? Either way it was definitely unique to this brew. A well done brew from Highland, but it was a little past its prime in my opinion.

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4.15/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I traded a Darklord for this about 6 months ago so lets hope it holds up.

With a strong pour you are quickly shown that the carbonation has made the journey well, producing more than three fingers of spicey dough colored head. Sets atop a burnt carmel brown body. Nose is very inviting and complex with tones of raisen pie, over ripe dark fruit, spicey carmalized and sweet resiney hops. First sip shows strong deep dark characters. A lot of burnt malt and dark fruit tones. Dark rich mineral and roasty nutty notes are present all over the palate. Rich bold and fat is dry and very mineral based with a nice hop bitterness that I had not mentioned but is present throughout. A vewry unique beer that is hard to catorgerize.

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Photo of mikesgroove
4.11/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Ahh…now this I was really thrilled to get my hands on. Much thanks to unclejedi for sending me a bottle as I foolishly missed out on last years release and have been hunting it ever since. Very nice flip topped liter bottle welcomed me on board. Poured a very hazy and silt and sediment filled medium brown with a large tan colored head. Some nice carbonation could be seen through the haze and a very nice. Very nice retention and ensuing side glass lace made it appear to be the total package. A very sweet aroma coming off of it. Some slight caramel and other sugary hints mixed in with a somewhat grain like base and a touch of an off bitter hoppiness. The flavor followed right along, very hard to nail down the specifics but it was quite unique to say the least. Very robust and sweet with the alcohol very well hidden indeed. This defiantly had some teeth though as the feel was quite full and the carbonation made it feel even fuller. This was a rare treat for me indeed. A very complex mixture of bitterness, some grapes maybe, a lot of sugar, and a touch of a brandy like quality made this one fine mixture. Obviously has stood up well over time and is a fine example of the NC brewing scene for sure. Glad I got to try this, would make a fine seasonal offering.

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Photo of wcudwight
4.89/5  rDev +19.3%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Pours a cloudy mahogany color. Thin head that has good retention and suddsy lace.
If a pine tree could produce cherries, I imagine that it would smell exactly like this beer.
Taste is like a fruity barleywine. Big and bold caramel malt background but the hops don't let the malt have all of the attention. Citrus(orange juice) and piney hops have a prominate role in the flavor and don't just linger in the back ground. There is also a nice sweet fruity taste that is neither malty nor hoppy, but is very good. Think cherries dipped in sugar. Alcohol is only noticable in the finish and with it's warming effects.
Mouthfeel is medium. Not so much medium bodied just medium. One would think a beer this big would be very filling, but this one is full enough to be satisfying but not so full as to fill you up before you finish the bottle.
Drinkability is excellent. I could easily chug this stuff, but I know better.
Oscar...this beer is too damn good to make it a one off release!!!
Thanks to enola for sharing!!!

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Photo of timtheenchanta
3.92/5  rDev -4.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Very dark ruby color. Light brown with a light tan head that's a little less than a finger. Little bits of thin lacing. Not much retention as is to be expected.

Complex nose that has a little trouble shining through the big alcohol smell. Roasted malt smell with a sweet caramel aroma. There's a fruitiness to it that's along the lines of cherries and raisins. There's a little piney hops but it has a really tough time making it through the alcohol. As it gets to room temperature, it's a bit earthy. Definitely a great nose with just a little too much alcohol right now.

Toasty caramel malt. Spicy alcohol kicks in right from the start. There's a very dry bitter piney finish from the hops. Not as fruity tasting as I would have expected and certainly not as fruity as the nose suggests. Alcohol warms the body a bit after the first glass is done.

Not a bad beer but a little too big to be drinking right now. I'm glad I have a few of these to hold for a while. This one is too hot right now. Thanks to renick for sharing one of his bottles with me.

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Photo of blackie
4.08/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

I've been anticipating breaking into this one for quite awhile...just wanted to give it some time in the bottle. I was finally prompted to consider pulling it out about a week ago by the review below. Traded an Edenton Surrender Monkey to Brouche for my bottle soon after the release, and cellared since. Consumed over the period of about 4 hours.

appearance: The pour into my favorite beer glass gives a modest sized tan colored head that steadily falls back to a thin ring. Swirls of carbonation on the surface stick around for the duration. Light lacing is left each time I tilt the glass, though no buildup occurs. The beer is a deep reddish-brown in color.

smell: Fruity and grainy malts blended with woody, piney hops at the front. Dripping with hops...grassy and tealike. Toasted caramel and peanut butter toffee. When I really think about it, it reminds me of a 5th Avenue bar, in a buttery peanut butter kinda way (this might be a reach, but I swear I find it). Just a light touch of ethanol, perfect in that respect. Notes of apricot, raisin, navel orange, and nutty breads. Extremely solid, but lacking a little.

mouthfeel: The carbonation is just over medium, and pretty smooth. The body is full without becoming overbearing. Nice and creamy overall.

taste: Toasted caramel and toffee malts bring a thick(ish) malty sweetness to the tongue. This immediately turns to a grainy flavor that gives flavors of dark, nutty breads and notes of various dark fruits. The hop flavor is formidable...a nice mix of earth and pine, progressing towards the piney side after the swallow. A big bitterness builds into the finish to linger with the nutty, grainy flavors. Not too complex, but tasty.

drinkability: Good enough...the 1L did me in, which is to be expected. Somewhat of a letdown, but that's my own fault. The smell (especially) and flavor both approach a 4.5, but fall just short in terms of complexity.

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Photo of weeare138
4/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Thanks to Dakotablue for popping this 1 Liter bottle...
Appears a hazy amber with a light beige head that slowly faded away. Scattered spots of lacing are left all around the glass.
Smell is of creamy caramel, toffee, whipped cream, toasted nuts, and candied cherries.
Taste is of the mentioned aromas with toasted nuts and toffee jumping out and being the standout flavor. A mild citrusy hop flavor is buried in the background.
Mouthfeel is medium-full bodied, smooth, & warming.

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Photo of mntlover
4.5/5  rDev +9.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Limited Edition 2006, waited until Tues couldn't wait any longer :)

Pours a deep dark amber almost brownish nice thick dense darker tan head that is thick two fingers deep on a slow pour lots of lace left clinging to the glass.

Aroma is big malty lots of caramel thick like its been cooking a while. Nice citrus hops eminating, orange tangerine aroma more then grapefruit. Also other hops flowers lying on a bed of pine needles.

Taste is wow big thick chewy toasted caramel, loads of malt backed with fruitiness, with the citrus hops no doubt adding to the fruit taste. Has a good hop presence more so the the Gaelic which is good. Finishes with lingering caramel and a good dose of hop bitterness that lingers along with a light alcohol presence that becomes more noticable as it warms. Piney flavors come out more in the finish as lingering hops and alcohol seems to stay on the tounge.

Mouthfeel is approaching full but not quite there. Good mellow carbonation makes it seem smooth. Goes down nice and easy.

Drinkability is good a big beer but hard to sip this one begging to be drank. Sad they only allowed 6 bottles a person. I am biased to Highland as its my favorite NC brewery, but this stuff is good. Recommend you try some if you can.

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Photo of barleywinebrewer
4.22/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

thanks to afatty for this via trade! What a tasty treat. I wanted this for the background and because I enjoyed the regular gaelic ale. How can you not be curious about an imperial version of a good beer brewed to commemorate the successs of the brewery?

A - Rich reddish brown in color, light tan head, about a 1/2 inch that stays for quite some time.

S - Rich malts, earthy / piney hops. Definitely a wonderful layering of aromas.

T - Caramel and toffee swirl with a light presence of ripe fruit and piney hops. Much more complex than the regular gaelic ale.

M - medium to full bodied. Rich, smooth.

D - a treat to drink. Goes down with a wonderful mix of flavors and keeps you wanting to come back for another taste. This could be a production beer year round IMO.

It's a tough call to pop a commemorative brew like this one but it's well worth it!

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Photo of TheManiacalOne
4.56/5  rDev +11.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Acquired via trade from NClifestyle almost a year ago, so a big “Thank you” goes out to him. Poured from a 1 Liter swing-top bottle into a mug glass.

A: The beer is a bright ruby red color with a large tan head that fades very slowly and leaves a thick lace on the glass.

S: The aroma is of brown sugar, dark fruit, caramelized malt, a touch of alcohol and a little bit of hops.

T: The taste is excellently balanced, with sweet flavors of caramel, brown sugar and dark fruits (berries & raisins). There’s a pretty strong and complimentary hops profile, especially considering that I let this beer sit for nearly a year after I received it. A mild alcohol burn gives you a nice reminder that you’re drinking a potent beer. The after-taste is bitter-sweet.

M: Crisp and very smooth, medium-to-high body, light-to-medium carbonation, slightly sticky finish.

D: Very tasty, goes down quite easily for a high-gravity beer, not too filling, this one seems pretty close to a Barley Wine in flavor and I like the way that this beer still retains the essence of the regular Highland Gaelic Ale (which I liked a lot) and then takes it up a few levels. I was questioning whether or not I should have let this beer age as I did, but now that I’m drinking it, I can suggest to anyone that has it sitting somewhere that you’re doing the right thing because it is very, very good. My only regret with this beer is that I didn’t have two bottles, one to drink right away and one to drink now to compare them.

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Photo of Enola
4.5/5  rDev +9.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

This beer is a nice cloudy mahogany with a small head. The smell is hoppy and sweet. The taste is like a barleywine and double ipa mix. A good solid offering from Highland. The mouthfeel is smooth with the alcohol being hard to detect. The drinkability is good but be carefull witht the abv being concealed.

Bought this at the brewery at the release party. I think this beer should be added to the regular lineup from this brewer. It would surely be a big seller. A close second to Cold Mountain as the brewers best.

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Photo of BeerBabe247
2/5  rDev -51.2%

Photo of doppelmeup
3.9/5  rDev -4.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to Brouche, for obtaining this bottle for me from the brewery.

Great packaging and label made this beer a real conversation piece. I shared it with several friends.

Poured a medium amber with a decent head and medium lacing.

Aromas of hops and more hops. Kind of fruity, not much malt.

The beer reminded me a bit of Arrogant Bastard. Lots of hops, some alcohol bitterness, just a bit of malt in the background.

I'm not a huge fan of strong ales, but this beer was definitely well crafted and I'm glad I had the opportunity to sample it.

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Photo of Deuane
4.3/5  rDev +4.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Thanks to Tony "The Beer Guy" Kiss for this special treat.

A-Deep reddish brown with a full light tan head.

S-Big sweet malt supported nicely with earthy hops. Much more hop scent than I expected from the brew.

T-Rich in sweet malt taste but supported heavily with a surprising hop kick. This Imp. is more complex than the standard gaelic ale.

M-Rich and full bodied. Very smooth for an almost 9% beer. Totally love the hop kick in the background.

D-My only bottle...sad really as it was a truly wonderful treat. Wish I would have known about its release in 2006...I would have secured more! A wonderful job by Highlands.

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Photo of orfeu
4.28/5  rDev +4.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Many thanks to Brouche for providing me with this classy one-liter swingtop bottle commemorating Highland's years of achievement in brewing. Poured slightly cooler than cellar temperature into an AleSmith tulip, Highland Imperial Gaelic Ale is bright, crystalline bronze, with a gigantic, fluffy khaki head that sticks around forever, leaving sheets of webby lacing all the way down the glass. The aroma is spicy, with a thick caramel base punctuated by rugged bitter hop notes and scant alcoholic vapors. In this aspect it strikes me as being very close to many American barley wines. Dried fruit compote flavors up front are steamrolled by leafy, herbal hops that quickly become smartly bitter. I'm not sure exactly how old this is (probably a year or so?), but I get the impression that it may have been a rather angry beast when fresh. Having mellowed for some time in the bottle, this is now dry and pruney with a notable port quality, in addition to bearing a formidable palate-sting from the hop content. Utterly smooth mouthfeel, dry and never syrupy or cloying. Nearly perfect abv for the style, if I may say so: strong enough to leave no doubt about its power but not too wildly over the top to be a caricature of itself. An excellent tribute to a fine brewery whose beers I'd love to have regular access to.

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Photo of brentk56
4.5/5  rDev +9.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: Pours a cloudy copper color with a foamy head that sticks around and leaves good lacing

Smell: Rich, caramel fruity aroma with a strong sense of toffee and a touch of cherries

Taste: Starts with a nutty caramel flavor that begins to betray a cherry aspect mid-palate; after the swallow, an earthy bitterness kicks in; the finish is long lasting

Mouthfeel: Medium to full bodied with moderate carbonation

Drinkability: A rich, flavorful unique ale that deserves to be brewed again; lets hope it becomes the Dark Lord of North Carolina; I'll be there the next time it gets released

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Photo of GCBrewingCo
4.35/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer poured into the glass slightly hazy deep copper with a frothy tannish head which rose very tall and fell slowly to coat the glass.

The aroma was nutty and toasty with a strong caramel impression and a fruity aspect that had moments of cherries. The aroma contained a piney presence and lightly grassy character coupled with citrus hop notes. A complex meld of hops and malt for sure with an alcohol presence in the nose.

The flavor was malty and lightly alcoholic with a toasty, but strongly citrus flavor a malt presence that was noticeable but was forced to take a backseat to citrusy hop bittering and flavor. The hops also were piney with just a slight bit of grassy character. The malt character that was present was mostly caramel with a nutty accent.

The finish was dry with a lasting sizeable hop presence and bittering that lasted long and strong into the aftertaste and beyond. The body was medium full with a moderate carbonation and a creamy mouthfeel. The alcohol that was present in the flavor was very strong in the warming that occurred after consumption. A tough beer to nail down to style, since it falls somewhere out of Double IPA and not quite as a Barlewine, American Strong Ale probably fits the bill the best. Tread lightly, the label says 8.7% and that may even be a bit conservative.

1 liter flip top bottle purchased at the Imperial Gaelic release at the
new brewery on 9/24/06.

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Photo of atsprings
4.73/5  rDev +15.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured a deep cloudy amber with a lasting off-white head that left great lacing on the glass. The aroma was a very good balance of burnt caramel and piney hops. The taste had the same balance with some dried fruits lingering in the background. The mouthfeel was slightly heavy with non overpowering strong carbonation. The alcohol was present, but also not overpowering. This is a sipper, but an enjoyable one at that.

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Photo of MSchae1017
3.91/5  rDev -4.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

This beer was tasted in a pint glass from the 1L swingtop bottle that renick and timtheenchanta shared with me.

The beer pours an amber-red with a frothy off white head that holds a nice film and laces well. The smell is kinda faint. There is a faint vienna like malt characteristic along with some alcohol and floral hops. The taste is up front with spicy alcohol but there is also a taste of vienna and slightly roasted malts. The is plenty of bitterness to balance out the beer and just a little bit of hops for flavor and aroma. The mouthfeel has a moderate body appropriate for the style along with some nice conditioning. Overall a good beer, and a nice job at doing something different. I think this beer might be able to age well for 1-2 years.

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4/5  rDev -2.4%

Photo of BuckeyeNation
4.13/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Limited Edition 2006. Caramelized orange with a Red Delicious apple blush. The two finger crown is the color of golden brown sugar and displays a wonderfully rich creaminess as it melts. Thick sheets of finely dotted lace add to an already attractive appearance.

The nose features a caramel malt bottom end and a musty-fruity top end. I've had a quite a few English barleywines that smelled just like this. No hint of alcohol is a definite plus.

Imperial Gaelic Ale *might* be beginning to show its age, but it's still a damn fine ESA that should last another year at least. Old ale would work as well, although I don't always see the clear boundaries between barleywine, strong ale and old ale.

Specific flavors include caramel, bruised apples, cherry pipe tobacco, leather and a spicy rye and pumpernickel breadiness. The still kickin' hops add shavings of bitter orange and white grapefruit peel that work very well in the grand scheme of things. The hop lineup (assuming it's the same as in the standard Gaelic Ale) includes Chinook, Willamette and Cascade.

The next highest taste score (4.5) is almost within reach. If I wait until I'm closer to the end of the liter bottle than the beginning before pulling the trigger, it just might get the bump. Alcohol always makes me generous. Speaking of which, it's buried very well.

The mouthfeel is closer to medium than medium-full and is where age is beginning to show. I'm sure the beer was more full and more sticky in its fresher days. On second thought, this brew probably has six months on it yet, but isn't likely to last another full year.

I hope Highland decides to brew Imperial Gaelic Ale again because it's a finely crafted sipper (that doesn't mind being gulped) that deserved a wider distribution. These guys have talent, there's no doubt about that. Thanks to Loki for the bottle.

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Highland Imperial Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing
Beer rating: 4.1 out of 5 with 27 ratings