Orkney Brewery Dragonhead Stout

dragonhead_bigA beer “5,000 years in the making!”

I’ll admit, that line on the bottle is one of the things that made me stop and take a second look at this beer.  Just as people in a bookstore will often judge a book by it’s cover, we beer geeks are susceptible to great art and clever design in our purchases.  On only those grounds, the Orkney Brewery Dragonhead Stout is a sure winner.  The bottle design screams class, with a beautifully-done front label that has a short description of the beer and brewery.  On the back – in a move I wish more breweries would make – the brewers offer notes on the beer’s look, taste, smell and mouthfeel.

At the end of the day, however, design on the bottle isn’t nearly as important as it’s contents.  Does the Dragonhead live up to the (apparently) 5,000 years of hype?

The Orkney Brewery, located in the Scottish Orkney Islands, has been brewing beer since 1988.  Along with the Dragonhead Stout, Orkney produces the world-renowned Skull Splitter Wee Heavy, the whisky-aged Dark Island Reserve, and a full line of seasonal and year-round brews.  Orkney boasts that “The unrushed culture [of Orkney] with its traditional values influences the way we make our beer… We give undivided attention to each stage of the brewing process to ensure that our beer reaches you in perfect condition.”  This traditional and unrushed approach seems to be working for the brewery, as their range of beer has won national and international acclaim.

Here in the states, the Dragonhead Stout is imported by Legends Ltd, and is available around the country.  The notes on the bottle from the brewery are;

Dragonhead is a legendary stout: dark, intense and fully-flavoured, it is our tribute to the Vikings and their cultural legacy in Orkney.
On the nose, this black stout has a smooth roasted malt aroma giving bitter chocolate, dark roasted coffee and Smokey notes balanced by hints of spicy Goldings hop.
On the palate, the dark roasted malts combine to give a rich, rounded palate with chocolate, toast and nut flavours, with a satisfying spicy hop finish.

I had the (lovingly described) 500ml bottle poured into an imperial pint glass.  The pour is classic English stout – near-black with a khaki-colored head.  The frothy head is truly substantial for the style, a few fingers high and nicely creamy.  Not bad retention either, with attractive lacing as the head fades.  Aroma is just as the label promises, with bitter chocolate, coffee and a hint of Goldings.  To look and smell this beer is to observe a perfect stout.

Unfortunately, the illusion falters upon tasting Dragonhead.  The flavor gives promising hints of roasted malt and coffee, but is just too weak – almost as if someone diluted the beer with extra water.  Fittingly, the carbonation is mild and the brew has a subtle, dry finish.  Even though the beer is easy to quaff I certainly wouldn’t call it a smooth drinker, as there is an unpleasant astringent finish.

Certainly, someone looking for a sessionable stout wouldn’t be let down by Dragonhead.  The light body, flavor and ABV promise to make this a brew someone could toss back quite a few of.  Along the same lines, Orkney’s Dragonhead Stout could be a great crossover beer for macro drinkers – while the hallmark taste, aroma and look of a stout are present, they don’t assault you like most stouts.

I don’t seem to be with the majority with my thoughts on Dragonhead, so perhaps I just got a bad bottle of the stuff.  However, with so many great American- and UK-brewed stouts available, I’d steer fans of the style towards something a little more substantial rather than take any chances.


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