Lava – Ölvisholt Brugghús – 2010 and 2011 Vertical Tasting

For those of you following along, you will know I am a big fan of Ölvisholt Brugghús, from Iceland.  A young brewery in a country with a young brewing heritage (they had prohibition on beer until 1989.  Yeah.  I know….) these guys are making at least two really incredible beers. Lava, their smoked Imperial Stout, and Skjálfti, their pale ale have both been available at the LCBO.  Lava was available in both this past year’s Winter Warmer’s, as well as the year previous.  I had review it as well as Skjálfti in the past.  A very friendly fellow from their importing agency, Kevin, got in touch with me this year to let me know Lava was coming back, and asked, if I would like to review the 2011.  I told him I would be more than happy, and I would also do a radio beer break with Fred on the Edge about it. You can hear that here:, we were joined by The Pack AD, who both were very surprised by the beer, and quite enjoyed it.  As it turned out, Kevin had a few bottles of the 2010 still, and offered me one, so that I could do a vertical tasting (which is to say, comparing two or more of the same beer, from different vintages).  At 9.4%, Lava is a beer that ages well (upright, not sideways like wine, and in a dark cool place).  Generally, big beers “round-out” as they age, loosing some of their more brash flavours, and finding more depth and often dry/bitter notes.  Needless to say, I’m stoked to be doing this.  I’ve actually been trying to find the time to sit down and do this properly since mid-December, and it’s finally happened.  So here we go!

Lava – Ölvisholt Brugghús Vertical Tasting 2010 and 2011

Lava – Ölvisholt Brugghús Vertical Tasting 2010 and 2011

2011: From a 500ml bottle with the best before on the back, the 2011 Lava by Ölvisholt Brugghús is opaque black, though there is a trace of red at the edge of the glass.  The tan head easily pours 1″ of foam that settles to an active film with a sticky ring. Aroma is rum and dark sugar, hinting at burnt with some smokey notes.  There’s some sweet fruitiness, berry like, maybe hinting at cherries and strawberries. Taken together, there is a coffee-like quality to the nose. On the palate, the coffee similarities come through even more, and it’s nearly espresso.  Roasted and bitter, with a bit of a tart pop on the sides of your cheeks.  Not really sour, just tart.  Bitter dry with a little tartness, like one of those fancy 85% cocoa bars from a specific region you can buy for like $7 at the grocery check-out.  There are still sweet rum or brown sugar hints as the initial smokiness subsides, which is joined by leather and hay.  I know, it sounds strange, but it works.  The bitterness is pretty cool, it’s hard to differentiate between the bitterness from the smokey malts and the hops.  There is no doubt, there’s a fair amount of hops in this, but they seem to play really well with the bitterness of the black  malts.  The heavy body is silky smooth in your mouth, dense without really weighing you down.  A nice bit of carbonation helps, as does a bit of alcohol warmth that becomes more noticeable as the beer warms, meaning that despite it’s high alcohol and fairly big body, the beer is very quaffable.  You probably wouldn’t spend a night drinking it on draught, but I will have no trouble getting through my bottles.

Lava – Ölvisholt Brugghús Vertical Tasting Best Before Dates.

2010: Also from a 500ml with a best before date on the back label, the 2010 Lava pours a solid opaque black with about 1/2″ of dense tan head. There is a warm alcohol bite  in the nose, with a deep rich port-like fruitiness.  The smoke is there, as is some rum or molasses, and also cocoa.  They all seem to have dropped a little though, and there is a nearly astringent quality on the nose.  The taste shows more of the same.  There is less coffee, but many of the other flavours are there, they just seem to have sort of bled into each other.  It is also less tart, and seems to have dried a bit more.  The fruitiness is now more akin to dried fruits, rich and sweet with less sour notes.  Dates and figs not cherries.  There is actually more leather hints now, which mingle in and out with the cocoa and rum.  Somehow the mid palate seems to be sweeter than the young bottle, which I would not have guessed, though it’s molasses sweet, dense and sugary, but also with all that depth of flavour.  I get none of the hay I noticed in the younger bottle, though there are some spicy notes that have come through with warming-up, cola like, a little medicinal.  The finish has nearly a salty quality to it, hinting at soy sauce, but bitter and dry; clearly the high hops IBU is still there drying things out. Given the weight and depth, I would have expected a sweet linger, but there is only dry bitterness and a hot alcohol warmth.  The body is still quite heavy, though it seems that the depth is adding weight. The complexity, and less obvious taste associations make this one a bit slower to go through.  Which is fine.  If you have been patient enough to hold it for a year or more, you can probably handle spending a night with the bottle.

There is no doubt it is worth cellaring a bottle of Lava, really a few.  The 2011 bottles that are still available at some LCBOs are totally drinkable right now, but if you have the capital, seriously consider buying a few with the intention of waiting at least a year to drink them, if not more.  You won’t be sorry you did. Incidentally, I know there are still bottles of Unibroue Grande Reserve 17 available too.  These are both great beers to start your beer cellar.  Even if it’s just a box at the back of your closet.

Skál, Ölvisholt Brugghús!

About The Brewery

Ölvisholt Brugghús is a microbrewery that is located at an old dairy farm in south Iceland. It was founded in the year 2007 by two neighbouring farmers who had a  true passion for beer.

Ölvisholt is currently exporting beer to Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Canada.

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