The familiar word claymore comes from the decidedly less-familiar Scottish Gaelic word claidheamh-mòr, which translates (from what I’ve read, anyway; my Gaelic is rusty at best) as “really big sword.” Wielded with both hands by fierce men without pants and often exceeding five feet in length—still talking about the literal sword here, you perverts—the claidheamh-mor for centuries was used to casually and cleanly split human heads in two.
Since the Second World War, the word claymore has probably been more recognizable as the name of an American anti-personnel mine (invented, interestingly, by a Norman A. MacLeod—a name that suggests Scottish heritage, and possibly even a secret life as an immortal swordsman from the Dark Ages). The Claymore mine raised the ante on its ancient counterpart by unleashing destruction not just within its immediate vicinity but up to a range of some one hundred yards.
The claymore, in both its medieval and its modern iterations, has spread pain and destruction not only in the country (or countries) of its birth but also worldwide, and bears the blame for the creation of tens if not hundreds of thousands of sobbing widows and orphans.
By an odd coincidence, today’s selection from the Beer Mystery Case is Claymore Scotch Ale, Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, Colorado.
One of the first things I noticed about this beer after fifteen or sixteen hours of staring at the label was that, despite its name, Claymore Scotch Ale is not brewed anywhere near Scotland. Denver, Colorado, is in fact quite far from Scotland, separated from it by (among other things) an ocean, island nations populated by leprechauns and/or volcanoes, several American states, and the flattest and least exciting parts of Colorado. That’s a long way for a beer to travel; even the European Swallow is not known to migrate so far (and of course the African Swallow is non-migratory).
That said, though, while it may not be brewed in Scotland, it seems safe to assume that Claymore Scotch Ale is nevertheless at least based on some sort of ancient Scottish recipe, one designed to terrify and humiliate the English in medieval drinking contests and later smuggled across the Atlantic hidden in some sort of newly-invented engine part, or possibly a coconut.
The beer that resulted from that long trek, Claymore Scotch Ale, has a burned, ashy smell, as if it had been brewed in an old fireplace. And it’s very dark, not in that “dark beer” sort of way but in that “absorbs all light within its event horizon” sort of way. The first sip, however, proves to be surprisingly painless, far less harsh than I anticipated. However, the label’s descriptions of the beer as “hardy” and “wee heavy” show a touch of subtle understatement not expected from the average bit of beer advertising.
What the Great Divide Brewing Company’s marketing department probably should have put on the label was that—if you’ll pardon the crude expression—Claymore Scotch Ale will put hair on your balls.1 And if you don’t have balls when you start drinking a glass of Claymore, you will by the time you’re done.
God help you if you drink two.
The first few sips left a noticeable and not-altogether-pleasant aftertaste, but by the end of my second glass, that aftertaste has developed into something far more palatable, sweeter and with the barest suggestion of chocolate. Also, I’m suddenly aware that I can no longer feel my feet.
Scotland has given the world the steam engine, the flush toilet, the telephone (which was invented in America, but by a Scot), several good films starring Sean Connery2 and Brian Cox, and “Auld Lang Syne.” On the other hand, not everything to come out of Scotland was genius; they’re also responsible for the kilt—known to Scottish Buddhists as trou wu trou3—and the caber toss, which, while not stupid, crazy, or cruel, still ranks right up there with chess boxing as one of the weirdest sports on Earth.
It’s hard to say whether Claymore Scotch Ale belongs in the genius category or the kilt-wearing/caber-tossing category4—possibly because I’ve had two of them on top of an early-afternoon black-and-tan, so clearly my judgment of good ideas vs. stupid ones is more than a little suspect. I’m happy to report, though, that this is a pretty damned good beer, and if I survive the hangover with my vision intact, I’ll probably find my way to the liquor store sooner or later for a couple more Claymores.
Some Guy’s rating for Claymore Scotch Ale: four thumbs up, two tossed cabers, and one crippling, eyeball-bruising headache.5
For more of Some Guy’s Adventures through the Pint Glass, check here: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6
1. If you won’t pardon the expression, please stop reading before you get to this point of the review.
2. Also The Avengers and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
3. Translated roughly as “pants without pants.”
4. Please keep in mind, angry Scottish and Scottish-American readers, that I’m not actually disparaging kilt-wearing, caber-tossing, or being Scottish. I’m merely suggesting that they’re not quite as brilliant, all things considered, as the steam engine or the flush toilet. Disagree with me all you want, but please, put down the giant tree.
5. I can’t help but notice that I have few, if any, pictures of actual Scots in this column. As much as that sucks for Scotland, and probably for my credibility, I suppose it’s appropriate for a review of a Scotch ale brewed some 4,400 miles from Scotland. And it’s probably no weirder than the fact that in Highlander, the 100%-Scottish Sean Connery plays a Spaniard, and the Scottish character (Duncan MacLeod) is played by a Frenchman. Although if this is the weirdest thing you can find in a movie about a 400-year-old Scotsman wielding a samurai sword in a worldwide fight for survival against other immortals who die only when their heads are chopped off, then you may be paying attention to the wrong parts of the movie.