Back in 2002, leading whisky producer William Grant & Sons decided to make ale-finished whisky. Renowned Brewer Dougal Sharp was commissioned to formulate a special beer that would be used to impart a smooth, beery character to the bourbon barrels; this would in turn flavor the maturing whisky (the same way port and sherry finished whiskies are made).
A unique, malty, Scottish Beer was produced and placed in the barrels for 30 days before being discarded to make room for the whisky. The Ale Cask Whisky was a real success, and it was only many months later, after thousands of gallons of beer had been used, that Dougal received a call that would change everything.
Upon emptying the barrels and carrying out an analysis of the beer, the staff at the Distillery had discovered that it had been completely transformed by its time in the oak picking up sweet wood and vanilla flavors – a most unexpected but welcome discovery. The beer was then tasted by industry experts and scored an unheard of 9 out of 9! The current version on the Innis & Gun matures in American White Oak Whisky Barrels for 30 days, and then rests in a marrying tunn for an additional 47 to allow the flavors to unite in true harmony. In August 2003, Dougal Gunn Sharp and Neil Innis Sharp released the Original Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer, and it was in early in 2004 when it first graced my lips; and thus changed my life.
My Relationship with Innis & Gunn
It was a miraculous thing for me in 2004, the first time I ever tried an Innis & Gunn; I was enjoying a beer and a meal at my favorite restaurant and beer bar in Toronto, the Beer Bistro. At the time I was just getting into real beer, and the Beer Bistro was the catalyst for that new found passion (obsession). Around then I was just beginning to learn the differences between mass produced commercial beer and craft made beer; there was really no better place for me to do that either. Then one night not unlike any other a beer caught my eye on the expansive beer menu called Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer, which explained that it had been aged in previously used oak whisky barrels. Now, while this may sound very commonplace these days to the avid beer connoisseur, in 2004 oak ageing was still very fresh, and to me it was exceptionally exciting. There wasn’t really a question in my mind; I really loved whisky, so I had to try this beer.
If the Beer Bistro was the catalyst for my ascent to beer appreciation, then the Innis & Gunn Original Oak Aged Beer without a question was my guide. The first time I enjoyed this beer (and still every time) it absolutely floored me! I was then beginning to learn about and appreciate all the flavors that beer could posses, and the Innis & Gunn came along and just swept me off my feet! I was speechless, even still I am in awe of how delicious and fantastic this beer is. In fact, I have spent the last 6 years introducing my friends to Innis & Gunn and explaining to them why it is so exceptional – yet somehow, right now I am completely dumbfounded trying to explain why I love it so much! I think I know how to fix this predicament though; this calls for a fresh cool Original Innis & Gunn!
Tasting the Original Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer
The Innis & Gunn is served in a beautiful clean custom bottle designed specifically for the brewery. It’s a standard 341ml bottle with a wide stance and engravings which surround the now red and silver label. It is also available in 750ml bottles as show here. The clear bottle allows your most immediate senses to see just how stunning the beer is; it’s a very rich red oak with a glimmer of gold and yellow to mahogany finish. It pours just as smooth and beautifully lifting a small half inch head which slowly will fade to almost nothing.
I do love pretty much everything about this beer, and the sight of it draws me in close. The nose is fantastic. Right away it’s filled with sweet caramel, butterscotch candy, and warm oak; then lingers with fresh bread, light malt, and a light and sweet whisky finish. It’s so tantalizing and fresh, there’s very little hop if any on the nose, and it just smells like it’s going to be so delicious!
As you bring the beer close to enjoy it, the nose gets richer and richer and begins to tease your palate. The Innis & Gunn flows gently on your palate and lifts your tongue into a wave of vanilla, toffee, butterscotch, warm oak, light spice, whisky malt, juicy apple and pear, with a light and crisp citrus hop finish. It’s not overpowering or aggressive, it is 6.6% alcohol, and it carries it perfectly lending some strength to the whisky-like malt sweetness which makes this beer so unique. The candy sweet butterscotch, biscuit and warm oak is so delicious across the palate and also perfectly balanced that even still the beer makes my mouth water. It’s not just all the flavor that I love its how incredibly distinct it is.
The finish is also sweet and filled with vanilla, but a touch of citrusy fresh hops creates a truly quenching and refreshing beer which I have enjoyed fully in the summer and also in the winter. I have also found some exceptional food pairings for the Innis & Gunn; almost all cheeses, deserts, hamburgers, roast chicken, BBQ, and more all work so well with this beautiful beer. I’ve made BBQ sauce out of it, marinated beef in it, turned it into a salad dressing, and made a caramel glaze with it. The Innis & Gunn is truly remarkable on many levels.
For these reasons and more, I always try to introduce people to this magical beer if they have not yet had the pleasure. People constantly tell me that they don’t like beer, or that they haven’t found one that they can really enjoy all the time. Well, I have the antithesis for those people, and it’s aged in oak barrels!
To learn about the Innis & Gunn aged in Rum Barrels, see part 2…