Tasting the Innis & Gunn Winter Beer, 2010

Its coming, and its just around the corner… This winter as the Christmas beers begin to flood the LCBO again; we will be getting back the Innis & Gunn Connoisseur’s pack, and in this years pack is the strongest Innis & Gunn ever made – the Winter Beer. My good friends at Innis have been chatting about this beer for a long time now. In the summer I had heard that Dougal (the founder and BrewMaster) was working on a spiced beer, one that he was more excited about than any other beer he has made. This definitely got me excited – I already love the sweet, creamy and caramel oaky flavors of the Innis Original – the idea of a spicier and stronger version for the winter sounded perfect!

We should expect the Connoisseur’s Pack to be made available late October to November for the Christmas Release; probably the best overall beer release at the LCBO. I was fortunate enough to get the Connoisseur’s pack ahead of time thanks to my good friends at Innis & Gunn, and I have been saving the Winter Beer since – until now. The time finally came. I had enjoyed the Original and the Rum Cask that came in the pack, but have been waiting for the right moment to test the Winter Beer on my palate. It was a calm Sunday afternoon, football filled my living room, but my Innis & Gunn glass was empty. Time to fill it!

I had so idea what to expect from this beer, but I have always wanted a bigger and richer Innis. The Rum Cask at 7.1% with spicy, rum-like warming flavors was a great treat. But this Winter Beer is 8.5%, making it by far the strongest of the family. The Label is a warm glowing violet that reads “Warming Scottish Beer with natural hints of ripe fruit, vanilla and caramel.” Enough talk, time to drink.

I opened the Winter Beer at cellar temperature around 12C (54F) and poured it into an Innis & Gunn stemmed beer glass. The pour was smooth and seamless building a rich amber red beer and a rumbling of khaki foam. A pillowy, and largely airy head was build about 2 inches over the beer with carbonation quickly snapping away the bubbles in an excited and abrupt manner. The beer below was richly colored with a maroon and brown center glowing out to copper, reddish golds, and cinnamon browns. It was deep, but not as dark at the Rum Cask, and not nearly as dark as the Triple Matured.

The nose was large and fruity, much more so than any Innis & Gunn. The classic Innis scents of caramel and vanilla come through easily bringing rich butterscotch, and the warming sensation of browned butter. Its hard to describe it as anything but butter. Rich dark fruits are apparent with black berries and strawberries being muddled together and the nose of a banana a few days past ripe. Gentle earthy hops are faint, and are overall subdued by the beers genuine sweet malt sensations and rich bourbon oak aromas.

Here was the moment of truth – already this beer brought big rich Innis flavors with a heartier punch. I didn’t get the spice on the nose that I wanted, but I got loads of aromatic character. I lifted the glass to my lips and poured it down. A creamy and silky wave of caramel and toffee glides over my palate with a very familiar sensation. And old friend approaching me with arms open wide – but then, rather than a hug, I get a kiss on the lips!

The Winter Beer instantly moves from brown sugar and caramel into fruit flavors of berries and jam. Big malt sweetness bring a wide range of tastes here and a powerful wave of toffee and vanilla; more so that usual. Buttery sweet malts again prove prominent in the flavor is it was on the nose – its follows mashed mellow fruits and hints of touches of spice. I would love more spice, and it may come out as this beer matures in the bottle (from experience, I have found taht the bigger Innis & Gunns are best after 4 to 6 months in the bottle to rest).

More vanilla and oak begins to open up into a buttery smooth flavor, and touches of floral hops. This is where I would love to see either the crackling of spice, or freshness of citrus hops.

The finish is sweet and gently refreshing, but overall is very satisfying. This is a sweet, warming, and malty beer that still shows the classic oak and char flavors of the bourbon wood that made me fall in love with the Innis in the first place. A larger malt sensation, rounder fruit flavors, and a new buttery warmth leaves me wanting more of this Winter Beer, and I am excited to see how it tastes in January – I expect it will warm me quite well on a snowy winter’s eve.

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