22 October 2012

At least they remembered the E

As far as I remember, it was St Patrick's Day that occasioned the release of this special edition from the Edinburgh beer brand: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask. It's the first stout they've done, 7.4% ABV and aged, as the name makes clear, in an Irish whiskey barrel. It doesn't say which distillery it came from, mind: the label is all "famous" this and "rare" that and "triple distilled" the other. I'd take a punt on it being a Cooley cask, though: they'll give them out to any idiot.

From the 33cl bottle it pours a clear dark ruby rather than proper black and gives off a vague sugary spiced vanilla whiff like that pirate-themed rum the kiddies like to drink. Surprisingly, on the first taste, it's a rather decent strong dry stout. There's a nice hit of boozy treacle, livened up with a liquorice edge and complicated by more than a little smoky sophistication. All very classy for the first half of play, while it was still relatively cool from the fridge.

Unfortunately it couldn't keep its true nature under wraps for long. As it warmed there came a growing and unpleasant slick, sticky, sickly butterscotch flavour, typical of I&G beers and the reason I normally avoid them. Thankfully it doesn't get so strong that it overpowers the nice bits but still sufficient to remind me of what I don't like about these beers.

So while I'd grant this high status among the Innis & Gunn range that's not the same as a recommendation. Not bad for a holiday gimmick, though.

15 comments:

  1. Your third paragraph sums up exactly how i feel about their beers too. I've always like their presentation and the thought of some of the newer beers, but any I've tasted just remind me why I shouldn't buy them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Whether or not you like it, surely the vanilla/butterscotch character is what defines I&G beers, and what is imparted from the oak casks. They are effectively a beer equivalent of American Bourbon whiskeys.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lots of barrel-aged beers don't taste anything like I&G, however.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really dislike the I&G stuff, really intensely, it appears this one is mildly better....but not much.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I had a bottle of their treacle porter last night, although vaguey treacley, porter it is not. More a strong ale and diacetyl/vanilla is the name of the game as usual. Marginally more complex than their original

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thought this one wasn't too bad, I can't remember how the other I&G beers tasted it's been so long. It's nice enough for a look, but I'd never go back. Either way that's a belter of a glass.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it's a lovely glass. Lots of breweries use it. And Innis & Gunn too...

      Delete
  7. In my experience, they're fine after about three to five years - literally - when the oak has calmed right down. Funnily, I suspect all that tannin soaked out of the casks helps give the beer longevity. But like others here, I'm a very long way from being a fan of oaky tastes: can't stand Chardonnay.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really don't think I could justify the cellar space to try that.

      Delete
  8. Gary Gillman8:18 p.m.

    I've read your site for quite a while and we know each other so to speak via comments we make on Ron's and others' blogs, but thought I'd stop in here to say hi, and to comment on what you said about the characteristic I&G palate.

    I know what you mean and it is the reason also I don't generally warm to those beers. I'll tell you what in my opinion that taste is: mild oxidation, i.e., the result of storing beer for some months in a container with some exposure to air (via pores in the wood in this case). I've had many beers in North America that are "oak-aged" or "barrel-aged" and they all have that taste unless kept in wood for a very short time.

    It is a taste that, in my view again, oak contributes too but mainly comes from storage as such, or age. I have noticed it in some Fuller bottled beers that are, I understand, aged for a time, e.g. Golden Pride, so I think it is not really oak that does it (the "Chardonnay" or tannic taste) but the fact of storage per se.

    So I think it is a type of intentional oxidation and that pale ales from the 1800's and old ales, when both were similarly long-stored, had that very same taste. I have noticed it in local (Toronto) stouts and strong ales that are kept in tank for a time and perhaps not at ice-cold temperatures. I think I&G have actually hit on a historical old ale flavour in this regard, without meaning too as I understand the origin of the brand.

    The now-defunct Ballantine India Pale Ale had it too, and it too was stored in wood for months before being bottled. This old ale taste in my opinion is in historical terms, "sound old", i.e. showing the taste of age without sourness. Long-aging died out mostly, but I would conclude some people do like the taste as evidenced by the success of the I&G beers and the popularity of barrel-aged beers as a sub-set of the U.S. craft beer scene.

    The particular one you reviewed above is quite good, the whiskey and other things happening in the beer make the butterscotchy taste less evident I'd say. I'll have to try Martyn's suggestion and lay down some I&G for a few years, it may well be the taste re-orients on a different vector.

    Gary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Gary, welcome to my comments!

      Interesting thesis about the oxidation. I can't say I've ever encountered this sort of thing in other barrel aged beers but then I wonder how much of that is psychological: perhaps I don't notice it because I'm not expecting it.

      Delete
  9. Hey! Why I oughta... (I was wondering why so many hits on that day)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heh heh. Actually, that should be past tense. I was talking to a brewer from the Porterhouse yesterday and he said Beam-owned Cooley don't give out casks any more. So no barrel-aged Celebration this year, but on the plus side Rotunda has rocketed in value.

      Delete
    2. yes, I heard that sad tale as well. Rotunda has recently given birth to her second child. After dry hopping, I might slip you a bottle.

      Delete
    3. Cool. I still have a bottle of my very limited 100% rauchmalt beer kept aside for you.

      Delete