16 December 2013

Horses for courses

The Alltech beer and whiskey extravaganza will be returning to the Convention Centre in Dublin this February. The American multinational specialises in animal nutrition but runs a brewery and bourbon distillery on the side as pet projects of the owner Dr Lyons.

I wasn't much of a fan of the flagship bourbon barrel aged ale when I first encountered it last year: there's more than a hint of Innis & Gunn sickliness about it, so I was apprehensive when approaching its stablemates. Kentucky IPA is 6.5% ABV and a very slightly hazy orange-gold. The aroma is pithy with a hint of boiled sweets and the carbonation light and prickly. That candysugar flashes briefly at the start but an assertive bitterness swings in quickly behind it, sharp and mouthwatering, if a little metallic. There are notes of beeswax which make it seem more English than American, despite the strength, and while it lacks fruity freshness or hop complexity, I rather liked its straightforward, plain speaking bitter bite.

To accompany the barrel-aged ale, there's a Bourbon Barrel Stout too, also 8% ABV but this time the beer is robust enough to stand up to the spirit. Not that the two complement each other, just that the beer isn't ruined: what you get is a sticky sweet stout with lots of caramel plus a background buzz of woody bourbon and a pleasant alcoholic heat. I'm reminded a lot of the Innis & Gunn stout, one of the very few palateable beers they've made. This too is palateable but not a patch on the kind of barrel aged stouts produced by breweries of De Molen's calibre, for instance.

By way of disclaimer, both these beers were freebies at the July Alltech event and there was more corporate hospitality at the launch last week of the February event. Thanks once again to the Alltech crew for their generosity.


  1. Gary Gillman1:24 pm

    I think the I&G beers are better today in that as I read the labels of the various line extensions, I think most are aged in tanks over wood staves (or maybe chips). I don't think they use whole barrels any longer and in fact the "sickly" taste (I know what you mean from the initial runs) has disappeared, IMO again. I think it was some kind of oxidative effect. The current beers are clean in taste but still have a marked flavour of U.S. bourbon wood (vanilla, coconut) unless another barrel type is specified, e.g. rum barrel or Canadian whisky barrel.

    The vanilla/coconut taste does complement stout, hence I think the fame of bourbon barrel stout, started by Goose Island in '92. And Guinness, uniquely in the old days amongst brewers in the U.K. when Ireland was part of the U.K., always liked American oak. The strong hopping of porter and stout tend too I think to work well in tandem with that wood.


  2. Gary Gillman2:55 pm

    Postscript to indicate that according to Wikipedia I&G use various aging practices, e.g. the Original seems a blend of beer stored in oak casks and "on" bourbon wood which I'd think is infusion with staves from bourbon casks.

    The stout is aged in ex-Irish whiskey casks. I wonder if continually reused barrels, which the Irish use for whiskey I think, reduce the strong vanilla and coconut taste, or maybe to the contrary that taste is complemented by the taste of porter or stout. Hard to say.

    Personally I believe all the I&G beers would benefit from increased hopping. Haven't tried the dry-hopped IPA though.

    I've had the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout and it isn't the best of the type, IMO.


    1. I've read Innis & Gunn uses a custom device called an Oakinator to infuse the wood flavours, rather than actual barrels.