Innis & Gunn: Barrel of fun?
Innis and Gunn have been steadily expanding their range of barrel-aged beers in the last few years. I've never been a great fan of the too-sweet Original beer in the range, but some of the specials have had a pleasant twist. The brewery sent me through a few samples; I was keen on finding out whether they could deliver a spirited finish beyond their initial sweetness.
The 6% Blonde pushed its way out of the fridge first. Now, I'm sceptical about beers that promise subtle fruity nuances whilst at the same time insisting on being served chilled. The vanilla was more to the fore here than in the Original, albeit delivering clean oak notes rather than a sweet-toothed muddle. A reasonable malt base maintained the flavour, though any hop lift was lost through the chill. There were some soft citric notes in there, but the vanilla sweetness outweighed them as the beer warmed. As a standalone beer, it didn't really stand out - but (too late) I thought it could have make for a great dessert-course beer, perhaps something caramel-laden or a good 'n chunky rice pudding.
At 7.4%, the Rum Cask Finish sounds like a beer to be enjoyed with cheese & crackers & repeats of Top Gear in front of a roaring fire. But out of the fridge, I feared it would be too cold to enjoy in such a manner. The temperature wasn't the issue, though - the sweetness and washy rum reminded me of a badly-made cocktail. Rather than warming in a spicy fashion, the rum finish seemed to have stripped the cask of astringency and delivered it alongside a dollop of sugar into the bottle. Too heavy-handed for me.
So it was with a little trepidation that I reached for the Canadian Cask version. But I was glad that I did. Seventy-one days in an unspecified Canadian whisky cask seems to have worked wonders - or perhaps it was the addition of malted rye that gave it some gorgeous toffee and raisin notes. The vanilla sweetness was suppressed, the malts balanced finer, the oak notes supportive rather than smothering. Easily the most accomplished and balanced Innis & Gunn beer I've tried.
The only downside here is that the Canadian Cask version was a limited export-only edition. Bugger. The others are available in Sainsburys, so at least I can try the Blonde again the next time I fancy a beer to go alongside a creme caramel.
Thanks to Innis & Gunn for the samples.