I received an email a few weeks ago from Innis & Gunn asking if I’d be interested in getting a sampling of their various oak-aged beers.
I love beer.
And I love oak.
This sounds like a match made in heaven.
Did I mention I love beer?
Since I mostly talk about whisky, here’s the rundown of my beer loving. I’m a fan of craft beer (I like supporting the little guy). I enjoy the occasional IPA, I love porters and stouts in the winter and a nice hefeweizen in the summer. If you put a Trappist beer in front of me, it’ll disappear (at an appropriate speed to enjoy it of course, but it’ll disappear), and I really enjoy the craft aspect of it. The tinkering and the diligent study. The perfection of the craft. You have to respect artisans and experimenters.
Fun side story, one of my friends from college, Abe, got me into homebrewing and so I really enjoy that aspect of beer. Funny enough, Abe was studying Math and Physics at Carnegie Mellon, which means he’s freaking brilliant, and now finds himself as the R&D Pilot Brewer at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co! They have yet to send me any experiments!
I’m not a beer snob though, I’ll drink almost any beer. The only rule I have is that I won’t drink a beer I drank a lot in college, which means cutting out a lot of Milwaukee’s Best, Natural Light, Natural Ice, Golden Anniversary, Olde English, and Keystone. Pabst Blue Ribbon is also in that list but I’ll have from time to time just for nostalgic reasons. And, of course, Bud Light is in my cup holder when I’m mowing the lawn or playing softball.
Back to the beer at hand, Innis & Gunn is a small brewery located in one of my favorite places in the world, Edinburgh Scotland. My wife and I visited Edinburgh a few years ago, during The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so we’re biased. Anyway, their claim to fame is that they age their beer with oak chips.
In their particular process, they don’t age the beer in an oak barrel entirely, they chip the oak and then age it with an Oakerator process (which they created themselves at a cost of $150,000 at Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh). It gives them a way to impart a variety of flavors into the beer depending on the chips they use. So rather than having just one barrel imparting one flavor, they can have several and mix it in a way to impart different flavors. Definitely clever. (if you want to learn more, they explain the whole process here)
So they sent me three of their beers to enjoy – the Toasted Oak IPA, Rum Aged, and the Original. These are the three beers that make up their Favourites line-up.
The Original is a 6.6% ABV Scottish style beer that is a golden color and smells of malt and vanilla. There’s a hint of floral hops and bitterness but it’s mostly malt and oak. It’s very refreshing, has a medium body which makes it a great summer beer for me. The label says hints toffee but I don’t get much of it. The oakiness is nice (and easy to identify because I’m not used to it in beer) and the result of 77 days of oak maturation.
I tend to favor wines with a lot of oak flavor in them and this reminds me of that (except in a beer).
First reaction was: wow. I’ve never had a beer like this before.
Once I got my surprise out of the way, the 6.8% ABV beer has a rich red color I haven’t seen in a long while (I haven’t had an Irish red in a long time but I can’t imagine a deeper and richer red than this). It smells great.
If I was given this in a blind taste test and were told its aged in a cask, I would’ve guessed rum or brandy. There’s a sweetness to it that is very rich, like molasses, and uncharacteristic of any type of beer. Even the high gravity beers, like Russian Imperial Stouts, that have a sweetness to them are unliked the rum aged.
The flavors are really fun, very fruity and a hint of spiciness. It’s a little heavier than The Original but not much. I don’t see myself drinking a lot of these in the summer but this makes for a great fall or winter beer for my tastes. Of the three, I liked this one the most.
Toasted Oak IPA
Weighting in at just “only” 5.6% ABV, the Toasted Oak IPA is tripled-hopped and aged in oak for 41 days. It comes in a brown bottle but it pours out this pale gold color and smells exactly what you expect an IPA to smell like. It tastes like an IPA too, a fresh floral hoppiness with a hint of vanilla and sweetness, probably from the oak. It’s hard to really get more than a hint because the refreshing hoppiness is very forward.
In terms of body, it’s light, as you’d expect from an IPA, and one that would make it a good beverage for the summer.
In summary, I was impressed.
The introduction of oak, especially in their Oakerator process, really makes for an intriguing (and different) flavor profile. The pricing is on the high side, $10-12 for a four pack at my local Total Wine, but I think they’re worth checking out just to see what oak aging can do with a beer. I’m not sure any are on the “absolute favorite” list, in terms of me wanting one always sitting in my fridge, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if they were.