Innis & Gunn Highland Cask

While I’m a little put off by the clear bottle, the prospect of a Scottish ale that spent time in 18 year single malt whiskey casks from the Highlands is too intriguing to pass up.

Barrel aging is one of the big trends of craft brewing lately. Now, there was a time when ALL beer was stored in wooden barrels of some sort. In a way, this trend is something of a return to the “way it used to be.”

What’s so interesting about beer in a barrel? Well, even the most ordinary oak barrel can contribute a lot to beer, from vanilla flavors and aromas to woodsy notes. When a brewer uses barrels that previously held spirits or wine, that opens up a whole new range of flavors, as the beer is not only gaining complexity from the wood, but also taking on some of the character of the spirit or wine the barrel once held. Scotch, bourbon, rum, aquavit, gin, applejack, Burgundy, Pinot Noir – you name it, brewers are using it. In this case, we are talking about barrels that once held 18 year single-malt Scotch, so we would expect considerable malt whiskey flavors to emerge in the flavor profile. Let’s give it a go:

That’s not the greatest picture, as it makes the beer look way darker than it really is. Here’s the true amber-brown color:

It smells quite malty, with definite notes of peat – more like Scotch than beer. There’s also the perfume of freshly cut wood. On the palate, it’s very non-bitter, which is true to style as Scottish ales rarely if ever use hops. Strong buttery caramel-apple rum bread, with an earthy whiskey bite. A very evocative beer, you can nearly taste the land in every sip.

It’s a full pint, so I am finding some flavor fatigue with the “whiskey-ness” of this beer. It might also be the buttery flavors that are making me take it slow – butter flavor in beer indicates diacetyl, and while that’s perfectly acceptable in this style, I’m never that big a fan of it. The whiskey flavors develop and ripple through in different ways as the beer warms, though, so there’s enough here to hold one’s interest over the course of a bottle. Still, I think I’d prefer to share it with a few people. If you pick it up at Whole Foods or Total, that’s what I would suggest you do with it.

Pairings? Vanilla ice cream, I think.

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