It’s been a long time since I wrote a review – life sort of got in the way. I was surprised myself to realise that the last review I posted on here was Buckler Pur Malt, five whole months ago. However, don’t for a minute think that this review hiatus means that I’ve been testing beers any less; instead it simply means that I have a huge backlog of photos and notes to write up. Although this beer (an English Strong Ale), Innis & Gunn The Original, was a beer that I first drank right in the middle of the summer, I wanted to cover it straight away now that I’m back in the reviewing saddle, because it is simply delicious.
Innis & Gunn was started in 2003 by master brewer Dougal Gunn Sharp. Dougal had been tasked with brewing a beer which would then mature in bourbon barrels to impart a sweet, malty flavour into the barrels which would then be used to age spirits. At this point, the beer was going to be thrown away – but Dougal, a man after my own heart, decided to taste it before it went down the sink. And incredibly, the beer tasted great – so the barrel ageing process started to be used to create great beer.
In 2008, the original part-owners William Grant and Sons, completed a management buyout, so it’s now a family-owned operation. In 2016 a £3 million investment round enabled them to acquire their own brewery – the Inveralmond Brewery in Perthshire, Scotland. Today, Innis & Gunn beers are exported to over 28 different countries.
As well as malt, hops, yeast and water; Innis & Gunn declare a barrel as their 5th ingredient in beer. All of their beers are claimed “barrel aged”, but they’ve actually developed two different techniques for brewing beer with barrels. The first, most commonly known by people, is simply maturing beer in barrels. This helps to flavour the beer, but takes a long time as well as requiring a lot of barrels to brew at any sort of volume.
The second technique is almost the other way around – instead of maturing beer in barrels, the wood from barrels is broken into pieces, burnt slightly, and then put into the beer whilst it’s brewing. This imparts its flavour much faster, as well as needing less wood for a brew. This technique is slightly more controversial though, with challenge from both beer fans and other breweries, who claim that a beer can’t be called barrel aged if it is not in fact brewed in a barrel.
This particular beer is brewed with the “barrel in the beer” technique; and rather than wondering if the name should be allowed, the taste of this beer outweighs the linguistics, so I’m going to let it pass.
The beer pours an amber/red colour, with a white, almost fluffy head. The aroma isn’t as strong as I was expecting, but is pleasant – it’s sweet and malty, with hints of caramel and vanilla. I knew immediately that this was going to be quite a sweet beer, which my sweet-tooth is a fan of.
The malts used are Innis & Gunn Ale Malt, Crystal Malt and Raw Wheat; and the hop is Super Styrian.
Taste-wise, the expected sweetness is there, sitting somewhere between toffee and caramel. There’s a good mouthfeel to it, it’s pleasant to drink. The finish is nice, but you can tell that it’s a strong beer. It’s almost as if the bourbon from the barrel is sitting and waiting for you to take your last swig.
Overall, I absolutely love this beer, and have found myself buying a lot of it in bottles. I’m yet to find anywhere local that has it on draft – please let me know if you find it anywhere. If it wasn’t quite so strong, I wouldn’t drink much else! Interestingly, the last barrel aged beer we reviewed was also excellent, but far too strong – Siren Craft Brew Sheltered Spirit.
This has rapidly jumped to being one of my favourite beers – I’d drink it all night if it wasn’t quite so strong