If you’re a beer fan – and the fact that you’re reading this blog suggests that you probably are – you might well have already tasted the trio of Innis & Gunn beers that recently hit South African shores. Since arriving the beers have launched with a flourish, appearing at homebrew club events, high-end food pairings and low-key tastings around the country. What really sets these beers apart is wood – they’ve all been in contact with wood in some way, either aged in barrels or at least with oak chips, which lends a whole new flavour profile.I got my hands on a bottle of each – here’s what I thought.
Of the three beers, the Toasted Oak IPA (5.6% ABV) was the one I was least wowed by. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know I’m rather partial to the odd IPA, but this one left me wanting more. Important note – this is not an American IPA and isn’t meant to be, so don’t go in expecting a massive whiff of mangoes on a wet forest floor. The base style is an English IPA (am I allowed to say that about a beer brewed in Scotland?), but I still felt it lacked the required hop profile. That’s not to say it wasn’t a pleasant aroma. While it didn’t give me a lot in the hop department, I still enjoyed sniffing this beer – lots of spice and vanilla thanks to the beer spending 41 days in contact with American oak chips in the Innis & Gunn “Oakerators” (kind of like a giant coffee pot with oak chips rather than coffee grounds).I picked up a hint oft toasty malt in background but it was the vanilla that dominated. There’s a beautiful rounded mouthfeel and a solid hop bitterness, but for me, the wood overwhelms pretty much everything else in this brew.
The Original (6.6% ABV) has a similar whiff of vanilla, though it’s more subtle and backed up by plenty of toffee from the malt. Innis & Gunn’s first-born brew spends 77 days in contact with wood, partly in bourbon barrels and later in the Oakerators, but the wood works in harmony with the malt and hops. It’s beautifully balanced, with sweet notes – think vanilla fudge – and a bitter follow-up. The only thing I’m not a fan of is the clear glass bottle, though the whiff of skunk on opening quickly gave way to the more enjoyable barrel aromas.
Finally there’s the Rum Finish (6.8%), which spends 57 days in contact with rum-infused wood. It is the most beautiful deep copper colour – not altogether dissimilar to the hue of navy rum. I found the aroma as pleasing as it is clean, though it doesn’t particularly smell like beer. Nor does it smell like rum – it’s a very sniffable mix of vanilla and spice that keeps you going back for another inhale. For a beer pushing 7%, it’s surprisingly easy to drink and is actually a fairly refreshing beer, though it would also do well as a winter warmer with an after-dinner cheeseboard and a selection of dried fruits.
N.B. The Hop rating here is an overall rating for the range. For those interested, here’s a breakdown of my ratings for each beer:
Rum Finish 3.5/5
Follow @InnisandGunnSA on Twitter for news on where to find the three beers.