An Oak-y Scottish Independence
In what I often describe as my liberation from crappy, cheap domestic beer, a single brewery based in Edinburgh, Scotland typically serves as my go-to example of what opened my eyes to just what well-crafted beer could be. Innis & Gunn, who specializes in aging their brews in oak, has carved out a special place among the array of brewers and beers that I hold as my favorites. This could largely be because their “original” offering was the first true crafty I’d taken home from the shop back in November and my introduction to the joys of oak-aging, or alternately could simply be due to their various varieties’ generally sweet and complex profiles. In either case however, it is well past time for me to consider their creations and relay such thoughts to you.
To begin with, the original brew – in contrast to the rum-aged, the toasted oak IPA or the highly sought-after Irish whiskey cask stout – is not merely the sort of beer that serves as a base plate for the others to work off of. Unlike some breweries which promote a seemingly diverse array of styles with each often merely being a reworked version of their flagship brew, each of Innis & Gunn’s creations stand as a distinct creature unto itself, with the “Original” being no different in this respect.
Aged for 77 days in oak casks, this line pours into the glass with a rich orangish-red color, complete with a snow white frothy head, which neither overtakes nor underwhelms your vessel. Well carbonated, the oxygen bubbles cling to the inner walls of the glass releasing regularly, creating an almost excited visual appeal within the striking amber body. Upon the first sniff and sip from the still bubbling beverage, every promise of toffee, vanilla and oak notes made upon the label is fulfilled in a fine and balanced order, with the sweeter portions tackling the palate at the outset and the oak notes coming in stronger in the aftertaste.
The general impression of the Innis & Gunn Original is one of curious contradiction, at least in my opinion. Rich with a robust and multifaceted flavor profile, rooted in the even sweet and bitter aspects to it, this Scottish middle-weight presents a mixed message of erudite sophistication, weighed against a common-man’s simplicity. This is a brew which you might have difficulty deciding upon in respect to its own anthropomorphic qualities. Is this one for enjoyment by the upper crusts of society who seek out the refined and dynamic things in life, or is this a brew created so that the everyman (or Every Joe) might have the opportunity to enjoy something made with care and craftsmanship?
In conversations with friends from England, Scotland and Wales, I have been told on more than one occasion that Innis & Gunn is a rather “posh” sort of beer. And yet at the same time, by virtue of my own humble (albeit far from simple) sense of class, as well as the working-class patrons of the shop in which I found this nectar, it is hard to pin down in such a manner. Regardless, the rich flavor and balanced body to this line – of which I have tried and will review all available offerings – is one which answers such questions with both the simple statement of “It doesn’t matter,” and the rhetorical question of “Who cares?”
If you are searching for a brew that is slightly out of the ordinary, possessed of the sweet, dynamic qualities afforded by oak- or barrel-aging that doesn’t rely too heavily on malt or hops, this Scottish wonder (and each of its equally notable cousins) will likely satisfy your desires. Served at a standard 55 degrees, or chilled, the Innis & Gunn Original is a hearty, unique beer that stands apart from many other craft offerings. And because it’s offered at a reasonable price point, it will probably become a go-to sipper should you find it in your area.
Nicholas Goroff is a beer lover, writer, actor, ex-political professional and devoted anti-ideologue. Follow him on Twitter @wizardofcause.
Read more beer reviews from Goroff by clicking through the gallery below.