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Innis & Gunn 18 Year Old Highland Cask (2011)

The Innis & Gunn Highland Cask is a once-a-year seasonal that comes out in the fall. As the name suggests, it’s a beer that has been aged in previously used single malt whisky barrels from the Highland area of Scotland. While they do not release the source of their barrels, and while it probably changes each year, it’s safe to assume they are purchasing from a major distributor, and, therefore, well-known distillery — likely owned by Grants. Highland single malts tend to be light, biscuity, and slightly sweet, particularly on the finish. These flavours and textures are transferred into the Innis & Gunn 18 Year Highland Cask which is aged for 69 days, and boasts a 7.1 alcohol percentage.

– Kamran

*****

On multiple occasions I have claimed the Innis & Gunn 18 Year Highland Cask as the best beer in the world. Since then, nothing has changed, and I have yet to meet a product that better epitomizes what a great beer should be. This is my favourite beer — this particular release. I have 4 bottles remaining; they have to last my lifetime! — I doubt they’ll last another year.

The original flavours typical of Innis & Gunn are even more pronounced here. Notes of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, and honey come out in spades both on the nose and the palate. To top this off, there is a mild whisky taste, that comes through on the finish in particular, giving it a crisp, refreshing, long lasting aftertaste. The level of sweetness is quite high, and the beer is incredibly vibrant, unlike the 21 year, which we tasted — for the second time — vertically. The 21 year boasts notes of citrus, and the typical Innis & Gunn flavours are relatively subdued, while the 18 year is a powerhouse of aromas and tastes.

There is something highly fresh about the Innis & Gunn 18 Year. It must be the Highland water or something. The beer just tastes exceptionally fresh. There is a touch of whisky on one’s initial taste, that subverts itself into a creamy-velvetty-ness on the palate; the beer is certainly a touch heavier than the original. Besides making it more robust, I believe the whisky, in itself, opens up the flavours of the beer more. As a result, we have the strongest predilection of Innis & Gunn flavours, making it my favourite!

Nose: 24.5
Body: 24
Taste: 25
Finish: 24.5

Kamran: 98 pts.

*****

While I scored this beer well, my favourite Innis & Gunn was the predecessor to this beer, the Highland 21 year cask. And while Kamran and I may disagree on which vintage was better, this one surely does not disappoint even if it was my “second best” of the two years.

This vintage was sweeter on the nose with more malt, oak, vanilla, and toffee. The body was smooth and even crisp, if not a touch sharp for the first few sips. Compared to the 21 year, the 18 year cask was noticeably darker in colour. The taste was malty with some bitterness. There were notes of caramel and toffee with vanilla. The whisky was clearly more present in the taste of this vintage. While the finish lasted longer by a tad, it was pleasant with the combination of malt, whisky, and vanilla.

I think part of the reason Kamran and I have the two competing for top beers is because by the time he tried the 21 year it had already been aged compared to the fresh 2011 cask. Either way, the beer was excellent and I certainly hope that Innis & Gunn continue to make these seasonal releases involving the highland casks.

Nose: 25
Body: 23.5
Taste: 23
Finish: 23.5

Tristan: 95 pts.

*****

Final Average: 96.5 pts.

Head to head of the 18 and 21

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Innis & Gunn Canada Day (2011)

This is a special once-a-year seasonal by Innis & Gunn. It is released about 3 weeks prior to Canada Day, along with an ‘Independence Day” seasonal that’s exclusively seen in the states. Clearly they’re trying to take advantage of the increase in liquor sales around Canada Day/the 4th of July. That’s fine by me, a new Innis & Gunn beer is always special. The 2011 is stored for 54 days in ex-bourbon barrels, utilizes fuggles hops, and rings in at 8.3%.

– Kamran

*****

The Canada Day (2011) is complex and unique, and changes significantly over time (Check out the notes made on the 2012 version where we do a vertical tasting). While I had enjoyed this beer last summer upon the release, we didn’t taste this until it was nearly a half-year aged already, so bear this in mind while reading the review.

Initially, the Canada Day (2011) Innis & Gunn was quite hop-forward and citrusy. After a half-year, it was still relatively hop forward and citrusy. It is certainly the hoppiest Innis & Gunn beer I’ve had — never got to try the IPA. This level of hoppiness is quite pleasing to my palate, as I enjoy a nice well-hopped beer. Besides the hops are the typical Innis & Gunn flavours, such as toffee and vanilla. They are quite pronounced, but slightly subdued by the citrus-hop finish that dies rather quickly. One may also taste the yeast. I believe this is due to the bottle being aged for a half a year, and, after a year, we will find out that my belief was accurate. The body is creamy and smooth, though slightly lighter than the Original.

Nose: 23
Body: 22.5
Taste: 21.5
Finish: 20

Kamran: 87 pts.

*****

Canada is supposedly the third largest consumer market for Innis and Gunn -which isn’t exactly too surprising- and they have deemed us worthy of a special release brew! Aged 54 days and sitting at 8.3% alcohol/volume, this beer does feel much bolder than a typical Innis and Gunn.

On the nose there is a light hop aroma blended with malty sweetness, while the taste carries the hops, the malt is less pronounced and seemingly less balanced than others; however, it still has the vanilla and toffee notes mixed in there. The apricot coloured body was cloudy/opaque with less carbonation than the original, with a slight bitterness and thicker texture than the others. On the finish, it was oaken with lingering hops on the palate and the standard vanilla/toffee duo.

While it was a good beer and a change from the typical malty brews, the Original is still a better bet for cost and overall experience.

Nose: 23
Body: 20.5
Taste: 19
Finish: 18

Tristan: 80.5 pts.

*****

Final Average: 83.75 pts.

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Howe Sound Woolly Bugger Barley Wine

At, 11%, 75 IBUs, brewed with pale, crystal, cara, chocolate and special B malts, and seasoned with nugget, fuggles, and golding hops, the Howe Sound Woolly Bugger barley wine is a highly complex, highly refined, must-see-for-yourself beer. It is thick, with bits of sediment/pebbles floating in the bottle; not to worry, decant it finely and enjoy the character it bestows.

– Kamran

*****

While not a huge fan of barley wine, and having not yet tasted one that really floats my boat, the Howe Sound Woolly Bugger blew me away. The beer is bursting with flavour, both on the nose and the palate; each individual sensation is distinct, yet well integrated, and highly pronounced. On the nose, there is a rich chocolate caramel sweetness that mingles with delicate hops — particularly the fuggles (reminds me of the Anchor Christmas Ale) — and a red wine-like acidity. The alcohol presents itself with a slightly citrus sourness that deftly complements the rich sweetness of the malts.

The beer is profoundly sweet, but the malty sweetness is balanced by robust hops, and enough IBUs to instill a crisp finish. At 11%, it is slightly heavy and the malt sticks to the sides of your cheeks. Since the flavours are so well endowed, you really can’t drink too much; one is perfect. This is currently the best barley wine I have tried, though I never got a chance to taste Driftwood’s highly regarded ‘Old Cellar Dweller’. Rogue, however, makes a close second.

Nose: 22
Body: 20
Taste: 23.5
Finish: 21.5

Kamran: 87 pts.

*****

Without a doubt, Howe Sound Brewing’s Woolly Bugger is one of the best barley wines I’ve had to date. With an 11% alcohol content and 75 IBU’s, this beer packs a pleasant and complex punch with the wide variety of malts and hops contained in the bottle. And while generally I’m not a huge fan of beers with fuggles hops (such as the Innis and Gunn Canada Day 2011 release), the mix of fuggles with other varieties was a nice counter balance to the malts. This beer had an ability to constantly keep your palate guessing as to the flavours and an ability to leave you wanting more; a feeling some barley wines lack.

On the nose, the malty sweetness is quite prevalent as in any barley wine, yet the fuggles hops really cut through to my sense of smell. Surprisingly hoppy, the floral aroma is very inviting when mixed with the malty sweetness. The body is thicker than I anticipated, but it still allows for easy drinking. In terms of taste – having been sitting in my cellar aging for over  six months – the tones of chocolate were noticeable through the sweetness. As well, the hops was adding to the rich complexity that Kamran and I both enjoyed. The finish had a flash of bitterness on the tongue with a lingering sweetness and a chocolate taste that seemed to stick to the cheeks and back of the tongue. It even had the similarity of an alcohol taste like a cognac from what we could derive.

This beer is best enjoyed alone and at a cool temperature, and is one of the only barley wines I could recommend as a session beer if the occasion arose seeing as I could easily have a few in a night. So if you happen across this beer in a store, buy it and enjoy!

Nose: 22.5
Body: 23
Taste: 22.5
Finish: 21.5

Tristan: 89.5 pts.

*****

Final Average: 88.25 pts.

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