Tag Archives: Scotch

Innis & Gunn Rum Finish

The Rum Finish by Innis & Gunn is more than a re-branding of the Rum Cask, it is a change in the recipe and that’s why we are writing two separate reviews after performing a vertical taste test between the two. Be sure to read up on the Rum Cask article for our comparisons.

-Tristan

*****

Innis & Gunn’s replacement to the rum cask, I find, is slightly more enjoyable than its predecessor. I believe it retains more of the original flavours, which might come as a problem to those rum drinking lovers of the cask. Slightly darker and slightly maltier, the spices, though still there, are quite subtle, allowing the flavours of toffee and vanilla, infused from the oak, to come out more. With the malt comes a slight heaviness when compared to the rum cask, but it remains creamy; the full body is quite a delight. On the finish, the spices, particularly caramel, leaves the palate in wanting. It is consistent, fresh, and rather delectable.

Nose: 21.5
Body: 20
Taste: 20.5
Finish: 21

Kamran: 83 pts.

*****

As Kamran noted, this beer is a darker and more balanced/refined beer than the Rum Cask. Still aged for 57 days and maintaining a strength of 7.4%, this beer seems to better incorporate the different ingredients to make them more cohesive and play on one another in the palate.

The aroma is richer with a stronger smell of vanilla, rum, oak and spice. The body is less watery and more like a medium bodied porter – yet certainly not heavy! The taste is more sweet (possibly syrupy sweet is the way to define it best), a more pronounced rum taste than the Rum Cask is evident and very much appreciated. The finish sees the vanilla linger with the toffee, as per usual with Innis & Gunn I find, with very little rum as was delivered in the taste. Similar to the cask version, only this seems to last slightly longer before fading away.

While I do like this beer and find it improve over the Rum Cask, the lack of rum in the finish has been a detractor for both beers as the vanilla and toffee are very dominant. That said, this beer is great and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a unique beer that isn’t hoppy or bitter.

Nose: 24
Body: 21
Taste: 22
Finish: 19

Tristan: 86 pts.

*****
Final Average: 84.5 pts.

Side by side comparison.

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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 Original

You are all in for a little treat. Tristan and I have tasted and reviewed each and every Innis & Gunn product released in the last 1-2 years. Since we’ve already posted on the Highland Cask 21 year (2010), that will be omitted, but you are soon to find reviews on the Original, Rum Cask, Canada Day 2011, Highland Cask 18 Year (2011), Rum Finish, Spiced Rum, Winter Ale, Irish Stout and, finally, the Canada Day 2012 — tasted vertically with a 1 year aged 2011. With the exception of the last two, we tasted the beers one after the other, within a night, referring and relating them to one another. This is how we will review them: with reference to one another. So, if you’re like us, and think Innis & Gunn makes some of the best beer in the world, take a trip through their collection with us!

Brewed in Scotland, Innis & Gunn follow a unique avenue in beer craftsmanship: oak-aging! You heard correctly; this is beer that, like most whiskies, rums, and red wines, has sat in an oak barrel, slowly picking up the flavours — vanilla, toffee, caramel, oak, etc. — the wood has to offer. There are few breweries that perform this feat, and Innis & Gunn, the originators, are — put simply — the best.

Oak cask maturation not only gives the beer it’s colour, it transforms the flavour compounds in ways unlike anything else. The original Innis & Gunn is stored for 79 days, longer than any of the other Innis & Gunn beers, but they utilize a virginal oak cask. In fact, Innis & Gunn original was first utilized by whisky distillers to imbue whisky casks with some beer flavour. Thank God one of them realized the beer they were throwing out was delicious! You may find the original regularly in both government and private liquor stores. It comes in single 330 or single 750 ml bottles, at a relatively inexpensive price, making it a real ‘go-to’ beer.

– Kamran

*****

The Innis & Gunn Original, while not my favourite beer in the world — though pretty damn close — is probably the beer I drink the most. Though I love to expand my horizons and try different beers, I find myself constantly returning to the Innis & Gunn; If I am picking out beer for a night, I almost always grab at least one. It’s a near perfect beer that everyone must try at least once in their life!

Smooth, Creamy, Rich, Vanilla, Toffee, Butterscotch: These are the main terms to describe Innis and Gunn beer, particularly the original. It is a true sipping beer that gets better with age and aeration. So, pour it into a glass, let it sit, then slowly enjoy it over time. On the nose, the original is replete with notes of vanilla, toffee, caramel, and oak. On the palate, these flavour are not subdued. They are rather MORE pronounced. It’s truly amazing what this low carbonated beer is capable of. The finish is long and smooth, making you, at once, desire another bottle.

Nose: 24
Body: 23.5
Taste: 24.5
Finish: 23.5

Kamran: 95.5 pts.

*****

Well this is the start of something fun! Yes, indeedy folks, we have done some palate practice and tackled the recent collection of fine beer from Innis & Gunn. While some may not have heard of them before, or seen the bottles in stores but passed over it… you need to try this beer a couple of times to really appreciate it. Luckily it’s not too expensive, and if you’re looking to expand you beer palate this is a good way to start. I moved away from the typical beers when I got my first batch of Innis & Gunn due to sheer curiosity. Now it is still one of my favourite breweries.

The original is the first I tried, naturally… …while I wasn’t so used to the taste at age 19, it did grow on me the few times I revisited it a few months later! Aged for 77 days and at 6.6% alcohol/volume, it is not a light beer, but a happy medium.  On the nose it has a rich and light sweetness to it, as well as a toffee, vanilla, and oaken aroma. Very appealing in my books. The body was, again, rich and light with a sweetness from the malt, toffee and vanilla. It was also quite smooth leading to a high level of drinkability. The flavour was malty, with light vanilla and toffee under the oak tones. In terms of an aftertaste or finish, the malt lingers on the palate with the taste slowly fading away. Very unobtrusive finish, which leads to the ability to enjoy several in a night should you choose.

While not my favourite of the collection, it is a very consistent beer in delivery across the spectrum for which we score. The recent arrival of Innis & Gunn on tap in Vancouver has however reaffirmed my appreciation of this beer as the difference in taste due to freshness is noticeable. As previously stated, try this beer!

Nose: 22.5
Body: 22.5
Taste: 22.5
Finish: 22.5

Tristan: 90 pts.

*****

Final Average: 92.75 pts.

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Storm Brewing/Russell Brewing Big Smoke Ale

This limited release collaboration beer between Storm Brewing and Russell Brewing has been around for just a few months. Producing one of the first of a slew of collaboration beers that have been released over the past several months, brewmasters Jack Bensley (Russell Brewing) and James Walton (Storm Brewing) are pioneering a kinsman-like spirit for the Vancouver craft beer community.

The name Big Smoke is derived from its unique approach to beer fermentation: using peated malt! Well, some peated malt — 10% to be exact. If you’re unaware, peat is vegetation that is primarily used in Scotland to dry barley malt. This technique, using peat fires, is especially used in Islay single malts, and gives it that characteristic vegetal flavour — grass, moss, dust, dampness, etc.. It’s a little difficult to describe, but quite obvious once you’ve tried a peated whisky. Because of its association with drying of the malt in peat fires, peat flavours often come in tandem with a smoky quality. Peat is, in fact, often mistaken for smoke; truth is, while these two aspects typically come hand in hand, they are not inextricable — there are some very smoky, lightly peated whiskies, as well as some highly peated, lightly smoked whiskies, but this is all relative.

When it comes to beer, peated malt is unusual, but can be quite the pleasantry for a whisky drinker. Some other peated beers include Unibroue’s Raftman, Williams Brothers Fraoch Heather Ale — where the peat and heather come in part from the water sources of Scotland, and, though not actually using peat, (whisky) barrel aged beers — Phillip’s Double Barrel Scotch Ale, Driftwood’s Singularity etc. — tend to give off some peat flavour. Besides the peat, the Big Smoke is a heavy, malty, thick, dark, high percentage beer; a true sipping beer that’s not for the faint of heart.

– Kamran

*****

Amidst the light, effervescent peat smoke aroma is a solid malt backbone. As a single-malt enthusiast who loves his peaty scotches — Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Ileach, etc. — I was rather disappointed that the peat does not shine through as much as I’d hoped. In fact, the malt all but overwhelms the notes of peat. That said, with careful concentration, one may extract moments where peat instilled flavonoids connect with one’s receptors. The feeling is quite pleasant, however, this is much too much work, and I don’t want to have to pay such careful attention to access the best parts of a beer; these parts should be the forefront of the beer.

While the body is enjoyably creamy, the beer is quite heavy. You certainly don’t want to be drinking more than one of this tallboy bottle badboy. Though not considered a stout, it reaches certain stout-like parameters — heaviness, thickness (the definition of stout), and darkness. While the malty taste is excellent — especially the initial flavour — it does not last; the finish, while retaining the taste of alcohol, loses its sweet malt flavours.

All things considered, the Big Smoke is an exceptional beer, and while not fitting for all occasions, there are some instances — perhaps while sitting in front of a fire on a cold night — where it would be perfect. So, don’t miss out on it while it’s still around!

Nose: 20.5
Body: 21
Taste: 23
Finish: 21.5

Kamran: 86 pts.

*****

As you can tell, Kamran has left little room for expansion on this particular beer; I suppose he really enjoyed it!  Just along the basics of this beer then, I found it to be one of the best beers we had that night.

The nose was a rich malt that, while stronger than the peat notes, was still an enticing factor to salivate for this beer. The body was a thick and heavy combination that went down creamy and smooth, much like certain stouts. The taste was naturally malty and slightly peaty to my senses, but it also possessed a slightly cocoa-like flavour. The finish is a brief encounter to say the least. It fades rather fast for my liking, but it is a smooth malty presence that is enjoyable prior to dissipation.

This beer is one I’ve had on a couple of occasions since the tasting, and I have to say, it is a nice treat to have and even share late at night. Well done Russell/Storm, but you’ve now set a high standard for any future collaborations!!!

Nose: 21
Body: 24
Taste: 22
Finish: 20

Tristan: 90 pts.

*****

Final Average: 88 pts.

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Bowmore 12 Year

One of only several distilleries in Scotland that do their own floor maltings — a traditional practice that has mostly been abolished due to its labour intensity — Bowmore produces a classic Islay single malt. The Bowmore 12, in particular, has become a staple in the whisky community, as it’s one of those malts that one could not call themselves a whisky drinker had they not tried it. Though some novice drinkers may be offended by the level of peat in this whisky (approx 25 ppm), it is really quite moderate for an Islay whisky — the latest Octomore is peated at 167 parts per million! In light of this, the Bowmore 12, along with some of the Bruichladdich’s and Bunnahibhain’s, is an ideal introduction to peated whisky.

– Kamran

*****

While the Bowmore 12 is not overwhelmingly peaty, and certainly isn’t a highly smoky whisky, the nose is profoundly vegetative. Pronounced notes of damp peat, dry sawdust, and a touch of honey gives the whisky plenty of complexity. While the peat lingers in the nasal cavity, as if you’re in the vicinity of a peat fire, it doesn’t appear nearly as intensely on the palate; instead, it is softened by flavours of oak and dark chocolate. This isn’t highly surprising; it seems that much of the peat, what is noticeable on the nose, is instilled in the whisky indirectly.

Sitting at the shore of Loch Indaal, the water at Bowmore is dark — dirtied with peat. This peated water, used in the distillation, gives the whisky its characteristic peat aroma without having to bombard the barley with an intensely peat driven malting. Moreover, I posit that, due to Bowmore’s own peat fires and floor malting process, lingering volatile aromas of peat that are in the air at the distillery may come in contact with the whisky, causing the whisky to absorb the peat, sort of like how dry hopping a beer increases the hop aroma without increasing the bitterness.

As with many Islay whiskies, a touch of water to oxidize the whisky and open up the flavours may prove beneficial. Two to three drops is more than enough, so don’t overdo it — invest in an eye-dropper; it comes in handy. While the peat is not so pronounced on the initial taste, being complemented by other flavours, it is primarily what remains on the finish. The finish is exceptional; after a wee dram, one can still taste the peat 20 minutes later — that is if you haven’t already starting sipping another whisky! All in all, the Bowmore 12 is a classic malt that all single malt enthusiasts must try!

Nose: 24
Body: 22
Taste: 23
Finish: 22.5

Kamran: 91.5 pts.

*****

In typical Islay style, the Bowmore 12 is certainly one of the most peaty and smoky single malts I’ve tried to date! In my opinion, the nose was the best part of the whisky; it was rich in an earthy tone, full of peat, malt and smoke. Golden amber in colour, Its sharpness is not only from the alcohol but the peat. As expected, these notes are certainly evidenced in the flavour, meaning I couldn’t truly detect any other flavours in the whisky. I found that the finish was a harsh peaty one. More to Kamran’s liking than mine, but I prefer the more mellow peat and sweeter single malts.

Nose: 23.5
Body: 19
Taste: 19
Finish: 19.5

Tristan: 81 pts.

*****

Final Average: 86.25 pts.

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Innis & Gunn 21 Year Old Highland Cask (2010 Edition)

Brewed in Scotland, Innis & Gunn follow a unique avenue in beer craftsmanship: oak-aging! You heard correctly; this is beer that, like most whiskies, rums, and red wines, has sat in an oak barrel, slowly picking up the flavours — vanilla, toffee, caramel, oak, etc. — the wood has to offer. There are few breweries that perform this feat, and Innis & Gunn, the originators, are — put simply — the best.

Oak cask maturation not only gives the beer it’s colour, it transforms the flavour compounds in ways unlike anything else. In the case of Innis & Gunn’s annual Highland Cask, the beer is stored for 49 days in a previously used Highland scotch Cask — note that the original Innis & Gunn is stored for a longer period, but in a previously unused oak cask.  While Innis & Gunn do not reveal the source of their Highland cask — the distillery or whisky used — those who are familiar with Scotch may be aware that the Highland area of Scotland is typically known for producing rich, subtlysweet, unpeated/mildy peated whisky.

Herein we are reviewing the 2010 edition, which was aged in a 21 year old Highland cask; the bottle has therefore been sitting idle for about a year, and, since the alcohol by volume (ABV) is not nearly high enough to preserve it indefinitely, some minor changes may have occurred. Nonetheless, we each strive to appreciate and score the products we review by focusing squarely on 4 characteristics — nose, body, flavour, finish; we do not allow preconceptions or politics to interfere with our judgement.

– Kamran

*****

Innis & Gunn is perhaps my favourite beer producer — it’s a toss up between them and Phillips — and, as a whisky enthusiast, the annual Highland Cask is, to me, amongst the pinnacle of beer creation. While I’m not nearly as big of a fan of the 2010 edition as I am of the newest (2011, 18 year cask) one — perhaps it’s the softening effect that an extra 3 years of oak maturation admits, or the fact that we drank a bottle that was a  year old — I was still pleasantly satisfied with this particular Innis & Gunn beer.

Boasting many typical Innis & Gunn characteristics, the 2010 Highland Cask emits a bouquet of vanilla, caramel, and toffee, is rich, full bodied, and complex — best when *sipped* at somewhere between refrigerating and room temperature — and has a long lasting, savoury finish. Unlike the original or 2011 edition, this Innis & Gunn hosts notes of citrus on the nose and palate, somewhat reconcilable with Innis & Gunn’s Spiced Rum Finish (appears in the 2011 Winter 3-pack).

While the palate is somewhat more refined and complex than the 18 year Highland Cask from this year, it is also somewhat lighter, more fruity-citrusy, and less caramel-vanilla-toffee-like. This only proves how each cask provides a different flavour profile for the product stored within it; the particular cask, where it’s from, what it was previously used for, where it’s stored, and how long the aging lasts: all these things make  a difference, and this unique Innis & Gunn beer is one not to be missed — count yourself lucky if you can find one!

Nose: 22.5
Body: 23
Taste: 24

Finish: 24

Kamran: 93.5 pts.

*****

Since 2003 Innis and Gunn have made their mark in the beer world. This particular edition of their limited releases is a personal favourite of mine. Aged 49 days in the cask, as Kamran’s intro wonderfully describes, this honey coloured beer is light, smooth and has little head when poured, yet still full-bodied. This strong beer is fruity and sweet in its nose compiled of a toffee, caramel and vanilla aroma that causes anyone to greatly anticipate the moment of the first sip. The complexity of vanilla, oak and bitter notes are masterfully captured and blended in the flavor. The aftertaste on the palate is balanced between one of oak, and a spiced vanilla nature. Certainly a refreshing and smooth feeling/tasting experience.

Nose: 25
Body: 23.5
Taste: 25
Finish: 24

Tristan: 97.5 pts.

*****

If you have read my piece in the About section, you will know that there are few beers that can make a threshold of 90 or above, so anything that comes close should be considered noteworthy. This is the case with the Innis & Gunn 21yr Highland Cask, as its highly unique arouma combined with a one-of-a-kind flavour make it a special drinking experience. The influence of the Highland Cask is easily detected right from the start, as the scent of this beer bears a striking resemblance to that of a strong spirit. As you proceed to the tasting, you find a full bodied, yet smooth beer, which gives the illusion that you will be enjoying a very heavy drink, when in fact the beer is surprisingly light, giving it a higher consumption factor. This is emphasized by the beer’s distinctive caramel overtones, which are strong enough to notice, but are not overpowering, allowing you to enjoy the taste over a prolonged period. The finish continues this sensation, with a light bitterness to tell you that you should take another sip!

Nose: 22
Body: 22
Taste: 22
Finish: 22

James: 88 pts

*****

Final Average: 93 pts.

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