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.
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!
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.
Tristan: 95 pts.
Final Average: 96.5 pts.