It’s been long enough. I’ve hemmed and hawed plenty over my favourite beers, over the drinks that have served to define my palate. There is one, above all others, which defines what I always look for in an ale. There needs to be a balance of hops and malt. A fresh, crisp body with smoothness and fizz in equal measure. There must be uniqueness, a flavour that cannot be so easily replicated by mashing ingredients together in a bowl.
I’ve largely written reviews of beers with some kind of “challenge” in mind. I set a standard of taste or appearance, and see the extent that the beer meets my criteria. Sometimes they are decent. Sometimes my views are a bunch of bullshit. Certainly early on, before I had done my research. Today I’m dumping that method out. I will be addressing the beer that I love more than any other, so trying to compare it to a standard would be meaningless. It is the standard, the experience that I’ve been trying to relive.
Now, rather than introduce the brewery (which I’ve done before), I’ll tell the story of how I learned about this ale. It all started with my first year of university. I was in a new city, starting a new part of my life, and the anxiety was leaping like a dog at the end of a spiked chain. My aunt, a disciple of St. Arnulf of Metz in the truest form (one of the many patron saints of beermaking), had gathered a this particular brew for me to taste.
I cracked the tube, as it were, and had a taste. It was sweet, it was full of vanilla, and it had an herbal-grassy character that I had yet to taste before. It was also a strong beer, stronger than most of the brews I had tried before. Now, let’s demystify the experience a tad. I was no stranger to brew at the time, and had tasted some excellent brews before.
Mostly they were over-sticky ales and mighty IPAs, besides the myriad of of lagers that I had tasted. Nothing compared to a smooth, luxurious ale full of dessert-like flavours.
Suffice to say, I was very impressed. I never had such a brilliant beer before, and my young palate was far from experienced with hoppy or herbal ales. The feeling of relaxation, of relief, washed over me. The beer was comfortable and tasty. So much so, in fact, that my fears of the next chapter of life evaporated. If this beer was an example of what I could expect, in terms of food and drink, I would survive. It wasn’t about alcohol, and it wasn’t about the exhaustion that this brew relieved.
It was simply the taste and texture. It has always been about the taste and texture.
By now, I have this beer quite regularly. It’s my go-to brew, and at any bar that I visit I will always pick it if available on-tap. It’s a brew discovered by accident, as the legend goes, more than intentionally drafted. It’s an ale that I was gifted and loved by circumstance, and the feeling of warmth and comfort it lends.
Yep. I’m that kind of scrub.
Innis and Gunn discovered their signature beer by leaving a beer in an oak barrel for sixty days. How you manage that kind of error is beyond me, but it worked out in the end. The brew came out a lovely, crisp vanilla ale. It was remarkable, to where it started an entire beer-trend and possibly a varietal in of itself.
Yeah, oak-aging is an ancient process. It’s been done for wine, whiskey, rum and brandy for centuries, and beer has been aged in it before. But Innis and Gunn learned something remarkable from their “mistake”. Beer takes on the characteristics of whatever drink was aged in the barrel before, be it rum or scotch. This has made their catalogue over the years a miracle of strength and sweetness.
I’ve taken a look at a few of their more ridiculous products in the past, but the everyday brew they’ve produced is more than worthy of a closer look. Innis and Gunn Original took the world by the balls, and became a monster-brewer in the the process. In fact, as I went to university, they went from a small brewery known for a couple of interesting beers to one of the biggest international brewers from the UK.
So let’s begin this nonsense. What is the exact characteristics of the beer. I mean, I know the verdict will be positive, and so do you. But at the very least, I might be able to justify why I like a beer that most hop-heads consider a malt-like beverage, and not a proper ale.
That might also explain why I think hop-heads sniff their own farts.
Innis and Gunn Original
The beer’s label is actually a recent revision of their old version. This one, emphasizing the ampersand, uses fonts and flourishes which make the beer look like the product of an old carnival. This, I guess, tries to capture the sweetness and frivolity that the beer embodies in spades. The red and gold colour escapes me, though. It feels all too “English” for a brewery coming from Robert the Bruce’s own backyard.
That sassily said, the beer is the pristine and stereotypical example of what “ale” ought to look like. A creamy copper hue, the carbonation is flitting and the head is strong. It isn’t too cloudy with sediment, nor as clear as spring-water. The normalcy of this ale is belied by the label, as well as the flavour that this beer parades to the palate.
This makes the ale look painfully normal. But what of the taste? Of the smell? Of how it dances on the tongue?
This beer has a normal beer nose. Sour grass and grains, it doesn’t reach the heights or depths of some stronger ales. Yet the nose is far from unpleasant. The vanilla-bean quality, something I’ve been alluding to for a few hundred words now, scythes through the beery stench that might make this beer a mess to sniff.
The entry is something else entirely. I have tried many attempts to replicate the strong malt character, backed by oak undertones, and no beer has managed to match it. The toffee flavour, almost to the level of a creme caramel or a creme brulee, is delivered through a rich malt character. In short, this ale is a brilliant smack to the teeth, through the dessert-like character it embodies.
The finish is not so bitter, though. If such a characteristic could be misconstrued as a “flaw”, the lack of hoppiness to balance the sweet entry could be named as such. Or, in normal-ass English, the beer is like candy, in that it twists the tongue in a web of sweetness. Any means of stemming the saccharine body is too mild to match the might of the oak-aged malt.
That said, I am totally okay with this. Too many beers, leastaways when I had tasted this creature, were obsessed with out-bittering each other. Innis and Gunn had produced an ale which managed to buck the trend, and in a way made a new trend all on their own.
This section will be very short. There isn’t much to say about the mouth-feel here. It is absolutely ideal for any beer. The body is carbonated, sure, but not so the beer’s flavour misses the palate. Or flies up the nose. That could be a problem otherwise, where here the issue is drinking the brew too quickly to where it put’s you in an early grave.
It also is pretty crisp, despite the sweet body. Unlike Trappist beers, which get their depth and cake-like quality from added sugars, the oak-aging adds sweets without a cloying texture. Thank God.
I’ll be brief, here, since my preamble was full of rambling nonsense. This is my favourite beer of all time, with no exception.
This doesn’t come from the depth, the complexity or even the quality. No, it comes from the sheer love that the bottle contains, alongside the sensible and clean body. Although some cunts claim that this ale doesn’t really count as “beer”, I would still defend Innis and Gunn with my life. Indeed, anyone I know who nominally dislikes beer enjoys Innis and Gunn’s Original.
Okay, that doesn’t bode well for me. But leastways this beer changes many people’s minds about ale, and could inspire them to explore the wealth of flavour that malt-brew has to offer.
I know it did for me.
- Malt, of Barley
- Hops, of Britain
- Wood, of Oaken descent
- Yeast, bred for beer-birthing
- Water, to keep it from lethality.