A beautiful coincidence… I have just been writing about Innis & Gunn Original, the Scottish oak-aged beer, for the upcoming Holiday issue of the LCBO magazine Food & Drink, when what should appear on my doorstep but the new, brief star from the brewery produced in honour of Canada Day. Innis & Gunn is an accidental work of art. The story goes that a whisky distillery decided to temper some bourbon casks they were intending to use for their whisky by filling them with ale. The ale remained in the casks for 37 days and was then poured out. The experiment worked and the distillers (Wm. Grant & Sons) ordered more. Meanwhile the brewers tasted the no-longer-wanted ale and found that it was amazing! Oak-aged! Complex and profound and full of oaky-whisky aromatics. (Full disclosure: it was the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh; the brothers who made the discovery and went on to develop the notion of oak-aged beer are Neil Innis Sharp and Douglas Gunn Sharp – hence the name Innis & Gunn, also known as Innocent Gun in the UK…)
Canada embraced the original and the blonde versions of this remarkable beer so whole-heartedly thatfor the last three years Innis & Gunn have produced a special Canada Day beer as an acknowledgement and thankyou to their loyal fans across the ocean. The latest iteration will be in LCBO stores and widely available across Canada while stocks last. It’s extremely delicious – robust, oaky, with a rich, resinous nose of Fuggles hops and oaky vanilla flavours among the malty sweetness. I had thought they might have slapped in some maple syrup or something to Canadianize the brew but they are wiser and more subtle than that. To quote from the smart gift box, “Alongside ale malt we have added Munich malt to give a beautiful biscuit backbone as well as golden oats which have added a wonderful creamy smooth finish. We have used one single variety of Fuggles hops grown in East Kent, England. These have added their signature earthy, rich and resinous hop aromas and character.”
I don’t usually quote from back labels because they are usually a tissue of lies but in this case the I&G team is spot on.
And to properly Canadianize the product they have boxed it with artwork by Ontario artist Deborah Colvin, a whimsical image of wild hockey against a map of Canada. Such a lot of trouble for a Scottish brewery to go to just to flatter their Canadian clientele!
This is a strong beer at 8.3% alcohol by volume – kind of a barley wine, which takes me back to my university days and a barley wine served in the Turf Tavern pub off Holywell Street (of blessed memory) and the night when a rugby-playing Goliath threatened me with violence unless I changed my tipple to a Real Ale (CAMRA had just been invented). But I digress. A week ago I would have rejected this oak-aged brew as unseasonal, but then the sun was shining and I was in a T-shirt digging the garden. Now we have chilly Vancouver drizzle and the rich, hearty, malty ale seems entirely à propos.