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Classic Beer of the Month June 2011: Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer, 6.6%

The history of invention is littered with chance discoveries. Penicillin, Teflon, even Viagra have brought their benefits to the world as a result of some happy accident.

Innis & GunnThe world of beer has its own equivalent in the form of Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer.

The story of the beer dates back to 2002 when former Caledonian brewer Dougal Sharp was asked by whisky maker William Grant & Sons to provide a beer that could be used to flavour oak casks that could then be used for storing whisky.

(It is a common practice to age whisky in casks that have previously held wine, sherry or other products in order that the spirit pick up a distinct ‘finish’.)

Dougal came up with the goods and the beer did its time in the wood. However, some distillery workers felt that it was a shame to simply pour away the beer to make way for the whisky. They decided to taste the now wood-aged beer and found it remarkably good.

Word reached Dougal that this oak-matured beer was well worth sampling. He was so impressed with the complex vanilla and toffee notes that the beer had acquired during its time in the wood that he decided to turn this happy accident into a commercial enterprise.

Dougal founded Innis & Gunn, taking his own and his brother Neil’s middle names for the company title. It’s now a thriving business, having beer brewed at an unnamed Scottish brewery (although Belhaven is widely reported as the source), and then ageing it in various types of oak casks, before exporting it around the world.

Premium Product

The main product remains the original, Oak Aged Beer. This is an ale brewed from Golden Promise pale malt, crystal malt and Phoenix hops. It is aged for 30 days in white oak casks, then blended with beer from other casks in a marrying tun for a further 47 days.

Great care has gone into the bottle presentation, to make this a premium product, and it does indeed exude class from first sight. The beer pours a rich golden colour and fills the palate with oak, vanilla, toffee and sweetness, with light citrus notes behind.

Apart from fine drinking on its own, it’s an exceptionally versatile beer to place on the dining table.

I once took the company’s suggestion of serving it with some lightly seared scallops and the combination was outstanding, the sweetness of the shellfish matched by the sweetness of the beer, the caramelized exterior of the flesh pairing wonderfully with the vanilla notes in the glass.

It’s also been noted as great with desserts such as crème brûlée or bread and butter pudding.

Other Innis & Gunn varieties to check out include a 6% Blonde, a robustly hoppy IPA, and the excellent Rum Cask. The original Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer, meanwhile, is also now available in draught form (keg).

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