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Weekly Beer Review: Innis & Gunn’s Irish Whiskey Cask Stout

Irish Whiskey Cask Stout
Innis & Gunn
$3.69/ 11.2 Oz Bottle
Grade: A

This is one of my favorite hidden treasure beers from the early days of my reviewing. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I hope all of my new readers enjoy this and are inspired to go buy it with all speed before it leaves the shelves for another year.

The Beginning:
I nearly passed this by entirely, sitting on the same shelf as Tanners Jack and Old Speckled Hen. The bottles look the same and I’ve been less than impressed with those two, but it turns out it’s just a coincidence. One of the helpful folks at the liquor store recommended this limited-time offering, though, so it got the second look. I’ve known plenty of beers that claim cask aging, but this one specifies it’s an “Irish Whiskey Cask” stout. Seems the deal is, they age it in the same barrels used to age a famous Irish whiskey. They can’t come right out and tell you the name, but the clerk told me on the downlow. I’ll keep the secret but give you a hint- it rhymes with “Jameson.” Wait, that was too much of a hint.

The Brewer’s Pitch:
Innis & Gunn’s barrel-aging technique started with a glorious accident. A “famous whiskey distiller” came to them asking for ideas on how to develop their concept of ale-finished whiskey. After some tinkering they came up with an ale that imparted a beery flavor to the whiskey – and then was thrown away. After thousands of gallons of wasted beer, intrepid distillery employees started sampling the oaked beer and found it amazing – and a consumer product was born. This particular version is a black stout with notes of oak (from the barrel, obviously) as well as vanilla and dark chocolate, and also a syrupy hint of treacle. I&G says to try it out with everything from smoked venison to rich chocolate cake.

The Beer:
I&G Irish arrives in a typically small Euro bottle, clear glass and looking for all the world like it’s full of Coca Cola. It pours densely black, with dull leather-brown highlights when light is shone through and a dense two-finger dark tan head. The smell is mild but has a smoky characteristic, like cigar smoke and aged firewood layered over roast grain. The beer has a smooth clingy consistency and nearly sticks to the tongue and palate on the way down. There is a hazy blending of layers here, the characteristic full roast you’d find in a normal stout is the base but by no means the strongest. It is overlaid with a tangy flavor of oaky smoke and smooth molasses and finishes with the barest note of hops. The aftertaste is lingering oak, slightly acrid as the other flavors die away.

The Breakdown:
This is a beer that just screams “class.” It makes me feel like I should be settling into a leather chair in a study, or even better, a personal library. There’s more than a little leather here, from the smooth brown color to the smoked consistency, even the acrid finish. In fact, it’s that oakiness that keeps this from perfection- it finishes a bit too weak and a bit too acrid for what it could have been. Not that I’m complaining much- this is still a fantastic beer. I’d pair it with something smoky or full- corned beef or venison for sure. I’m not so sure about the chocolate cake angle but maybe- it’s got sweet enough notes to roll with something like dense chocolate. Not a session beer, though – I think more than 2 or maybe 3 would burn my palate out.

The Bottom Line:
Just goes to show, the people at the liquor store know what they’re talking about. Remember, kids, ask them for ideas – they actually like beer and can tell you good things!

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