Belhaven: Innis and Gunn: Highland Cask (Scotland: English Strong Ale: 7.1% ABV)

Visual: A bright mahogany influences the dark amber centre. Off white froth and small carbonation that helps the head flare with a quick swirl.

Nose:  Quick thick and pungent. Slight salty rocks backed by the sort of sharpness I would normally associate with raspberries.  Somewhat second hand bookshops, or more likely flaky dry oak as the beer warms.

Body: Double barreled punch of caramel sweetness and old booming oak.  Hint of liquorice. Slight rock salt and smoke. Dry, but quite vinous. Toffee.

Finish: Liquorice and hint of black cherry yogurt initially with a good British hop presence. Soon becomes more banana bread, dry white wine and dusty dry chocolate.

Conclusion: Interesting. I’m having to work quite hard against my initial preconceptions and expectations on this one. You see, I had an idea of what to expect from a highland cask aged beer, and let’s just say a touch of rock and salt wasn’t on the list. Also the level of vinous nature was more akin to something I would expect from the port cask or triple matured version. So I’m pretty much wrong footed from the start.

So, to try and get this back on steadier ground let’s take a look at what we find.  Well the I&G character is distinctive and in full force. Lots of the booming oak matched with complementing sweetness. In this case the sweetness has been ramped up by the whisky ageing, which makes it come in somewhat cloying.

So we put it all together, the old and the new, expect and unexpected, so what do we end up with?

Well it seems I&G tends to struggle with whisky casks, they tend to prefer the more fruit tone lending ageing materials such as the port cask version.  The beer, whilst flavoursome seems to struggle against the whisky kick.  It’s not a bad beer, the problems with excessive sweetness are made up for by the complexity the vinous qualities add, and it’s a beer with a hell of a lot of character, but they don’t all complement each other quite as well as they could.

Not the best, racks in about the same level as standard Innis and Gunn, but with a lot more variation on the quality of individual notes.

Background: Disclaimer: Received from Innis and Gunns’ promoters for review purposes. Many thanks.  I’m guessing they would want me to say this is available in Sainsburys. Because, ya know, it is. So there you go.

There seems to have been several versions of this beer knocking about, with a Canada release last year, and a Sweden release the year before that.  This one, the first UK release I’m aware of, seems closer to the Sweden version as it is aged in an unnamed 18 year Highland Whisky casks, unlike the Canadian version which spent 49 days in 21 year old oak.

Whilst I don’t have the ageing times for the Sweden version, this one has sixty nine days under its belt.  Would have been interesting to put the three head to head, but ah well what can you do.  Incidentally has an IBU (international bitterness units) of 20. While IBU’s are pretty loose in measuring actual bitterness it would be cool to see IBU’s listed more often, as I know a few people who just can’t handle the more heavily hopped beers and the additional info would do them the world of good in making buying decisions.

So far Innis and Gunn have been pretty damn solid, with Triple Matured and Rum cask as the top of the heap and the abomination that is the I&G blond beer at the bottom.