I think I might be a solitary soul amongst beer writers and bloggers in that I don’t like whisky (or whiskey even). Too fiery for me (but I love chillies), too woody for me as well (though I also used to swim joyfully through the tannic wines of southwest France when I drank the stuff) and then there are those who have enough iodine to make me return Proustian-like to some swab on a broken knee of childhood (they don’t make me drink them though). Maybe whisky is just too… whisky like. But on the other hand I have always liked whisky as an ingredient — out here on Exmoor, I remember a local bakery coming up with an Exmoor Beast cake with whisky icing — I had to stop after the second helping, it was unctuous, a dark deep coal-fired red-eyed devil of a cake tamed by a sweet but delicately fiery whisky tasting icing; beauty and the beast indeed. I used to like whisky in my tea as a teenager cause I felt it gave it a blas (one of the few Welsh words from my childhood that I still continue to use). The BrewDog Paradox set feature some of the most illuminating beers I have ever had shine on my life. So no whisky no cry, but given all that it’s no surprise that I like beers that have had some sort of congress, illicit or not, with whisky.
I recall being introduced to Fischer’s Adelscott Malt Whisky Beer back in 1996 by stalwarts of the local Somerset CAMRA branch; it is brewed with peat-smoked whisky malt and comes across as a whisky soft drink. I haven’t had it for some years and it probably tastes like some devilish concoction made by a perverted Willy Wonka out to ensnare ‘our kids’ (hold on, we’ve already got alcopops), but you get my drift: whisky as a flavour rather than the primary source to Nirvana. Sorry.
There’s a reason for this preamble: I have been sent a bottle of Innis & Gunn’s Highland Cask — it’s presumably their blonde beer that has spent a holiday in the wood of a 18-year-old single malt whisky barrel (69 days according to the bottle). I remember when Innis & Gunn was launched (2004 perhaps?) with a great fanfare — it was an easy drinking beer with a whisky overtone. The launch was at the White Horse and the clear bottle aroused the ire of several British Guild of Beer Members. I was given a bottle over Christmas (a present so I wasn’t going to turn it down) and I didn’t enjoy the sweet butterscotch buttery soft woodiness — it went over my head. But I don’t think it’s a beer that is designed to appeal to me (though I am told it does well with scallops). I much prefer barrel aged beers that remind me of Benjamin Britten — complex, uneasy looking chaps like Peter Grimes or Albert Herring that I have to listen to a few times before I got them. Then when it comes to his Noh-influenced Curlew River it’s a bit like the old joke about Mao Tse-Tung being asked about the influence of the French Revolution: it is too early to say.
So back to the beer. Having enjoyed various ‘expressions’ of Innis & Gunn, the rum one for instance, I am very happy with the shapes thrown by this little chap. It comes across as an alcoholic smoothie (and what’s wrong with that?), flashing out notes of vanilla, buttery toffee, unctuous smoothiness worthy of the great Lesley Phillips though with enough bite to stop the smoothiness going over the top, Somme-like, into a bitter grave of Pintersque like bile. It’s a friendly beer, not too challenging, but reminiscent to me of my reading patterns. I labour for weeks over a difficult book and sometimes have the urge to throw it across the room but after finishing it and completely spent I then pick up something that is easy and undemanding but still enjoyable. At the moment I’m flitting through a biography of Guy Gibson (the ‘Dambusters guy’) and the beer goes just fine with it.