It used to be a simpler time for brewers. All you really needed to throw together to be respectable was a draught, a bitter and – if you felt particularly adventurous – a mid-strength.
These days it’s just a tad different; and I blame the Americans.
Coming to the realization that beer didn’t need to be bland and hops were in fact a gift from Zeus himself, beer experimentation blossomed and nowadays to gain any credibility amongst the ‘hip’ you have to bring your A-game. Best have your Black IPA, sour lambic, imperial stout and farmhouse saison ready to launch if you are even contemplating venturing into the crowded craft beer market.
As a self-declared-and-completely-OK-with-it beer snob, I’m ecstatic that we’ve moved on from the times when mostly beer was produced with the sole intention of it being drunk cold and drunk quickly. Why, if you’re feeling particularly old-fashioned you are well within your rights to throw on a velvet smoking jacket and sip a beer in front of a roaring fire. Even today whilst looking for a couple of brews I happened upon a bottle with a best before date of 2037.
*Not even a typo*
All this rambling brings me to today’s beer which encompasses a recent trend in the craft beer world: The Innis & Gunn Canadian Cherrywod Finish.
Starting off as what I can only imagine was a mistake by an intern in storing the beer; barrel-aging is currently tremendously popular as a brewing method.
The actual idea behind the trend makes complete sense. Fermenting your beer in your bourbon, cognac, or pinot-noir barrels allows the flavor now embedded in the wood to seep into the beer and impart extra nuance, character and depth of taste.
A quick trip to a beer store will only confirm that you can now purchase – among others – Cognac-barrel aged Double IPAs, Pinot Noir Aged Porters, Blonde Ales aged in Chardonnay barrels, and even Imperial Stouts aged in Whiskey Barrels from Islay.
Innis & Gunn began their brewing odyssey in 2002 as a result of helping out a whiskey distiller. They were looking to season their oak casks with beer to impart extra flavor to their whiskey, and after the barrels were passed back to the distiller most of the beer was simply thrown out.
Except, for a small amount which an enterprising fellow ferried away and sampled. Discovering that it was in fact a borderline religious experience sampling such sweet nectar, Innis & Gunn embraced their calling and have continued to barrel-age beer ever since. Rum-Finish, Toasted Oak IPA, Irish Whiskey Finish, Rare Oak Pale Ale; it’s what they do.
They’ve even gone past simply putting beers into barrels, inventing an “Oakerator” to help them. An unholy marriage between a coffee percolator and wood chips, beer is pumped through wood chips to impart flavor rather than just sitting in said barrels.
Today’s beverage is a limited edition seasonal brew – a Scotch Ale that spends 49 days soaking in the flavor of Canadian Black Cherrywod Chips before being bottle, with maple syrup added late in the process to fully embrace the ‘Canadian-ness’ of it all.
ProTip: Don’t do what I did and chill the beer too much. When it’s colder the beer has a much thinner mouth-feel and needs to warm up to allow the full flavour of the brew to emerge. Pouring a reddish-brown, there’s aromas of maple, and brown sugar.
When drinking you have hints of toffee, maple syrup, biscuits, some slight woodiness and a decent alcohol punch to round things out – the brew weighs in at 7.4% The sweet malt character of the scotch ale comes through effectively, and with each sip the alcohol kick blends more gently into the flavours of the beer.
To be perfectly honest, having never been near, nor smelt or tasted Canadian Cherrywood, I can’t make a call on whether the flavours come through – but reading other reviews it seems like Innis & Gunn have done good.
So, next time you get your lumberjack on and down a tree or three, feel safe in the knowledge that the wood you’ve cleaved can now help make your beer tastier!