I have long wanted to taste a whisky that is finished in a real ale cask; mainly because I am a huge real ale fan and always thought it would be interesting to see how the two married together from a flavour point-of-view. As I waited for Bruichladdich to turn their sights to "aceing" (it is called "finishing" in the real world, O' good people of Bruichladdich!) some of their fine whisky in beer casks, probably to celebrate some event or other (maybe the distillery was contacted by the US Government wanting to buy some ale off them, misunderstanding that they only made whisky, so another Bruichladdich special bottling evolved) I came across two things that I thought would solve this mystery:
Firstly, about a year ago, someone shoved a bottle of Innis & Gunn "oak aged beer" in my hand at Borough Market in London. "My word! What is this? Oak aged beer? For 77 days; 30 days of which are in lightly toasted American White Oak casks? This sounds like a micro-version of the whisky process to me!"
Shortly after that, I discovered that William Grant's had released an Ale Cask whisky and promptly picked up a bottle in a supermarket for sub-£20. Could the two be related, by chance? After a little research I discovered that Grants held a 90% stake in I&G (which the creator, Dougal Sharp has since bought out), so these two drinks must be related closely. Very closely indeed.
But how do they work out? Have they turned into the Noel and Liam of the drinks world, or will they turn out to be more Gordon Ramsey and Ronald Ramsey?! Let's find out:
Innis & Gunn Original - 6.6% Vol - 330ml
Nose: Hops, vanilla and a hint of toffee
Palate: Surprisingly weak on impact for a beer at 6.6% (there is a 7.7% limited edition out there too, which I would like to try). Initially a big hit of the oak, mellowed beautifully by the hops. Well balanced and remarkably easy to drink.
Finish: Oak again! Hints of citrus bitterness, with a lingering mellow vanilla. Beautiful. Really beautiful.
Overall: An awesome beer. Glad it has made it's way into the major supermarkets. I really hope their limited edition runs pay dividends too. There is currently a rum cask finish out there and some other, stronger limited editions. Keep up the excellent, groundbreaking work.
Grants Ale Cask Reserve - 40% Vol - 70cl
"Finished in specially selected casks previously containing Edinburgh strong ale."
Nose: Very nutty, cherrys, warming. A hint of stale beer. I spent the best part of the 2000's as an A&R guy, going to gig after gig after gig. The nose reminds me of the smell of music venues before the doors open, when the bands are chugging JD neat and the disinfectant hasn't quite covered the smell of last nights spilt beer. Not nice, but certainly not bad either (if you're me and it reminds you of some more "interesting" times).
Palate: Er... where do I go with this one? If I was being polite, I would say that the palate is "complex" and there certainly is a lot going on. Sadly, not in a good way. There is a real sour note(note: not bitterness), mixed with odd cream tones. Very unbalanced with nothing of note to make this whisky in any way appealing. In a word: awful.
Finish: Too much toffee (flavouring, perhaps?). The overall impression it leaves is like the morning after the night before. The night before: an evening spent at a real ale festival. The morning after: being woken from a slumber on a park bench by a Community Officer, with half a kebab on the floor next to you, just yards from said real ale festival and nowhere near home... Not a pleasant experience.
Overall: stick to the beer, here.