New Brew: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask Stout

photo by Degan Walters
photo by Degan Walters

You know a barrel-aged beer is serious when there’s an age statement on the bottle. Heck, plenty of whiskeys don’t even have an age statement these days.

Well, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, leading Scottish brewery Innis & Gunn is about to drop a beer that might even put an Irish coffee to shame. Aged for 60 days in Irish whiskey chips, this Scotch-Irish stout is well worthy of replacing your Guinness when the green goes on in a couple of weeks.

That is, if you can find it.

I&G Irish Whiskey Cask Stout, a popular seasonal from the Edinburgh-based brewers for several years running, is well known for selling out in every market within weeks of hitting shelves. In other words, you’d better buy a four-pack now and hide it in your fridge if you hope to toast it with a sexy date dressed as a leprechaun.

Before I get into describing the beer, know that this stout would traditionally be aged in actual Irish whiskey casks, but the popularity of bourbon and whiskey these days have made the barrels scarce – because distilleries simply don’t want to sell them anymore.

And so, Innis & Gunn created oak maturation vessels called Oakerators which are like coffee percolators. Let the aging commence.

the "Oakerator"
the "Oakerator"

The stout pours to a medium tan head and almost totally black body. Visually at least, there’s a surprising level of carbonation, with bubbles clinging to the sides of the glass. Meanwhile, the head dissipates to almost nothing with minimal lacing, along with a body slightly less heavy than expected.

However, the nose is loaded with Scottish malts that offer notes of chocolate and coffee along with a slight sweetness and a hint of vanilla from the Irish whiskey oak chips. It portends nice things and doesn’t disappoint.

Flavor-wise, this one is immediately large, flooding the palate with a mild bitterness with plenty of cocoa and an interesting earthiness that doesn’t fully come through on the nose. The Super Styrian hops are present for a bit of spice and some sharpness on the finish, but they take a decided back seat to the malt complexity. Five malts went into this one, including roasted barley, crystal malt and chocolate malt. It shows, and the blend steps up nicely.

The level of whiskey barrel oak infusion is also subtle and wholly appropriate – a surprise given the “over-barreling” I perceive in so many modern brews. For my palate, when a beer begins to taste like malted bourbon instead of beer, the barrel-aging has gone too far. This one was aged with whiskey oak chips, which may explain the restraint; or, it may just be that Innis & Gunn practiced wonderful restraint in making this beer.

Either way, this is a splendid one for a cold day of sipping with friends, or for pairing with a rich stew or even a pungent cheese. And if you can boast one of these for your St. Patrick’s Day gathering, well, you will either be the hit of the party or you’ll spend your entire day guarding your four-pack from bottom-feeders.

Still, here’s hoping you can get your hands on at least one, because I’m sure glad I did. Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask Stout deserves a spot at every St. Paddy’s Day gathering – seems the only real drawback is that there isn’t more of it available here in the states.