Beer Review: Innis and Gunn Laphroaig Islay Whisky Cask Ale

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Innis and Gunn

Innis and Gunn is a successful beer brand based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Founded in 2003 by Dougal Sharp, the beer has been contract brewed at the Tennent’s Wellpark Brewery since 2014.

Innis and Gunn is exported to 35 countries and has been declared the No. 1 craft lager in Scotland. Although quite what definition of craft is being used isn’t immediately obvious. The company also inhabits a brewery in Perth which acts as their home for innovation and barrel-ageing. Their first taproom was launched in Edinburgh in 2015, with further such ventures following in Glasgow and Dundee.

In November 2018, the C&C Group, owner of Tennent’s, announced the brewing contract with Innis and Gunn was to be terminated in September of 2020. Innis and Gunn responded by claiming they had plans to open a new brewery of their own in Edinburgh. Of course, 2020 has since come and gone and as yet, there is no brewery.

Plans were apparently shelved after an agreement was reached with Dublin-based, C&C for the sale of an 8% holding in Innis and Gunn. The partnership gives Innis & Gunn greater access to C&C’s distribution links in Ireland and England. As well as Tennent’s, C&C own several successful brands including Bulmers, Magners and Heverlee. I couldn’t find confirmation online, but I presume this means the beer is still being brewed at Wellpark.

In Spring of 2021, Innis and Gunn announced a new project with Beam Suntory, owner of Laphroaig distillery in Islay. They would produce an amber ale of 7.4% that would be aged in casks that once matured Laphroaig’s 10 year old single malt. Laphroaig is perhaps the best-known of Islay’s distilleries and its whisky is famed as one of the most distinctive in the world. Personally I found the prospect of the Laphroaig reek in beer form, fascinating, so a couple of bottles were secured online.

The beer comes in a gift box, which, though attractive, seems somewhat unnecessary. Shouldn’t we now be living in a time where needless packaging is no longer a thing? Gift tubes in whisky annoy me anyway because I have to bin them to save space but the issue becomes even more ridiculous when we’re referring to a beer that will be consumed in one sitting. I won’t deny that it looks good, but surely it’s not OK to include packaging who’s entire function is to be ripped off and disposed of?

The Beer

Smell: Coffee and dark chocolate aromas with cherry and the gentlest wisp of smoke. Soon, there’s some malt and burnt toast notes. Wee bit of oak.

Taste: Surprisingly fruity arrival. Brambles, raspberry and blackcurrant. Then comes a bit of wood and cocoa. Right at the finish there’s a bit of peat.

Thoughts: I bought two bottles of this. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy the first one very much. I am, however, wiling to take some of the responsibility for that myself. I put it in the fridge and forgot about it and when I finally got round to drinking it, it was too chilled to offer up its full flavour. I have come to that conclusion after being more careful with my second bottle. Glasgow was undergoing something of a heat wave at the time so the bottle got taken off the shelf and put in the freezer for a quick ten minutes to reduce the temperature a tiny bit. Then it was straight into my glass.

It was almost like a different beer. Full of flavour with a nice balance between fruit, grain and oak. That said, I still don’t think it was quite Laphroaig enough for me. After all, we’re talking about “the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies” here. I want the peat reek to leap out of the glass and punch me in the mouth. Possibly the beer could have done with a bit more body, too. A decent drop though. It wasn’t cheap but I’ve paid more for beers I’ve enjoyed less and 7.4% is a good strength. Strong enough to deliver robust flavour but not so strong as to have you stupified after one glass.

I like these collaborations. I don’t think we make enough of the relationship between whisky and beer. There’s fantastic creativity in both industries and greater cross-pollination between the two can only be a good thing. So while it may not be perfect, Innis and Gunn and Laphroaig get an A for effort. More please. Just dial up the peat the next time.

For more on Innis and Gunn visit here

For more on Laphroaig visit here

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