Quick Quaff: Innis & Gunn Highland Cask, Spiced Rum Finish & Winter Beer 2011

Fans of the oak-aged beers produced by Scotland’s Innis & Gunn are numerous in Canada – so numerous, in fact, that the flagship I&G brew is reportedly the best selling bottled UK import beer in the country. This success has not escaped the notice of Dougal Sharp and his team, who have blessed their Canadian customers with an array of unique I&G variations over the past few years, including an annual Canada Day edition brewed especially for us.

Not quite so exclusive, but still somewhat limited, are the three beers pictured above and reviewed below: the latest instalment in I&G’s occasional Highland Cask series (this one aged in casks that previously held an 18 year old whisky from an unnamed distillery); an expression finished in oak that’s been infused with spiced rum; and the 2011 edition of their annual Winter Beer strong ale. Here’s what I thought of ‘em:

Innis & Gunn Highland Cask
Much like Mr. Beaumont, I wasn’t a massive fan of the 2010 version of this brand, as the overwhelming notes of caramel and butterscotch made it tough to get through a bottle without my teeth starting to hurt. This year, though, they got it right: The caramel is there but more subdued, and joined by vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and hints of dried fig and the faintest wisp of peat smoke. The finish is medium-dry and slightly herbal, with enough warmth to remind that it’s a 7.1% beer.

Innis & Gunn Spiced Rum Finish
I’ve enjoyed quite a few bottles of the regular Rum Cask that’s available year round, but this Spiced Rum variation didn’t really grab me. The typical I&G components of vanilla, toffee and oak are there, and as it warms, some nice golden sugar and tingly spice notes develop in the finish. But while the overall impression is pleasant, I was hoping for a big punch of rum, and ended up finding more of a light tap.

Innis & Gunn Winter Beer 2011
My tasting notes on I&G’s Winter Beer 2010 include mentions of cherry, bourbon, raisins and maple. This year, I’m hard pressed to find any of those elements in evidence – instead, vanilla-like oak and dark toffee come through right from the get-go, leaving room for little else in the aroma. The flavour is a bit more complex – some dark dried fruit here, some Christmas cake spice there – but the toffee and oak are still the prominent characteristics. Quite enjoyable, although it finishes quicker that I’d like, and could also use a bit more heft in the body to cross over from good to great.

All three of these beers are available at select LCBO locations in Ontario, the Highland Cask in single bottles packaged in presentation boxes (LCBO 271585 – $4.95/330 mL bottle ), and the other two in a special gift pack that also includes a bottle of I&G Original and an attractive branded glass (LCBO 254342 – $14.95/3×341 mL bottle ). For availability info elsewhere, check with your local retailer.

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