Monday, October 15, 2012

Innis & Gunn - Highland Cask

After my last Innis & Gunn review, there were a ton of comments both supporting and lamenting this brewery.  I've never written anything else that has received such a response!  In short, I knew I'd have to review another I&G beer in short order.  That day is here!  Today's review will be for Innis & Gunn's Highland Cask ale.  This beer is aged in oak barrels and their have a pretty cool genesis story for those interested in that sort of thing.  Some of their detractors talk about the apparent marketing machine that Innis & Gunn has at their disposal.  The good news is that there is virtually zero, I repeat, zero I&G marketing in the US, so I don't have to try and deal with any preconceived notions that I might have.  Big thanks (again) to Keith for snagging me this brew.  Let's pour!

Aroma 6/12
Initially, I didn't think this smelled much like whiskey at all.  I should know.  I love bourbons and whiskeys.  It didn't have that quintessential sweetness, but instead was more earthy and grain-like with just hints of peat poking through.  Just to make sure, I grabbed a nearby bottle of Redbreast (a 12 y.o. aged Irish whiskey) and inhaled deeply.  Sure enough, the I&G lacked that sweetness that makes whiskey such a treat.  Obviously, that missing characteristic is quite a disappointment.  To further add to that disappointment, there's not much behind the boozy warmth!  This could have been a great combination of sweetnesses from the English Strong Ale style and that of the whiskey, but I&G has definitely whiffed on all this potential and instead given us a boozy, timid smelling brew.  To those that might be saying, "Hey!  This beer is aged in Scotch Whiskey barrels, not whiskey barrels, you idiot," I say that's OK.  It doesn't smell like Scotch Whiskey either.  Again, I should know.  Johnny Walker and I have long been good friends.

Appearance 3/3
Despite a weak start in this review, the beer actually appears quite handsomely in the glass.  True to its name, it is just darker than some whiskeys and bourbons with shades of rust, mahogany, and burnt orange.  It's clarity is quite high, but the head hisses and dissipates too soon.  My photos do not do it justice.

Flavor 12/20
Thankfully the beer begins by tasting better than it smells.  It starts with a traditional English Strong Ale sweetness, some nuttiness, and hints of dark molasses.  These delicious sounding flavors are far from intense, but they are tasty.  A butterscotch is present, but is easily overtaken by the ESA flavor.  There's not much else to say as this beer is remarkably simple and thin.  What I am NOT getting is any semblance of Scotch Whiskey!  Where is it?!  Daddy needs his special medicine! Even slurping this beer only goes to show how bland it truly is.  There is NO reward for slurping, not even an extra alcohol kick.  The finish is unusual as it doesn't continue or reintroduce any of the already existing flavors in this beer.  It's just this oaky, bitter, earthy, toasted flavor that leaves the mouth more bitter than anything.  What an odd, underwhelming beer.

Mouthfeel 3/5
This beer is going to get points for its ridiculous smoothness and that's about it.  Overall, the beer feels thin and certainly not  big enough to adequately carry a flavor like Scotch Whiskey.  Carbonation is tiny, but adequate and persists until the end of the glass.  To their credit, the 7.1% ABV is invisible.

Overall Impression 4/10
This beer misses so many things that could have gone right.  It doesn't smell like whiskey or Scotch whiskey.   It doesn't taste like whiskey or Scotch whiskey.  It doesn't have a robust malt profile that could have potentially complimented the whiskeys' sweetness, had there been any whiskey in the first place.  Why is the end bitter?  Why does this beer feel so thin?  Arg!

Total 28/50
This is a world of difference from the last Innis & Gunn beer that I reviewed.  Their Rum Cask brew was really tasty and I enjoyed it immensely!  On the other hand, this beer is one-dimensional and lackluster in flavor, offers very little in aroma, and drinks as easily as the smoothest macro.  It begins with molasses and ends bitter with no scotch or whiskey in sight.  With it's shiney label, high ABV, and "cask-aged" claims, this beer is like dating a very dumb, gorgeous person:  all style, no substance.  It simply seems tired and vapid.  Thank goodness that this beer has only been brewed once and it not part of their regular line-up.  If anyone at Innis & Gunn is listening, please burn this recipe.  You are better off starting from scratch and building the beer that this SHOULD have been.  It's not up to what I perceive as your usual standard of quality.  C'mon!  It's brewed in Edinburgh for Pete's sake!  You should know if your beer tastes like Scotch whiskey before it leaves the brewery.  For shame.


  1. I'm going to give this one a try. I had Innis and Gunn Original from the the tap last weekend and it didn't disappoint.


    1. Do and let me know if I got a bad batch or something.