The problem with being a great whiskey-producing nation like Scotland is that it becomes all you’re known for,
Okay, there’s also bagpipes, haggis and Caber tossing. But Scottish beer?
Do they even make beer in Scotland?
McEwan’s Scotch Ale was the only Scottish beer I heard of growing up. It could be seen gathering dust between the six packs of Steinlager and Louwenbrau on the export shelf.
Recently, McEwan’s was lost to us for a while. After Heineken acquired the Scottish & Newcastle brewing company in 2008, they discontinued the export of McEwan’s to Canada. But, if you have been missing this malty Wee Heavy, you can rest easy because they resumed exports to Canada this year.
Scottish beers tend to be malt-focussed and sweet, with caramel richness and low hop character. A few have poked their heads up at our local Whitehorse liquor store. If you are in the mood for something different, pick up a single, small bottle of Innis & Gunn Oak-Aged Ale (I & G) for $3.80.
The aroma is a mix of sweet malt, caramel, oak, candy, sherry, and subtle European hops. The flavour is malty sweet (but not cloyingly so) with low bitterness. Imagine ovaltine, plus whiskey, plus club soda, plus Madeira sherry.
Now, imagine that combination actually tastes good and that it pours into your glass as a glorious golden amber beer.
I & G is aged in bourbon oak barrels. In the bourbon industry there are strict rules for production. Producers have to use a fresh bourbon barrel for every batch they make. So, if you are a beer brewer, you have a ready supply of slightly used oak barrels. In the case of I & G these barrels imparts flavours like furfural (caramel notes) and vanillin (vanilla-like aroma & flavour).
It has a hint of smoke in the flavour too.
This is no “mash and dash” beer. I & G matures for 77 days before release, which is the sign of a high-end, value-added product. Many types of ale go from malt to market in just three weeks.
I can’t drink a lot of I & G, except for one time in France where they had it on tap and it was St. Paddy’s day (It’s not Irish, but it did the trick). But the brewery says it is excellent with seafood, juicy steaks and mature cheese. I’ve paired it with roasted chicken and it was delightful.
At 6.6% abv, you can cozy up to it on a blustery winter evening and even feel a wee bit of a Scottish Brogue coming on, a sign of a true “usquebaugh” (water of life).