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Innis & Gunn: A Tale Of Scottish Beer

David Harfield finds an accident(al) brewing

Written by . Published on July 26th 2011.

Innis & Gunn: A Tale Of Scottish Beer

ACCIDENTS happen. That is a fact. From dropping your iPhone down the toilet to a forgotten birth control pill, (only one of these has happened to me and luckily O2 insure against it), we have to deal with life’s little mishaps as they come our way. However, not all accidents result in disaster; in fact, some of them explode into serendipitous delight and the world becomes a much better place for this misfortune to have occurred. One of these happy accidents happened to produce Innis & Gunn, one of the finest beers available today. London Confidential caught up with master brewer Dougal Sharp at a beer and food-matching banquet to find out why a beer that was discovered by mistake is fast becoming one of the nation’s best-loved beverages.

I just couldn’t think of a name. So I rang my Dad, who was holidaying in the South of France at the time, and was probably well stuck in to a bottle of wine, and he just said ‘Innis & Gunn’, which are mine and my brother’s middle names.

England may have the monopoly on brewing beer, but if there’s one thing that the Scots know about, it’s making whisky. In 2002, leading whisky producer William Grant & Sons asked acclaimed brewer, Dougal Sharp, to create a special beer that would be used to soak their bourbon barrels with a smooth, beer-laden character that would produce an ale-matured whisky. So, Sharp went about his business and created a fiery, malty Scottish beer for Grant to use in his whisky-ageing barrels, which, in turn became a renowned success. 

I%26#38%3BG Seafood Platter At Restaurant 

But things really got interesting when Sharp received a call from the Grant’s Distillery and was informed that the staff had been emptying the supposedly ‘used’ beer from the barrels and taking it home for themselves. “Once we heard that staff had not only been sampling the beer that we were making for the whisky barrels, but actually enjoying it so much that they had taken gallons of the stuff home with them, we knew that we were on to something!” Sharp offered a panel of industry experts a sample tasting of the beer that he had produced and it was rewarded with a then unheard of nine out of nine across the board.

Being a savvy businessman as well as a master brewer, Sharp quickly launched Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer on an unsuspecting public, who had never tasted anything quite so delicious being poured from a beer bottle. Its light textures belies the high alcohol, with a subtle toffee and vanilla nose that envelops your senses; the playful sparkle of each sip gives way to a defined oakiness and you could easily put away a few bottles before the ensuing warm fuzziness overpowers you…in a word, delicious.

But why the peculiar name? “We were fast approaching the launch date, everything was set to go and I just couldn’t think of a name. So I rang my Dad, who was holidaying in the South of France at the time, and was probably well stuck in to a bottle of wine, and he just said ‘Innis & Gunn’, which are mine and my brother’s middle names. We tested it on a few focus groups and they loved it, so it just stuck.” Fantastic stuff. Why not keep it in the family? 

I%26#38%3BG Fork

So, without further ado, let’s get on to the tasting, shall we?  The chefs at The Draft House, Tower Bridge had prepared a sumptuous four-course feast, the likes of which would normally require an array of well-matched wines to be paired with each dish; Innis & Gunn certainly had its work cut out, seeing as each dish was to be matched with a different bottle of Scottish beer. Staying true to its Highland roots, the Scottish salmon and grilled asparagus complemented the Innis & Gunn Canada Day, which, at 8.3% is the strongest brew that they make, yet it still dances delicately on the palate. 

The venison pie was actually infused with the Innis & Gunn Rum Cask in the cooking process, which made it all the more easy to stand up with the aforementioned accompanying bottle. A treacle tart with vanilla-infused clotted cream is an unlikely dessert to serve with a bottle of beer, but then again, Innis & Gunn is no regular beer, with its citrus and vanilla flavourings providing the perfect mouth coating for the sweet dish. To finish the meal (and us!) off, a selection of seasonal fruits were made all the more exciting with the addition of the recently launched Melville’s Strawberry Beer & Melville’s Raspberry beer, a sweet and crisp fruit beer that’s vibrant, fresh berry flavours will no doubt please the girls and tempt the boys.

Well, this slightly weird and very wonderful brand of Scottish beer certainly has my vote. With such a genuinely passionate driving force as Sharp behind the wheel, there’s no telling what Innis & Gunn will achieve over the next few years, but you can bet that no matter what, it will be big. Doubtless you will be seeing its glittering gold bottle luring you from across the bar anytime soon.  Just don’t drink too many and forget to take a certain pill…or worse, lose control of your free hand whilst peeing.


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