A love story about a man, and possibly the greatest beer in the world.
Beer is awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I get how impressive it was to put a man on the moon, develop the theory of relativity, and write the first part of Bohemian Rhapsody (the bit up to: thunderbolt and lightening, very very frightening). But my day to day life would probably be very similar with, or without, those magnificent achievements. Beer is, frankly, just different. And as far as I’m concerned has to be one of the best things we’ve ever invented – and it seems to be getting better and better. I was a supporter when we all drunk the same handful of mass-produced lagers, I stepped it up to massive fan when the craft movement started, and I was recently converted to crazed evangelist.
The moment came recently, late on a warm Friday afternoon. I was sitting comfortably in one of Cape Town’s fine drinking establishments with my favourite skinny jeans on, and I was ready for a beer. Hunched over the menu, I directed my well-practiced blue steel at the formidable list of lagers and ales, and a section caught my eye – oak aged beer.
I’ve come to describe my life in pre-oak-aged-beer and post-oak-aged-beer terms, although at the time all I can remember feeling was a twitch of curiosity. Innis & Gunn, it said, brewed in Scotland. And they appeared to have a range of beers that had spent time maturing in wood – typically barrels that had once contained whisky.
I ordered the Innis & Gunn Original, dramatically described as Scotland’s most awarded beer and holder of a Michelin Star. My bull-shit-o-metre flickered. I’m not usually a man easily swayed by awards, but I put that to one side and decided to give this unusual beer a chance.
The beautiful smell hit me, mid-pour, like a floorboard in a Tom and Jerry movie: honey, vanilla, hints of something citrus. My bottom lip was trembling in anticipation by the time I managed to take my first swig. Burnt toffee, oak, more of that gentle citrus – could it be grapefruit? – huge creamy-malty finish. God what an enormous beer.
I had to put the glass down after that first sip, to use both hands to steady myself. I felt like a man coming up for air after being held underwater. The air smelled sweeter, the blue Cape sky slightly crisper, and my skinny jeans didn’t feel quite so uncomfortable. Now that was a beer.
Later that night your responsible correspondent dutifully tried the rest of the range (actually much much later to be fair, I found reasons to test and re-test several Innis & Gunn Originals to make sure my earlier results were consistent). Innis & Gunn Rum Cask, a dark beer aged over oak that was previously used to mature Caribbean rum – I mean seriously, what genius thinks of that. Innis & Gunn IPA, oak meets hops – think green banana and honey. Ab-so-bloody-delicious. And when I finally got round to trying Innis & Gunn White Oak, I’d run out of superlatives. Although a Weiss beer that had taken steroids made for East German athletes would be an apt description.
And so began my evangelising. Innis & Gunn oak aged beer. Try some.