Last week’s First Draught post was devoted to Innis & Gunn’s winter porter. This is the second time (out of about 25) that I’ve written about one of their releases and that’s partly because I like what oak-aging does for beer. But, also this porter in particular does a really good job of balancing delicately between representing a seasonal style and not letting those flavours dominate.
An angle here that will be interesting to those who serve Innis & Gunn for a living is that the Scottish brewery is running a contest to determine their next recipe. It’s open to bartenders and involves prizes (including a trip to Scotland for finalists) and some pretty wide recognition. Find more details through their Facebook page.
Here’s the scoop on the winter porter:
Innis & Gunn beers are traditionally aged in used spirit casks, but the brand’s success — it’s the number one bottled British beer in Canada — has led to a problem of both scale and breadth. There are only so many surplus barrels out there, and they have been used for a limited variety of spirits (whisky, bourbon or rum usually). To avoid continually buying old barrels, the Scottish brewery has developed a process — and trademarked its futuristic Oakerator name — whereby pieces of aged, American white oak are seasoned with booze, chipped and then added to large steel tanks of beer. Left for days or weeks, the beer draws flavour from both the oak and the seasoning spirit.
The Spiced Rum Finish beer that was released in October needed to be made this way, because spices are added to rum after it comes out of the barrel, but the wood that goes into the Oakerator can be treated with spiced rum beforehand. The Winter Treacle Porter was next in line for the process.
“Treacle” is a sugary syrup similar to light molasses. The idea of adding treacle to the brew came from a guide to the traditional beers of Scotland called The Scots Cellar. It gives this porter a dense mouthfeel and also contributes a faint acidic edge.
Oak brings its familiar vanilla scent that matches well with the sweet biscuit and dessert flavours of the first sip. Deeper into the glass you’ll find cooked and dried fruit flavours. For a porter, this beer is relatively light on its feet and has a more open carbonation. The flavour lingers remarkably long and ends with a hint of anise.