Beer Joy: an ‘original moment’ with Innis & Gunn!
You’re out for a meal in a restaurant and choose a glass of wine, perhaps a bottle to share … or do you? There’s certainly a greater choice now than there used to be, but many of us are still keen to see great beer gracing the table alongside great food.
Beer vs Wine
Everyone is familiar with the concept of a wine sommelier. After all, there are many wine styles to navigate through, with characteristics that include fruity, vegetal, woody, toasty and others. Yet there are over 130 accredited beer sommeliers in the UK, which reflects the growing craft beer industry and our interest in flavour combinations. Beer’s range of hops, grains, yeast strains, water profiles and flavour compounds can make it just as complex as wine!
Innis & Gunn meets HIX Restaurants
A contented and hungry gaggle of press and trade gathered in London earlier this year to enjoy four Innis & Gunn beers – The Original, Blood Red Sky, ‘Gunnpowder’ IPA plus the limited-edition Vanishing Point 02 Imperial Stout. The accompanying five-course meal was a delectable feast, a delight for all the senses. There were tempura oysters and vegetables, asparagus and gulls’ egg salad, Mark Hix’s signature Stargazy Pie, chocolate mousse with honeycomb and baked Guernsey Goddess cheese. Master brewer and founder of Innis & Gunn, Dougal Sharp, hosted this tasty event.
Origins of Innis & Gunn
Since its creation in 2003, the Scottish brewery has grown its core range of beers and added several limited-editions along the way. The company is renowned for championing the use of barrels to flavour beer and its flagship product is still The Original Bourbon Barrel-Aged
Dougal spoke about the impetus for creating Innis & Gunn Original at a time when he felt the industry was not in a good place. “When I was working at my old company – a family brewery in Edinburgh – we were doing some experimentation with different barrel types and different beers. So I discovered that putting beer into a bourbon barrel makes it taste incredible. I remember the moment to this day – it was like being hit by a lightning bolt!”
“At that time, everything looked and tasted the same. It was all in brown, boring bottles with labels that said nothing. There was no passion or emotion behind any of the products. I was looking over at the guys in the spirits industry. They had beautiful packaging and told stories of the craftsmanship of the products. So I just felt a profound sense of disappointment at what we as an industry were doing. With Innis & Gunn Original, I thought I can change this. I can do all this stuff because here is a product that gives me the licence to tell a story which is unusual for our sector. Seventeen years on, it’s still our flagship beer!”
What is an Original Moment?
So what’s different or special about drinking Innis & Gunn Original? Dougal shares his thoughts on what an ‘Original’ moment means to him. “This is not like drinking lager, which tends to be high-energy, refreshing, up tempo. This is reflective – for sipping, savouring, enjoying and being at home with your partner.” It’s clearly also about pairing with food.
An Original Pairing
We tried The Original served with a variety of dishes, but its most successful match for me was the beer-battered rock oysters. The combination of creamy, malty, toasty, caramel and vanilla notes with light, hoppy fruitiness in the beer stood up to and complemented the succulence of the oysters.
A Blood Red Delight
Innis & Gunn makes Blood Red Sky using the barrel-into-beer method. Appleton Rum barrels are broken up and used to infuse the beer with sweet fruit and woody Jamaican rum flavours. The beer paired well with Mark Hix’s flavourful signature Stargazy Pie in its rich, juicy gravy.
IPA with Cheese
The aromatic and citrus-dominant Gunnpowder IPA proved a deliciously cleansing match for Alex James’ wonderful, smooth and creamy Baked Guernsey Goddess cheese.
A Sweet Sensation
The best pairing overall for me was the Vanishing Point 02 with chocolate mousse and honeycomb. Matured in first-fill bourbon barrels for 12 months, this limited edition Imperial Stout is the second release in the series and has the perfect characteristics to accompany a decadent pudding. The aroma of this beer immediately conjures up gluttonous images – lashings of chocolate, treacle and dried fruit! Sultanas jump out on first taste, then chocolate, malt and honey plus sweet vanilla overtones. The complexity of this beer just keeps on coming. New notes dance playfully on the tongue with further sips – coffee, raisins, sweet plums, all perfect taste matches for the pudding. This is a sophisticated, silky smooth, beery alternative to port with a beguiling depth of character.
Different glassware can heighten certain beer aromas and flavours, as well as adding a touch of theatre. This mirrors the way different wine glasses are served with still, sparkling and fortified wines. In Belgium and other European countries, individual brands and styles of beer will often be served in distinct glasses. We still have some way to go in the UK, but there is more awareness now which can only be a good thing.
Beer for Original Moments
Beer has such variety. It’s great for drinking on its own or for matching with food. We each have our own preferences which define our personal tastes. Quote of the night was this gem from Dougal. “Beer is a drink for different occasions. Everybody loves a hot chocolate, but you wouldn’t drink one to quench your thirst!” A perfect way to sum up what an Original and original moment can be!
More Ryebeck articles on beer or spirits can be found here.
Author: Robin Goldsmith of The Write Taste.