Tag Archives: UK

Quick Quaff: Innis & Gunn Highland Cask, Spiced Rum Finish & Winter Beer 2011

Fans of the oak-aged beers produced by Scotland’s Innis & Gunn are numerous in Canada – so numerous, in fact, that the flagship I&G brew is reportedly the best selling bottled UK import beer in the country. This success has not escaped the notice of Dougal Sharp and his team, who have blessed their Canadian customers with an array of unique I&G variations over the past few years, including an annual Canada Day edition brewed especially for us.

Not quite so exclusive, but still somewhat limited, are the three beers pictured above and reviewed below: the latest instalment in I&G’s occasional Highland Cask series (this one aged in casks that previously held an 18 year old whisky from an unnamed distillery); an expression finished in oak that’s been infused with spiced rum; and the 2011 edition of their annual Winter Beer strong ale. Here’s what I thought of ’em:

Innis & Gunn Highland Cask
Much like Mr. Beaumont, I wasn’t a massive fan of the 2010 version of this brand, as the overwhelming notes of caramel and butterscotch made it tough to get through a bottle without my teeth starting to hurt. This year, though, they got it right: The caramel is there but more subdued, and joined by vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and hints of dried fig and the faintest wisp of peat smoke. The finish is medium-dry and slightly herbal, with enough warmth to remind that it’s a 7.1% beer.

Innis & Gunn Spiced Rum Finish
I’ve enjoyed quite a few bottles of the regular Rum Cask that’s available year round, but this Spiced Rum variation didn’t really grab me. The typical I&G components of vanilla, toffee and oak are there, and as it warms, some nice golden sugar and tingly spice notes develop in the finish. But while the overall impression is pleasant, I was hoping for a big punch of rum, and ended up finding more of a light tap.

Innis & Gunn Winter Beer 2011
My tasting notes on I&G’s Winter Beer 2010 include mentions of cherry, bourbon, raisins and maple. This year, I’m hard pressed to find any of those elements in evidence – instead, vanilla-like oak and dark toffee come through right from the get-go, leaving room for little else in the aroma. The flavour is a bit more complex – some dark dried fruit here, some Christmas cake spice there – but the toffee and oak are still the prominent characteristics. Quite enjoyable, although it finishes quicker that I’d like, and could also use a bit more heft in the body to cross over from good to great.

All three of these beers are available at select LCBO locations in Ontario, the Highland Cask in single bottles packaged in presentation boxes (LCBO 271585 – $4.95/330 mL bottle ), and the other two in a special gift pack that also includes a bottle of I&G Original and an attractive branded glass (LCBO 254342 – $14.95/3×341 mL bottle ). For availability info elsewhere, check with your local retailer.

Quick Quaff: Newcastle Werewolf & Newcastle Winter IPA

Like many drinkers of better beer who came of age a couple of decades ago, one of the first imports I tried was Newcastle Brown Ale. It was never a top choice for me – if I was drinking a dark beer from overseas, it was usually Guinness. But back in the days when the local microbrew scene was still fledgling and decent imports were few and far between, I had no problem downing a pint of two of Newkie in places where it was available.

While I don’t often see it on tap in these parts anymore, Newcastle Brown is still one of the top import brands down in the US. It makes sense that parent company Heineken would want to use that brand recognition to try and grab a bit more of the market, so I wasn’t surprised when I received a PR pitch a few weeks ago regarding the Newcastle Limited Edition series, a set of four seasonal beers – Summer Ale, Werewolf, Winter IPA and Founders’ Ale – that are being brewed in the UK especially for the American market.

In keeping with the season, samples of Werewolf and Winter IPA were provided, and while I tried them and jotted some notes soon after arrival, various factors have kept me away from the ol’ blog for a while. So with apologies for my tardiness, here are a few thoughts on the pair:

Newcastle Werewolf is described in the promotional bumpf as a “formidable beast”, suggesting that something big and bold is being contained by the bottle. Mention of “a bite of bitterness” that’s “long, deep and lingering” raise even more anticipation. Sadly, though, aside from it having the promised “blood red” colour, it’s a pretty straightforward darkish ale. The aroma has toasted malt, a bit of chocolate, and not much else, while the flavour augments those two notes with some dark cherry and perhaps a smidge more hops than typically expected from the style, but not approaching anything I’d describe as “lingering”. It’s a respectable enough brew, but one that ultimately isn’t really worthy of its name.

And speaking of misnomers; Anyone expecting a full-bore craft-style India Pale Ale from Newcastle Winter IPA will be setting themselves up for disappointment, as its is more in line with mainstream UK IPAs like Wells Eagle and Caledonian Deuchars. Using those brews as a comparison point, Winter IPA performs well, throwing off burnt toffee and biscuit on the malt side, and even-handed hop notes that are somewhat tea-like with a backing grassiness. There’s also a slight mineral tang around the edges, and a soft and slightly creamy mouthfeel to hold it all together. Like its lycanthropian cousin, it’s not a showstopper, but it might just twig a few Newcastle Brown drinkers to the fact that there are more beer styles out there that are worth exploring.

Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask

This is one in a ridiculously infrequent series of posts reviewing various beers from Innis & Gunn. Previous installments have featured reviews of I&G Original and Rum Cask editions.

It’s Canada Day here in, well, Canada, and it seems like as good a time as any to revive this long-delayed review series to take a quick look at their Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask edition – if only because seeing the disgustingly prolific output of local beer blogging newcomers like Chris at Toronto Beer Blog and Jordan at St. John’s Wort has me feeling as guilty as ever about so often neglecting this poor little blog of mine.

Canadians reading this may know the story of why a Scottish brewery saw fit to create a beer that celebrates Canada Day, but for those who don’t, here’s the scoop: Canada – especially Ontario – has been a hugely successful market for Innis & Gunn, with their Original being the top-selling bottled UK beer at the LCBO in Ontario, and other editions of the brand also doing extremely well.

So as a way of saying thank you, they tracked down some Canadian whisky barrels and produced a limited run of Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask to be released exclusively in Canada in time for last year’s Canada Day. Here’s what I thought about the 2009 edition when I reviewed for Taste T.O. last June:

With a ruby-brown colour and a small off-white head, it looks great in the glass, and smells quite nice as well, with notes of dried fruit, spice, maple, and mellow rye whiskey. The flavour is quite fruity off the top, with raisin and orange accompanied by maple and toffee, all balanced by a peppery rye whiskey character to end.

The beer was brought back this year in a 2010 edition, and while I haven’t had a full bottle of the new version yet, I did get the chance to have a small sample a couple of weeks ago, and found it quite similar to last year’s. The main difference I noted was that the flavour seemed a bit rounder and softer, with the peppery rye notes moved a bit into the background.

Still very good, though, and worthy of a place in the rotation for Canada Day beer drinking even despite its foreign pedigree. After all, if you go back far enough, most of us (or our ancestors) came from somewhere else, and that mix of cultures is one of the reasons this is such a great country. Happy Canada Day!

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask

This is one in an occasional series of posts reviewing various beers from Innis & Gunn. For the previous post in the series, covering Innis & Gunn Original, click here.

When I wrote my first in this series of Innis & Gunn reviews back in mid-October, I didn’t expect that I’d be posting them on such a glacial schedule. But as is usual for this blog, it’s taking me longer than hoped due to the thousand-and-one other things to which I’ve got myself committed. (Which reminds me that it’s been ages since I last posted a round-up to my beer-related posts on Taste T.O. – I really should get around to that sometime as well…)

Anyway, in the nearly two months between then and now, one of those “other things” that I was lucky enough to do was  attend a dinner presented by the secretive underground dining club Charlie’s Burgers that featured Innis & Gunn beers paired with food prepared by Jonathan Gushue and Victor DeGuzman, the Executive Chef and Executive Sous Chef respectively at Langdon Hall, one of the top restaurants in North America. The food was absolutely stellar, one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in my life, and I was especially impressed by the pairings given that the chefs admitted that they’d never done a beer dinner before. While not every match was absolutely perfect, most were excellent, and there were no train-wrecks.

With so many great dishes and solid pairings to choose from, it was hard to pick a favourite. The poached Colville Bay oysters paired with I&G IPA was a surprisingly solid match, and the pure decadence of the Atlantic lobster in hand-churned butter with pig cheek and foie gras torchon would’ve blown me away even if the beer on the side, I&G Original, hadn’t been such a good accompaniment.

Since it was a multi-course tasting menu, there was no traditional “main” course for the dinner, but the final course before dessert was an outstanding elk tenderloin served with smoked tongue (better than it sounds!) and several sides, all paired with Innis & Gunn Rum Cask. It was a great match, and while the bottle I had at home a few weeks later wasn’t paired with such an exciting dish – just a couple of pieces of good chocolate – it was still enjoyable.

I&G Rum Cask  is currently available in Ontario as part of the I&G “Connoisseur’s Oak Collection” holiday gift pack along with bottles of I&G Original and IPA and a nice branded glass. It’s apparently slightly different from the version that was available in single bottles last December, but my impressions were so close to what I wrote about the 2008 version on Taste T.O. that I might as well quote myself:

It has a much darker reddish hue than [I&G Original], and a deeper and richer aroatma with strong notes of spice, rum and sweet toffee. Rum also comes through prominently in the flavour, along with sweet malt and a bit of oak, and a mild spiciness in the finish. It’s a warm and flavourful beer that could be enjoyed with many desserts and sweets, or just on its own as a pleasant nightcap.

My only criticism, which is the same one I’ve lodged against other I&G beers, is that the fairly light body doesn’t quite hold up to the flavour, although I’m sure that my strong appreciation for the barrel-aged imperial stouts and barley wines that are becoming more and more common in the US craft brewing scene may be influencing my opinion in that matter. To others, it may seem just right. Either way, it’s a tasty winter treat.

Next up: I&G Triple Matured. Watch for it sooner than two months from now, hopefully…

Innis & Gunn Original


I have too much beer.

Well, OK, that’s not entirely accurate. I only have about 100 bottles on hand right now, which is a small drop in a large bucket compared to a few people I know who have beer cellars that are large enough to be worth more than the GDP of a small country.

The problem, though, is that between the ol’ day job and a deluge of dinners, tastings and other things I’ve been attending recently, I’m rarely drinking any beer at home. And when I do get the chance to do so, it’s usually when I’m taking advantage of having a bit of down time to watch TV or a movie, and I don’t want to drink anything that I need to think about or take notes on.

As a result, I’m faced with a backlog of brews that I’ve received or picked up to write about. And in the case of the stuff I’ve been sent, I’m starting to feel guilty about letting the bottles sit and wait to be consumed and reviewed.

This is especially true of the assorted Innis & Gunn beers that their Canadian rep Nicol Rennie passed on to me a couple (or more accurately, a few) weeks ago. Nic was kind enough to give me a couple of bottles of their Triple-Matured version which recently hit the shelves in Ontario, as well as their upcoming holiday gift pack which has bottles of I&G Original, IPA, and Rum Cask editions along with a lovely glass. So having them sit undrunk for so long is making me feel like a bit of a schmuck.

Continue reading

Fuller's Chiswick Bitter Launch Dinner

The Abbot on the Hill, a Toronto gastropub specialising in imported beers, marked the launch of Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter in Canada with a special beer dinner this past Monday. They have a beer and food pairing prix fixe dinner each Monday, and this week featured five Fuller’s beers matched with each of the five food courses. My wife and I went to check it out, and shared a table with fellow beer blogger Troy Burtch and esteemed brewmaster and beer & food pairing expert Bill White.

Here’s how it turned out (and apologies in advance for the mediocre photos – the room was quite dark, and the few flash photos we took look even worse):

fullerschiswick_soupStilton Ale Soup
beer pairing: Organic Honey Dew

This course was sadly a disappointment. “Stilton Ale Soup” suggests something flavourful and hearty to me, but instead we got an under-seasoned and lukewarm onion soup with a couple of small pieces of Stilton floating in it. Considering the light body and subtle flavour of Honey Dew, though, that might’ve been a good thing, as I don’t think the beer could’ve held up to anything too rich or heavy. Having eaten at the Abbot a number of times before, I knew they could do much better than this…

fullerschiswick_fishGinger Beer Battered Salmon
Shoestring Fries
beer pairing: Chiswick Bitter

…and I was right, as this next course was excellent. My wife had a bit of trepidation about the fact that they chose to deep-fry a perfectly good piece of organic Irish salmon, but once we tasted it, there were no complaints. The shoestring fries were nice as well, and the presentation in a small take-out style container was very cute. And it probably goes without saying that pairing the traditional session ale with the slightly gussied-up take on the traditional fish & chips was a good choice.

fullerschiswick_pastriesMini Vegetable Wellington
beer pairing: ESB

I don’t know if there was a last minute change in plans, or if they were being creative with the description, but what was called a “Mini Vegetable Wellington” on the printed menu was actually the mushroom pastries that my wife had previously ordered off of the Abbot’s regular menu. No complaints here, though, as they’re damn tasty. The ESB was a suitable pairing – not revelatory, but solid.

fullerschiswick_beefRoast Prime Rib
Peppercorn Jus
beer pairing: 1845

As someone who prefers his red meat to be served very rare, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed but the fairly well done piece of beef that I was served. At least it wasn’t dried out and leathery – it was quite juicy, in fact, and while the Yorkshire pudding was a bit overdone and dry, the champ was absolutely lovely. I think the beer went well with it, although to be honest, by this point the pre-dinner pint and all of the paired beers were starting to get the better of me, and the conversation was getting more animated, so I was paying less attention to the subtleties of the pairings.

fullerschiswick_floatPorter Vanilla Float
beer pairing: London Porter

Yeah, it looked like a total mess – especially in the photos – but this float made with London Porter and vanilla ice cream was seriously good. Like, off-the-hook good. Especially after I smushed up the ice cream and mixed it up and drank it like a boozy milkshake. Mmmm!

Torontonians looking to get a taste of the Chiswick can head up to the Abbot, where it’s still on tap, and it should be rolling out to other pubs and restaurants over the coming weeks. Thanks to Premier Brands for bringing in another beer from the Fuller’s portfolio, they’re always a treat to try.

Fuller's Beer Dinner

This past Tuesday, thanks to the fine folks at Premier Brands, I had the opportunity to attend a Fuller’s Beer Dinner at the Duke of Westminster pub here in Toronto. The main purpose of the event was to mark the official launch of Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew on draught in Canada (previously, it was only available here in bottles on a limited basis), and Fuller’s Brewing Director John Keeling was on hand to talk about Fuller’s and to introduce the beers that we sampled throughout the night.

Continue reading

Beer of the Week – Duchy Originals Organic Ale

This article was originally written in April 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in September 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after the Taste T.O. blog was shut down and taken offline.

I had a bit of trepidation about this week’s column, as I’m coming off of a battle with a nasty stomach bug, and wasn’t sure if I was up for a beer yet. But my weekly mission cannot be denied, so I pulled my two latest purchases from the fridge: Duchy Originals Organic Ale and Atlantic au Pineau, both part of the LCBO’s Spring seasonal beer release that is starting to trickle into stores. Reading the label on the latter, I saw that it’s an ale infused with Pineau des Charentes, an apertif made from Congac and grape juice – a little too esoteric for my barely recovered belly. So it went back in the fridge for next week’s instalment, and I was left with Duchy by default.

Duchy Originals is a line of organic products created in 1990 by Prince Charles, who has long been a proponent of whole & natural foods and traditional farming methods. The beer is a Bitter that is brewed under contract by Wychwood Brewery (best known for beers like Fiddler’s Elbow and Hobgoblin) using exclusively organic hops and malt sourced from farms in Britain. And like all Duchy Originals products, profits are donated to The Prince’s Charities.

It’s a very noble endeavour, so I wanted to like the beer before I even poured it. Thankfully, I did. It’s got a nice brilliant copper colour with a good sized white head, so it scores points for appearance. The aroma is decent, with some solid maltiness, and notes of caramel and orange peel. Body is good for the style, with soft carbonation. The flavour is pleasant and well balanced, with malt and grain notes off the top, some orange-candy sweetness in the middle, and a grassy hoppiness to finish.

There’s nothing especially unique about it, but it’s certainly a pleasant and quaffable beer for those who enjoy UK ales. I just can’t help but think that if it weren’t for the organic hook, it wouldn’t stand out much from other quality UK imports, especially given the slightly higher price point (LCBO 26971, $3.60/500 mL). But it’s not often that we see an organic beer besides Mill Street Organic Lager on LCBO shelves, and it’s for a good cause, so I say it’s worth the splurge for a couple of bottles.

Beer of the Week – Fuller’s Cask-Conditioned ESB

This article was originally written in March 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in September 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after the Taste T.O. blog was shut down and taken offline.

OK, full disclosure time: I haven’t actually tried this week’s Beer of the Week yet, at least not in cask-conditioned form. But given the timing of this week’s column, I couldn’t resist featuring Fuller’s Cask-Conditioned ESB as my pick.

For you see, today marks a very momentous occasion, as for the first time in a long time – perhaps ever – a cask ale from the UK will be available at a bar in Toronto. Fans of cask ale here are somewhat satiated by the products of a few local breweries being available at a handful of local pubs in cask-conditioned form, but tonight at 6:00 PM, Ralph at Volo (587 Yonge Street) will be tapping a cask of Fuller’s ESB (Extra Special Bitter), giving many local beer drinkers (including yours truly) their first taste of a real, traditional ale from across the pond.

I have had the bottled version of Fuller’s ESB, and although it was a while ago, I seem to have enjoyed it if my notes from the time are any indication:

Clear amber with a moderate off-white head that leaves some great lacing. Pleasant sweet & earthy malt on the nose. Slight creamy mouthfeel, solid malt notes to start the flavour, and good bitterness in the finish. A tasty & easy drinking bitter.

I expect the cask version will be at least as good. If you want a better idea of what to expect, you can check the ratings at RateBeer, where 72 people have given it an average score of 3.42 out of 5.0, which is quite respectable.

Bottom line: If you have any interest in good beer, and you are able to do so, you really should try to make it down to Volo tonight. Maybe this will be the first in a series of casks making their way across the Atlantic for thirsty Ontario ale quaffers, but if not, won’t you be kicking yourself for missing out on this one?

Beer of the Week – Fuller’s London Pride

This article was originally written in March 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in September 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after the Taste T.O. blog was shut down and taken offline.

If you’ve been shopping for beer at the LCBO recently, you’ve probably noticed that the number of canned beers on the shelves has been increasing quite dramatically. A lot of them are beers of the type that you’re probably used to seeing in cans, from US bargain brands like Yankee Jim and Old Milwaukee, to an array of indistinguishable lagers from the former Eastern bloc.

But due to the same environmental initiatives that have led to the recently launched deposit return program, the LCBO has been actively sourcing other canned beers, and the result has been some surprising additions to the aluminium-clad line-up on the shelves. Most notably, there has been a mini-spike in UK ales being added to the inventory.

Now, there are some who feel that cans are not a suitable container for good quality beer. They argue that the package imparts a tinny flavour to the beer, or that it somehow cheapens the product. The first point has been rendered moot by newer technologies that ensure no metallic flavours leech into the beer. And as for the second point, it’s just a prejudice that people will have to get over. After all, the most important thing is that beer inside the container is kept in good condition, and it could be argued that in many cases, a can does a better job of that than a bottle.

A good example of the can’s superiority over the bottle can be found in Fuller’s London Pride ($2.75/500 mL, LCBO 676767). This UK-brewed bitter was previously available here in bottles, and while it was a pleasant enough ale, it always seemed to have a slightly stale character. In cans, however, I’ve found it to be fresh and lively, with well-defined bready and slightly fruity malt in the aroma, and grassy hops coming through to impart a pleasant sweet-bitter balance in the flavour.

So, please don’t fear the cans. They’re allowing us to experience some great UK ales (not to mention a few world class Pilsners that have sneaked in with the rest of the Euro-lagers) in a state that is much closer to optimum condition than a bottle could ever offer. Now, if only we could convince the LCBO to start bringing in some of the fantastic US craft beers that are available in cans…