The Stars Align

Innis & Gunn Auchentoshan pairing

Sometimes, without an apparent cause or a as much as a moment’s warning, the stars align and the great cosmic cycle of chaos and order reaches one of its notoriously elusive peaks. This may come in various guises to different people but for us, the self-confessed get-a-life drinks enthusiasts, this will more often than not manifest itself with a perfect combination of factors of which one is a fine beverage. But what if there two?

We’ve written about half’n'half before. We make no secret of the fact that a thoughtful pairing of a whisky and a beer served in the right place and at the right time is just about our favourite thing in the world. And so when we saw an email in our inbox containing both ‘Auchentoshan’ and ‘Innis & Gunn’ in the title we knew something very good was about to happen.

The good people behind the two brands got together at some point and decided it was a good idea to pair their respective liquids and see what comes out the other end. I mean, it makes so much sense to put Auchie and Innis & Gunn together, not only does the beer actually correspond to the whisky, but the brands, what they do and how they do it, are actually remarkably on the same wavelength.

Auchentoshan is a traditional distillery on the dark side of the Lowlands, the only one in Scotland to produce triple-distilled whisky consistently and exclusively. Often associated with light and crisp Lowland character with a generous topping of fresh fruitiness and a floral overtone, Auchie has come a long way over the years to sneakily become a rather cool and completely unpretentious brand which is much closer to the world of modern fine bartending than it is to that open fine and tartan cliché.

Innis & Gunn is a relatively new company but punching well above its weight, particularly in Scandinavian and Northern American markets. It appears to be very popular in Scotland too but that may be down to the fact that I buy so much of it. Their flagship expression, Innis & Gunn Original, the beer which started it all, is a traditional Scottish ale displaying a big malty complexity influenced to sweet perfection by oak. The whole thing started when Grant’s (the famous blend) contracted Master Brewer Dougal Sharp to help them create an ale cask finish whisky. Dougal brewed a delicious and smooth ale which didn’t have too much hoppiness to it and used it for ‘seasoning’ the casks. The rest is history. The seasoning became the meal and today all the beers in Innis & Gunn’s extensive portfolio of core brews and limited releases have a relationship with wood.

Now on to the good part. Last week Innis & Gunn and Auchentoshan held a special event at I&G’s headquarters in Edinburgh to showcase what came out of this collaboration. They made the grave mistake of inviting me over. In short breaks between being a smartass and covering their dining room in a layer of crushed hops I managed to actually pay some attention to what was put in front of me. I’m not going to give you full tasting notes for the beers and the whiskies, that would be tedious and annoying. Instead I’m going to give you top-line notes on how I though the two added up and I shall leave the rest up to you.

Innish & Gunn Original (6.6% ABV)
Auchentoshan Classic (40% ABV)

Individually these are both good liquids. I hadn’t had Auchentoshan Classic in a long time and was surprised how well it stacks up against some of the more recent no-age-statement releases from the great and the famous. The creaminess and vanilla punch of the beer and the slight sharpness and fruitiness of the whisky worked together really well. I was almost sure that this pair could not be beaten… was I right?

Innis & Gunn Oloroso Cask (7.4% ABV)
Auchentoshan 12 Years Old (40% ABV)

The Innis & Gunn Oloroso Cask is an interesting one and very limited. I though the two worked well together but on this occasion I think I may have been preoccupied with the beer too much. Auchie 12 is fine but do hope they bump the ABV up at some point.
Overall, there was more body and more structure to the pair but the beer just outshone the whisky.

Innis & Gunn Bourbon Stout (7.4% ABV)
Auchentoshan 18 Years Old (43% ABV)

The Bourbon Stout is an unusual red stout, a cool beer in its own right, additionally aged over ex-bourbon oak. There is some rye malt involved and the result is a very rich, spicy and warming beer that will keep you busy for a long time. And then there is the Auchentoshan. I had completely forgotten how nice the 18 Years Old was. Together they pack quite a punch. There is a layer of stewed fruits and brown sugar that surges up when the two liquids mix. This half’n'half is a bit like a marzipan potato from the German Market, it’s too much but you reach for another one and then another. And then another.

Innis & Gunn Treacle Porter (7.4% ABV)
Auchentoshan Three Wood (43% ABV)

Personally I would probably have paired the Three Wood with the Innis & Gunn Oloroso Cask but that would be so predictable and so me, wouldn’t it? The Innis & Gunn Treacle Porter, yes, you guessed it, uses treacle in the brew which gives it a funky and unusual depth of taste. You would expect anything to do with treacle to be heavy, cloying and a bit tired but this is actually surprisingly vibrant and not at all too sweet. Just about perfect for this time of the year. Big beer and big whisky once again but this time the heavy sherry punch of the Three Wood is playing fruity tricks with my mind and turning the pairing into a game of dip-that-dried-plum-in-a-mug-of-rum (it’s a famous Swedish game, they all play it, chiefly around Christmas time). Now, I know I said an open fire plus whisky was a cliché but with these two in your hands you know you want to.

***

So which one was my favourite? I thought the Treacle Porter was the coolest beer while Auchentoshan 18 Year Old hit the spot whisky-wise. But my combo of choice has to be the first one. Simplicity prevails.

Hats of to Auchentoshan and Innis & Gunn for making this happen. Most brands would be a bit apprehensive to say the least to team up with another drinks producer. In my world you’ve done both brands a world of good. It was a very no-bullshit session, we talked openly about Oakerators (do you want to know what they are?), cask compositions, leakages and more. We need more of this sort of stuff and much less of the collectable nonsense. I salute you for focusing on what really matters. Sparks flew and you know it.

 

PS. Check this out. Canadian Cherrywood Finish… and we thought some of the whisky finishes were weird. This is lovely stuff though and rare so if you come across any, you know what to do.

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