Leave it to the Scots to remind Americans that autumn beer releases don't always need to derive from pumpkin. Scotland brewer Innis & Gunn recently debuted its U.S.-exclusive Bourbon Aged Stout, a limited-edition brew with a malt-forward profile that suits cigars well.
Bourbon Aged Stout is not high in alcohol, but is rather sessionable at 7.4 percent alcohol by volume. This means the heat normally associated with boozy, wood-aged beers takes a backseat so that the four malts used in the mash can get a turn at the wheel. Those malts include rye crystal, chocolate, wheat, and one that is proprietary to Innis & Gunn, which calls Edinburgh home but brews within Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow and matures some of its beer in Girvan Distillery in South Ayrshire.
The malts come together to deliver a distinctly soft mouthfeel, and the rye adds a tang of spice. Some of the malts have been only slightly roasted, too, giving Bourbon Aged Stout a red hue, far from the inky black color of a Guinness or other stout.
Whitbread Golding hops, added during the boiling stage, counterbalance the malty mash and offer some floral characteristics to the beer's aroma, though any hop bitterness is muted in the flavor profile.
At one time, all of Innis & Gunn beers were matured in oak casks for a spell before they were bottled. Recently, though, master brewer and owner Dougal Sharp has added a new technique in which he dumps the finished beer over a bed of oak chips that are held in a device called an Oakerator. The chips have been toasted and mimic the char of a Bourbon barrel, so as the beer is pumped through the oak chips, it picks up the vanillins from the wood. Bourbon Aged Stout was brewed with this new method.
Recommended cigar pairings would be smokes that fall into the medium-bodied category, particularly ones that offer sweet notes and licorice spice such as Crowned Head's Jericho Hill Willy Lee. The Corona Gorda scored 90 points in the September issue of Cigar Insider and the tasting note is: "Dark in appearance and flatly pressed, this cigar starts out herbal and woody, but develops heartier notes of toast, nuts and spice that lead to a licorice finish."
Innis & Gunn Limited Edition Bourbon Aged Stout (7.4 percent alcohol by volume, $8.99 for 660 ml. bottle)
APPEARANCE: Pours a russet brown with a bit of ruby red showing up when held to light. Crema-colored head holds on through life of beer.
NOSE: Boozy alcohol underlies the sweet, floral, and fruity bouquet. Bold caramel and vanilla notes hop out of the glass, and as the the liquid warms up, subtle doses of cherries, cola and roasted chestnuts reveal themselves.
PALATE: Front end is big on malt sweetness with chocolate and toffee notes before lively doses of licorice spice and marzipan come in at the midpoint. The full-bodied, soft liquid eagerly spreads across the tongue, coating all corners of the mouth. A delicate cherry flavor comes in on the swallow and remains on the lip-smacking finish.