Reading Time: 6 minutes read
Proverbs 23:1 New King James Version
Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it [a]swirls around smoothly;
Written by Meagan Wilson and Ben Wilson.
Photos by Ben Wilson.
Damned straight. Let’s look at the strong stout in the glass, instead. Our local Total Wine & More didn’t have a great many Irish beer examples that weren’t brewed by Guinness. I like Guinness, and have therefore reviewed most of their beers already. So, what we’ve got today is a double-barrel matchup between Innis & Gunn Kindred Spirits and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Coffee Stout.
Innis & Gunn
I was excited about this beer, so we started with the Innis & Gunn. It’s a surprisingly low ABV stout (6.1%) aged with Irish whiskey barrel staves (Tullamore D.E.W., to be exact). The nose is rich, malty, sweet, and despite not being a chocolate stout, fairly chocolatey. The barrel adds a wood complexity and notes of vanilla, with an overall effect that is a bit like Black Cavendish pipe tobacco.
The color is very dark, with chestnut highlights. The body is slightly thin for a stout, and the mouthfeel is quite smooth.
Side note: It’s kind of fun to look at your reflection in the side of a tulip glass full of stout. It’s a bit like a fun-house mirror.
This beer is delicious. Any beer from Innis & Gunn has a particular flavor that’s hard to describe, and not quite like any same-style example from another brewery. Truth be told, they’re one of my favorite breweries, and definitely on the to-visit-one-day list.
So, how does it taste? Roasty, but not bitter. Sweet, with that barley mash sweet-yet-slightly-sour flavor you don’t get to experience often unless you’re a brewer. The Irish whiskey barrel staves add some vanilla notes, and a complexity that makes me think of what I want tiramisu to taste like, but it never does. Other flavor hints include blackstrap molasses, a hint of coffee, slight buttery notes, and a hint of pepper on the finish.
The head retention isn’t anything special.
Pairing with chocolate would probably disturb the more complex notes, but it’d go down well with a plain cheesecake, or a fairly robust meal. It tastes bigger than it is, so you can have it alone, or with something light, and it’s fine.
Stored at 35F overnight before warming to 61.1F, enjoyed outside on a crisp spring day with 68F ambient temp, no detectable aromas other than the hickory and pecan smoke wafting from the smoker on the other side of the house.
Nose; that particular Innis & Gunn smell – a mix of white oak, caramel, barnyard and Lane 1-q pipe tobacco.
First sip; sweetness up front, no bitter until you swallow. Brown sugar, oak and toffee, no trace of alcohol.
Swallow; a touch of roast, bare hint of alcoholic sweetness but no heat. A trace of apple esters and heat on the tongue, with some white pepper afterwards.
Overall; A sweet, barrely stout without the booziness that often accompanies. Enjoy as an aperitif, without food, possibly follow up with a sweet black Cavendish pipe tobacco in the second half of the glass, if that’s your thing. No serious flaws except for the apple esters and the butterscotch flavors.
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Coffee Stout
Not too surprisingly, this one has both more chocolate and vanilla notes in the nose than the Innis & Gunn. With the dark roasted coffee
(Haitian origin, according to the label), it’s bound to have some of that. The coffee notes themselves aren’t very strong in the nose.
The color is nearly black, with almost-caramel highlights around the edges. Head retention is decent, but not fluffy. It just keeps a medium halo of dark tan around the rim. At 8.0%, this is a strong stout, but not an overwhelmingly alcoholic brew. The mouthfeel is creamy but not especially thick, which is an interesting mix.
Flavor-wise, it’s roastier than the Innis & Gunn, which is to be expected of a coffee stout. There’s a hint of alcoholic warmth, with a bit of pepper in the finish. About halfway through the glass, I noticed the oak character more in the nose. It has woody complexity, but not the same notes as the Irish whiskey barrel staves (naturally).
The flavor is drier, with more roast. This would pair really well with a creamy and fatty dessert, such as a New York Cheesecake or perhaps crème brûlée. A turtle cheesecake might go well, too.
Nose is coffee with a hint of sourness, possibly grain or lactobacillus. Medium-low head with good retention. Hints of barrel-sourced butterscotch (classic oak smell).
First sip is sourness and acridity with sweet aftertaste and milky flavor – think cafe au lait with a very dark island coffee roast. Green peppercorns, strong lacto, alcohol vapors in the back of the throat, barely any sweetness uop front. Marked difference from the Innis and Gunn. Peppery and alcoholic with 90% cacao flavors. Salty caramel pretzel overall.
Overall; I’d accompany this beer with boneless country-style pork ribs grilled over apple wood at about 375-400F – just enough silky fattiness for the stout to cut while adding a touch of sweetness. It’s too boozy and not hoppy enough for a proper American stout while being too dry for a proper Imperial stout, but that’s the magic of marketing. I would consider this to be a delicious, dry strong coffee stout with some barrel flavors that would pair well with juicier smoked foods.
Both beers are delicious stouts, with fairly different characteristics. Neither is perfectly to a strong or imperial stout style, but they are (clearly) commercially viable, and I would happily drink either (or both!) again. Since they came in four-packs, I definitely shall.