It’s a strange occurrence when you’re at an event, experiencing something that seemingly everybody else is really into – and yet, you’re not. People are having a good time, enjoying this thing, talking to their friends about how good it is; but you can’t see it, at all. It could be a film that reviews have lauded, but you just can’t connect with. It could be a gig from the latest indie phenomenon, yet you simply want it to be over so you can go home. Or, it could be a beer launch. The bar staff are a blur of constant motion, endlessly pouring branded pint after branded pint to eager punters, queuing three deep at the bar to get more. But, the beer just isn’t nice. So is it you that’s wrong? Or them?
Last night, Innis & Gunn launched their new 4.6% lager into the market at Edinburgh’s Guildford Arms. As ever, for events at the Guildford, it was packed – a constant stream of drinkers revolving through the doors and joining the logjam towards the bar. A neat trick of giving out poker chips to exchange for beers meant a steady, polite, heave of people brandishing small circles of plastic at the barstaff. I have no idea how many kegs I&G had laid on for the night, but the Guildford was flying through them – as they have been since the beer was quietly put on sale towards the start of the week. It seems, as with all I&G products, there’s huge demand for what they have to offer.
The thing is, though, the lager is baffling. Billed as ‘helles-style’, it’s certainly bright and golden – in fact, it looks a picture. But although you’d expect a fair amount of malt-led sweetness, Innis & Gunn’s lager is massively, barbarically so. At first, the cool serve keeps this under check, but halfway down the pint it becomes the over-riding characteristic. Of course, for anybody familiar with I&G, this is their distinctive house style – their regular ‘oaked’ lines are supremely toffee-laden and vanilla-forward – like licking cake-mix off the back of a spoon. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – the beer market is flourishing enough to foster breweries going in different directions.
I don’t write about Innis & Gunn very often on the BeerCast, simply because I’m not really a fan of this overly sweet character their beers convey.* This lager, though, I thought might be different. It was probably never going to be a bitter Pils in character, but as their first ‘un-oaked’ release (aside from the Melville’s fruit beers), it might park the vanilla and carry enough of the grassy hop about it to help balance the sweetness. It doesn’t, though. The grassiness comes over more as mustiness, and the caramel – which is there, and builds – merges with the golden oats used in the brewing process to leave that familiar, cloying aftertaste.
*Other than the fleetingly-released I&G Irish Whisky Cask, which was really quite nice
But hey, what do I know? This beer probably isn’t aimed at me – it’s to manoeuvre Innis & Gunn into the premium lager market, and take on the big boys. As such, it will do very well – I have no doubt that it’ll sell, based on branding, marketing and positioning. Rack this alongside Estrella Damm or Kirin Ichiban, for example, and watch the punters line up – if the crowds at the Guildford Arms are anything to go by, they certainly will (even if it was mostly being enjoyed there free of charge). I have no idea how long it was lagered for – Nate at Booze, Beats & Bites quotes ten days, which would put it well behind Budweiser (21 days) but well in front of Tennent’s (2 days, according to Robbie who went behind the scenes).
In truth, it probably doesn’t matter. I’m sure Tennent’s will be keeping a close eye on how their contractee does, though – expect the money-men at the Wellpark to pay a lot of interest in the fortunes of I&G lager. Also, if things work out favourably, look to I&G themselves to start putting out a wider range of ‘un-oaked’ beers, to aim at people who feel their core beers are too specialised and unusual. As a company, one thing they really have going for them is a following, and as I was surrounded by a jostling army of them last night, it made me think that sometimes, what I know to be right might actually be wrong; or, more accurately, not be important.