Innis & Gunn launch lager

Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in Lagerboy | 6 Comments


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.


  1. Richard Morrice
    April 11, 2013

    Here we go again!
    I liked the old Mini a lot. I liked the new (BMW) Mini, a bit less. I hate the Mini Clubman Jetpack Wayfarer Plus or whatever their latest incarnation of the Mini is called.
    Marketers call it ‘utilising brand equity in diverse market segments’ or something like that.
    I call it losing what is special and distinctive and confusing everyone.
    Perhaps this is what Innis and Gunn are guilty of. Perhaps they have a clear handle on their market.
    Only time will tell…..
    Richard Morrice

  2. py0
    April 11, 2013

    I’d rather an I&G lager that tasted characteristically like I&G house style than just yet another samey “UK Craft Lager” that tastes better than regular lagers but still not as good as Pilsner Urquell. We already have 100s of those in the UK all jostling for position.

  3. Richard
    April 11, 2013

    We do now, py0 – ‘craft lager’ has been one of the beer trends of the recent past. Innis & Gunn’s also uses the term on their advertising and pump clip, as you’d expect. I guess it can be looked at in one of two ways. Either, yes, it’s a good thing that I&G are sticking to their house style with their lager, as their many fans will identify with the product all the quicker. Or no, it’s not, as they had a chance to diversify a bit and develop a wider range of styles. In which case, they could have ended up with something that was nearer to something like PU (although, as a Helles it won’t be that near). Of course, the danger with aiming that ‘high’ is that you miss, and end up in that enormous lager pot with all the other recent releases. The only way out would then be careful and well-executed marketing…which has always been a strong-point of I&G.

  4. Tom
    April 11, 2013

    Tasted I&G Lager last week in The Guildford. I ordered a half of Tennents and a half of I&G and drank them simultaneously so that I had a direct comparison of both Wellpark products.

    Let’s be honest, Tennents is not as bad as folk make out. It’s standard UK lager made in an industrialised environment and it does exactly what it says on the tin. On a recent visit to Austria, the local beer, Zillertal, was much worse, whilst a Salzburg brew, Stiegl, was a darn good lager similar in taste to St Mungo.

    I&G in comparison doesn’t really taste “lagery”. It has a honey-ish finish which is initially more-ish, but as Rich has said, it soon flags. I think I would struggle to drink more than a couple of pints and not as a result of filling myself with CO2.

    Which would I buy? Well neither to be honest, but if boxed in a corner I’d go for low cost and order a Tennents.

  5. Richard
    April 11, 2013

    According to the Guildford, they got through ten kegs of the lager last night – that’s some going…

  6. Nate
    April 11, 2013

    Cheers for the mention bro. You seemed to enjoy the beer more than I did!

    For reference, I got the ten days lagering info from this press release on the BGBW site:


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