I was recently provided the opportunity to preview the new Blood Red Sky, a barrel-aged, 6.8% ABV “red beer”. This will replace the current standard rum-finish product.
The use of oak has evolved at I&G. Its first run some 15 years ago, the Original that launched the line, was stored in oak barrels. Famously the containers were intended for use to finish Scotch whisky. The beer was simply part of the processing, not intended for commercial release.
It turned out people liked the beer too and Innis & Gunn Original, and many extensions to the line, followed.
Producing beer on any decent scale in oak containers obviously became an issue in the last dozen years since barrels of any kind (new, used, etc.) now come at a premium. This is due to high demands for barrels to age whisky, wine, and some beer and cider.
So I&G turned to oak chip aging to supplement (by blending) the original process. The original process is also still used 100% for some special releases. I & G has now has introduced its “Barrel Aged” process to replace the chips. Barrels that held say bourbon or rum, are broken into pieces, toasted and the flavour imparted by coursing the beer through sacks holding the barrel pieces.
A description of Blood Red Sky, and note on the new barrel-aging process, are set out at the company’s site here. The company refers to it as putting the barrel into the beer.
Some may consider this isn’t really barrel-aging, an issue I don’t tarry on as first, any interested consumer today can find out what the company is actually doing, the website makes it all clear. Second, real barrels are used, albeit unconventionally. Oak chips generally are made from oak planking of some kind, toasted or treated in some way but not sourced from a barrel.
(When barrels are broken down to staves and then re-formed into a barrel, often combining staves from as many barrels, that is considered a barrel; so why not this other way?).
I’ll say straight off that this is the best use of oak by the company since inception. I’ve always said that use of barrels in the usual way, especially of North American oak, to hold beer for any length of time seems to impart an oxidation note. Just as it does for wine, or whisky. Some people like that for beer, which is fine, but it’s a taste that can be off-putting when pronounced. The effect for whisky and wine is different somehow; perhaps because of their alcoholic strength or simply that they are different drinks.
With the new I&G barrelling approach, I find the oak taste more subtle and without the oxidative note that accompanies much conventional barrel-aged beer. A strong beer can get away with it if aging is not prolonged and the beer is made right – high hopping helps. But for anything in the mid-range of ABV certainly, this new way to flavour the beer with the barrel seems ideal. I don’t know if the pieces of barrel have residual oxygen, but in any case this new red beer has no oxidation notes I can detect.
The beer has a nice body and good malty flavour, with good hopping too. Nor is there any strong vanilla or coconut taste, perhaps due to the rum barrel origin, I’m not sure.
It’s an excellent taste and nice to see in a red beer iteration. The colour is very attractive and there aren’t that many beers that offer the red hue really (versus, amber, brown, dark gold). Broadly I’d call it an Irish red ale, a style somewhat unclear in its origins but part of the modern beer lexicon undoubtedly.
A beer to try certainly when generally available here and I believe most beer fans will like it not excluding the hard core crafterati.