The first time I tried a beer that had been aged in whiskey casks was in Scotland, at some Edinburgh pub where I'd asked for something tasty and local. The barkeep brought me an Innis & Gunn, instantly melting my brain. It was like the love child of ale and brown liquor, and possibly the only setting in which strong vanilla notes belong in a brew. It suggested sweetness without actually revealing its sugars. Quarantining a beer inside an oak cask steeped with generations of scotch is like sending a kid to space camp for the summer. Sucker'll come back filled with some big thoughts to share.
This week I noticed Tullibardine, another Scottish purveyor of mood-altering substances, shipped a dose of its 1488 Premium Whisky Beer to my local liquortorium. Maybe it's not as tangy as the Innis & Gunn, but it belongs in the conversation and on your snooker table.
Poured, it's lightly carbonated and the dark, golden color of your pee after you've been on a boat all afternoon, dehydrated as much from drinking beer as from the sun. The distillery - and yes, this beer hails from a distillery - notes that the aromas include vanilla and, betraying its nursery, scotch. The smell of scotch is one of the finest known to nostrils. It's commonly known that any gentleman who splashes a dash of a peaty single-malt on the insides of his wrists before a night on the town shan't sleep alone. Advertisers could do worse than to hawk scotch with perfumed strips glued inside magazines.
The Tullibardine keeps the soft whiskey flavor of the oak without bringing that burn. The label says 7% alcohol but it feels even gentler than that; your nose tells you to brace for that sting, and when it doesn't arrive, even the stiff beer tastes mild. It's just on the sturdy side of sweet. As it warms, the malt notes retreat and wood flavor comes to the fore. Whatever it means to "gently condition" the ale in oak casks, keep doing it. If scotch is an acquired taste, this is how one could acquire it. Baby's first whiskey!
For the vague sense of sophistication that comes from drinking a scotch-beer hybrid, and the tendency to slow-sip a beer you overspend for, your Sunday game pairings for this brew are the Redskins at the Saints and the Steelers at the Broncos. And if the NFL has a restraining order against you or something, the Rockies and Phils are teeing up a double-header.