I’ve always been of the mindset that beer should not be kept for long periods of time. At best, I’ve been told, beer has a shelf life of around three months. Any more than that, and things just taste a bit … off. Enter Innis & Gunn, which Cape Town Etc dubbed ‘the Champagne of beers‘ when we first came across it last year, to shake up my notions about beer once again.
Rowan Liebbrandt, the local importer of this award-winning Scottish beer last week announced Innis & Gunn would be supplying 100 cases of their limited release Vintage range to South Africa. Matured for 100 days in first fill American Bourbon casks, Innis & Gunn Vintage is not meant to be enjoyed as soon as you’ve grabbed it off the shelf, but rather collected and allowed to properly mature over a few years. Yes, years!
Legally, the company has to put a best-before date on its labels, so 2020 has been pegged as that year for Vintage. Liebbrandt, however says he would love to taste a bottle of Innis & Gunn Vintage that has been left unopened for 10 years!
Much like Champagne, or Méthod Cap Classique (MCC) to local bubbly enthusiasts, Vintage continues its maturation process long after it has been bottled. A bottle typically starts at 7.7% ABV, but this can rise above 9% if the bottle is left to properly ferment. Over time, the beer will develop and change, becoming richer and more complex the longer it stays in the bottle, eventually reaching a sort of equilibrium point where the yeast becomes completely inactive and no more alcohol is produced. This gives Vintage a sharpness that complements a mellow taste with caramel and almond tones on the nose.
Retailing for a recommended price of between R200 and R250 for a 500 ml bottle and collector’s tube, Vintage might not be everyone’s cup of team. But Liebbrandt says, ‘More and more people in South Africa are looking to try products of supreme quality, and we’re happy to be able to offer a few of them the chance to taste something really special.’
Having tasted a bottle of Innis & Gunn Vintage myself – albeit long before the recommended 10-year maturation time – I can say it is already delicious straight off the shelf. It is available from selected retailers across South Africa, including Makro, and I, for one, will find it very difficult to not drink my own bottle of Vintage before 2026.