Tonight I fancy me something a bit different, something a bit rarer than your standard ale. Naturally, with my newfound fetish for all things Scots ale, I turn to Innis & Gunn to provide the backdrop and, naturally, I turn to their seasonal edition of Rare Oak Pale Ale. This could be an interesting one as the bottle tells me that, instead of using hops, this brew is flavoured using Sweet Gale! Whatever that is.
Join me, won't you, for another trip into the realms of madness surrounding a beer review by a beardy man who is too boring to just drink the ale! Would you like to know more?
Not much activity on opening and the pour did not really produce much in the way of head or of fizz, which was what I was aiming for, so that was nice. Some crisp fizz immediately after the pour and a good oaken colour to it, as one would expect given the much publicised use of oak barrels. It was about this point that I noticed tha distinctive aroma. I can't quite place it, though it seems very familiar and quite comforting. It is faintly floral, and full, reminding me of the woody sort of smell in the woods round the back of where we used to live around about this time of year. Wet wood? The smell of wild garlic? Perhaps buttercups and dry weeds? I don't know, but it is a pleasant smell and one that speaks of some promise for the ale beyond it.
First taste is wonderfully floral, there's an immediate fizz and fullness of mouth feel, the oak in the brew realkly coming to the fore. The malt is there, fast and light and airy, before it all fades away with the carbonation into something else. There's an element of licorice root in amongst all of this, but bigger and softer and stronger than that. It's dried herbs but with wet wood and then there's the lingering memory of the yeast. It sits there, wallows around the tongue for a while after the swallow, tinging your sense of smell with it for a while, and then it fades still further to the aftertaste. At first it is simply floral and then it matures and passes a stage where it almost exactly matches the aroma, but much less full and you think it's going to slip down the middle. But no, it returns with a cloud and then hangs around like the mist at the start of a frosty spring day before the sun burns it away. And it lingers. Oh my goodness, it lingers. There's that hint of vanilla that you get in the standard ale and there's a big scoop of summer freshness - all at once full of pollen and clear.
Whatever the Sweet Gale is, there is a definite difference to the hops that one would expect in an ale. The bottle's description of 'crisp' doesn't do this brew justice, it's better than crisp. It's the sort of scent and taste that brings to mind decent salads and the sort of accompaniment to a barbecue that would be welcome on a warmer and sunnier evening than the inky black following light drizzle that I have with me this evening. I am quite a fan, I think, and at the price it is in my local cut-price supermarket I suspect that I shall be buying more of this in for the summer.
This is surprisingly light for an ale with 5.8% ABV and it doesn't seem to be terribly dehydrating. Indeed, the whole brew seems remarkably forgiving for the obvious strength. I can see how one may be tempted to session this and part of me feels that it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but I suspect that having more of these in one sitting would probably sneak up on you and slap you round the back of the head with the metaphorical equivalent of a block of wood before you knew what was coming. That said, this is an extraordinarily moreish ale.
Enjoyed best with light flavoured food, full of carbs and stodge, on a warm and bright evening after the heat has gone out of the day. Maybe there's a cool breeze blowing and the clouds are scudding high in the air. Perhaps there's the remains of a paddling pool or it is getting cooller in the evenings due to the time of year. Whatever, this is the perfect companion to the fresher air and the dying embers of a bronzing sun casting rays on the clouds from the beneath and lengthening shadows in either urban or countryside settings. Birdsong fills the air and yellows and reds seem more alive when your eyes catch them, then you sip this ale and enjoy that final rush of Sweet Gale before the aftertaste, savour it for a moment and then return to the conversation.