The Scottish beer company, Innis & Gunn, which specializes in ales aged in a variety of different types of barrel, is fascinated with North America, or so it seems. For several years now, they have produced a special edition beer for July 1, Canada Day. In the past, it has been aged in a Canadian whisky barrel, although that approach was abandoned this year, supposedly because the Canuck whisky doesn’t add enough character to the barrel and, hence, the beer.
Now that they’re selling in the U.S., Innis & Gunn decided this year to also release an Independence Day 2012 edition ale, clocking in at 7% alcohol and brewed with American hops. Simply because I was able to do so, I blind tasted the two beers side-by-side.
What turned out to be the Canada Day beer is notably darker than the Independence Day brew, and also stronger at 7.7%. (Not that the Scots are implying anything about the relative ability of Americans and Canadians to hold their booze, of course.)
On the nose, the Canuck ale also showed significantly more complexity than did the Yank, with raisin and toffee and oak sitting atop a faintly boozy aroma, in comparison to the heavily vanilla-forward nose of the U.S. beer. (Is Independence Day matured in bourbon oak? The packaging doesn’t say, although the aroma certainly suggests as much.)
In the body, the U.S. ale continues its vanilla-esque ways, although not to the degree I expected, with fruitiness, chocolate and soft caramel notes leading to a still sweet but not cloying finish. The Canada Day beer, on the other hand, mixes dark fruit like plum, raisin and date with vanilla notes, sweet caramel, hints of cocoa and a mild spiciness, finishing off-dry and warming.
I’m not convinced that either is necessarily better than the other – although Independence Day seems a simpler, more straight forward ale – but the U.S. ale is certainly well suited to the barbecue and beer traditions of the fourth of July, while Canada Day seems more a late night fireworks sort of beer.