Few things go together like whisk(e)y and beer: peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and strawberries, bacon and… well, anything. Plus, a boilermaker is about the only thing that no bartender can screw up. A while back, I did a blog about how some whisk(e)y makers who are using barley traditionally reserved for beer to make some really great whisk(e)y. Well, today I’m talking about beer aged in whisk(e)y barrels. A lot of craft and micro breweries are experimenting with cask conditioned beers aged in bourbon casks and at least one brewery is making beer aged in single malt scotch casks.
Most breweries are using dark beers like porter or stout. Goose Island in Chicago brews up Bourbon County Stout. This bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout is rich, chocolaty, and smoky. For my taste, the beer picks up too much sweetness from the bourbon (although it is better than most of it’s competition) and at 13% ABV this beer has some bite. It tastes a little like dropping half a shot of bourbon into a chocolate stout. My brother-in-law loves this beer and only complains that it gets him drunk too quickly so he can’t have one with lunch. Goose Island also does a version of this beer with coffee beans added to the barrel only available at one of the Goose Island locations in Chicago. I have not had the pleasure of making its acquaintance.
Another brewery to age a sweet, dark beer in whisky casks is Scotland’s Harviestoun Brewery. Harviestoun offers not one, but three porters (roughly based on the ever popular Old Engine Oil), called Ola Dubh, aged in HIghland Park cask; a 12yr, a 16yr, and a 30yr. Of three, the 16 is the best. The 12 is overly sweet and tastes more like a boilermaker in a bottle than a unique beverage. Highland Park 30yo is a very fine whisky (very fine), but is too complex and delicate to survive the porter’s bolder qualities. The Ola Dubh 16, is absolutely stunning. This is not just a beer. This is something altogether different. There are notes of dark chocolate, hops, damp earth, fruit, smoke and peat. This is truly an example of a sum that is greater than its parts (and the parts weren’t bad).
Although most breweries opt for dark beers, Twisted Pines Brewing in Boulder, CO has created a red ale aged in Buffalo Trace casks. By using a red ale, Twisted Pines gets around the over-sweet pitfall. This is without a doubt one of the best beers I have had. Like the Ola Dubh 16, Oak Whiskey Red is greater than the sum of its parts. You get a lot of Buffalo Trace on the nose and the bourbon adds some toffee and smoke to an already great beer (they use their Red Mountain Ale). Hopefully, more breweries will take the cue and give us some more bourbon barrel-aged red ales.
As you can imagine, these are small run beers from small breweries. What does that mean to you? They can be hard to find (Old Whiskey Red is not available outside of Boulder) and more expensive than your average beer. However, this is such a big trend, there is likely a micro-brewery in your area that is working on something like this (especially with porters and stouts). If not, go to the brew master and request it.
I know I also promised a review of Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Ops bourbon barrel-aged Russian imperial stout, but my best efforts came up empty. If I find it, I’ll post an update.
If you know of a good whisk(e)y barrel-aged beer, let us know about it. Happy hunting.