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I Like Beer Barrels on That I Cannot Lie, but Only for Aging Scotch, Bourbon or Rye!

 
Poorly written rap lyrics aside – A new cask-agory has come out of the woodwork in regards to Liquid Holy Trinity. Ageing either of the three in previously used Beer barrels has created new flavor profiles, enriched Spirits and sent distillers running back to their collective R&D labs yelling either ‘EUREKA!’ or ‘@$& &^ *%$#@!’. 
 
The kids at Glenfiddich have spent time and money (and a lot of Scotch) to perfect their IPA aged cask. Meanwhile, Bourbon distilleries were not far behind in developing some new deliciousness as well. That said - The focus here will start with Bourbon. A rich amber American Spirit that is perfectly delicious. But the question goes – How do you improve on perfection? 

31 Flavors?

Recently, the short term (and possibly incorrect) answer has been to add flavors to it. Flavors like Honey, *Swedish Fish, Smoked Maple, and Vanilla. These enhanced “Spirits” have hit the shelves in every major and respectable outlet. Bottles have been scooped up Frat Boys, Sorority Hell Cats, and casual drinkers alike.

All on a quest for something exciting, searching for the El Dorado of flavor– only to be disappointed by the taste and the expense. Finding themselves drinking from the Fountain of Meh.

Flame on!

We must look at the barrel. Bourbon is aged in a charred American Oak barrels - Char #4 being an industry standard. The other factors leading up to the spirit becoming greater than its parts are the mash bill and the yeast used in fermentation, while the mixture of the mash bill differs by distiller.

Much of the color and taste comes from the barrel itself. Through time, rotation, absorption, and temperature the clear spirit or ‘White Dog’ absorbs the properties of the charred wood.

 

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A better Whisk(e)y?

After years of taking in the tastier qualities of flamed kissed wooden barrels, the Bourbon takes a second helping from barrels that once held Beer. Granted, this is a risky endeavor.

A distiller has to redo a process that has already presented a ready to sell product. This costs even more time and that most precious of commodities, money.

The flavor of WHY

What is it about used Beer barrels that makes them so perfect for aging Bourbon? Some say it's the Bourbon - that even a good Bourbon hungers for enrichment. After getting that first taste of charred wood, Bourbon seeks out even more wood themed and earthy accents from barrels that previously held Beer.

The re-aging/recasking process creates an even textured Bourbon with a fuller mouthfeel. The use of a premium Lager or IPA that contains well developed flavor notes (vanilla, caramel, dark fruit, and maple) will lead to an improved batch of Bourbon by mellowing out the alcohol and bringing the wood derived flavors forward. This process works for Scotch as well. 
 

Brand used barrels

This process is repeated by using Oak barrels that previous held Beer. Yes, Beer- only premium Stouts, IPAs or Lagers make the cut. This is no place for an over produced Frat house brew like PBR or Rolling Rock.

Matching the flavor profiles of a Beer to a Bourbon is not an easy decision. The risk of ruining what took years to create hangs in the balance of every barrel used.

Who done it?

New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

In the case of New Holland Artisan Spirits’ aptly named Beer Barrel Bourbon. Their Bourbon is finished in Dragon's Milk stout barrels. The choice of Stout was painstakingly reached through research, development, and experimentation.

 

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The final product proved to be worth every penny spent. By letting the Bourbon spend time in a previously used stout barrel whatever harshness that one could associate with Bourbon is gone. It’s replaced with a smoothness that rivals a classic Barry White song.

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment

Another risk gone right is the Glenfiddich IPA Experiment. While Glenfiddich is known for playing around with different types of cask finishing (Wine and Rum to name two) their Scotches, their Malt Master, Brian Kinsman, took it up a notch by thinking outside the barrel.

Allan Roth, The Glenfiddich Ambassador at William Grant & Sons Inc. “We had already seen great success in seasoning a cask with Beer and then additionally aging Whisky in that cask with the Grant’s Ale Cask that we released a few years back. Before we pursued the IPA experiment we had been thinking about a Beer finish for some time.”

 

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The process starts with an IPA that is matured in American oak casks for about a month. Subsequently, Glenfiddich goes into the casks for up to 6 months. By pairing their new Scotch with its notes of crisp pears, fresh cut grass and lemon peel to an IPA made with old world hops they forged a resounding and creamy product.

A. Smith Bowman Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon

Experimental items are hard to find but worth the hunt. Abraham Smith Bowman Limited Edition Gingerbread Cocoa Finished Bourbon (say that 3 times fast.) is one them.

This limited run was created by aging Bowman Bourbon in two different dark Beer barrels. The Beers (Gingerbread Stout and the Foolery Imperial Milk Stout) hail from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Virginia. The kicker- they only made TEN barrels. Six barrels worth of Gingerbread Stout and four barrels worth of the Foolery Imperial Milk Stout.

 

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Every Fall the team at Bowman puts out a new batch of Beer barrel aged Bourbons using a different set of Beers. The information for this year’s experiment hasn’t been released yet. For that, you’ll have to stay tuned to their social media channels.

Be warned they sell out fast. Purchasing them is akin to finding a one eyed, three legged Unicorn. So, good luck with that!

Lastly

Some purist may cry foul, while pointing that Whisk(e)y is basically distilled Beer. Here’s the thing, at the end of the day (okay, several hundred days) the yield is a better product with all the rough edges smoothed out by a repeating a process that led to its creation in the first place!

Reusing Beer barrels to improve a Bourbon, Scotch or other Whisk(e)y is almost pyridoxal in its simplicity - using the same method to recreate what the distiller originally created. In doing all of this, distillers may have created a new cask-agory of Bourbon, a Bourbon 2.0.

Do you have a favorite Beer barrel aged Bourbon or Scotch? Do you have a few bottles hidden for a special occasion? Let us know. Share the info - if not the wealth.


*Swedish Fish is NOT a flavor of Bourbon. Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.



By Lincoln C. Chinnery III

Lincoln C. Chinnery III

Lincoln C. Chinnery III is a freelance cocktail journalist who has written for AM New York and The Alcohol Professor. Lincoln enjoys all the major spirits - Bourbon being his favorite. He's a reader of anything related to cocktails and comic books. Find him on Twitter or Insta - @cocktailjournalist.

 

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