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Beer-cask-aged whiskey is a bit of a separated-at-birth notion. After all, whiskey basically begins as beer. So why not bring it all back home?
“It essentially sanded down the rough edges that can come with bourbon,” says Brad Kamphuis, the director of operations for New Holland Brewing in Holland, Mich. He’s referring to his beer barrel bourbon and beer barrel rye, which are aged in barrels from the brewery’s popular Dragon’s Milk stout to add a roasty finish to both spirits.
The American progenitor of the technique, however, is inarguably Old Potrero, which has long made use of its own whiskey and beer barrels at Anchor Brewing and Hotaling & Co. in San Francisco. While Potrero only released 80 cases of its stout-cask-aged whiskey in California last year, the bottling was near 12 years in the making, beginning with two new charred American oak barrels that held rye for five years, then another five with founder Fritz Maytag’s beloved apple brandy. After that, the barrels snuggled up with stout for a year and finally lingered with the recent Old Potrero malted rye for about four months.
“Over the history of our distillery and whiskey making, we’ve experimented with a lot of barrels,” says master distiller Bruce Joseph, who has been with the company since 1980. “That was something Fritz wanted to do when we first started distilling,”
Others, too, have played around with the idea on a small scale, like Great Lakes Distilling, which stashed its Kinnickinnic blended whiskey for two years in barrels initially used for Milwaukee Brewing Co.’s Admiral Stache Baltic porter. It sold out almost instantly after it was released in May 2017.
Another, Onyx Moonshine in East Hartford, Conn., used the technique as the impetus for a scholarship fundraiser for local college-bound kids. Owner Adam von Gootkin partnered with 25 local breweries to use the barrels from his Secret Stash whiskey to create 25 individual expressions of barrel-aged beers. In turn, the brewers gave the barrels back when they were done, and Von Gootkin refilled them with the Secret Stash, creating two-dozen-plus unique beer-cask-finished versions of his aged whiskey. “It was amazing fun. [It] allowed us to partner with local breweries and create an interesting range of aged whiskeys, each with their own flavor profiles.”
While it’s a head-scratcher to think that, with all the myriad barrel finishes the whiskey world dabbles in, more producers haven’t connected the dots. But these are seven who have and are worth checking out.