Barrel of old whisky stouts first appeared over 25 years ago, with the Bourbon County Stout of Goose Island, which is now an icon. The concept quickly gained popularity and dynamism. For more than a generation, these limited, barrel-bearing imperial naughty cult favourites: Goose Island switched to a lottery system for its national Black Friday 2020 launch, and Toppling Goliath also used a lottery to launch its Kentucky Stout brunch brand on the 5th. December.
Distillers now play a similar game, effectively changing the process by making special beers and beer barrels, often in very limited quantities, for their own spirits.
It may sound like a marketing gimmick, but the distillers say the process is effective. At Teeling Whiskey in Ireland, master distiller Alex Chasko believes that finishing the barrels of beer can bring new flavours to classic bottlings such as his Teeling Stout Cask.
I think the most important thing a robust barrel brings is the bitterness of the roasted barley, and that plays well against the sweetness, he says. At least in our whiskey we have our own kind of honey, the sweetness of vanilla. And that’s how you get this juxtaposition, bitter and sweet, that works.
In addition to the new flavours, the distillers say that the finish of a cask can also improve the existing tones, even if the effect is slight.
Goose Barrels began more than 25 years ago, in today’s iconoclastic barrel age / thanks to Goose Island.
Chris Fletcher, Jack Daniel’s master distiller, has bottled a limited number of natural barrels for his series Tennessee Tasters’ Selection. It is called Reunion Barrel #2 and was aged in barrels containing oatmeal. It emphasized the traditional taste profile of whisky, which surprised Fletcher.
I’d say it added a very nice touch of boiled fruit, Mr. Fletcher. Jack Daniel’s has a somewhat fruity and ethereal taste in the heart, which is part of the way our yeast and fermentation expresses itself. I wasn’t involved in the brewing process, but there was something about this particular oatmeal that made it truly unique. It really looked like a cooked fruit, more like a cherry pie.
Beer barrels can also bring about a subtle and stylistic change. Many whiskies are casked after maturing in a cask that once contained a dark beer, such as a stout or a doorman.
This process can even change the drop of whisky.
Probably the most famous aftertaste on beer barrels comes from Jameson. The Caskmates series was launched in 2015 with ships that lived in a small brewery near his home in Cork, Ireland, before moving on to IPA editions and other flavours with old beer barrels from artisan breweries around the world.
Dave Quinn, the master of Jameson whiskey, explains that the first version showed how the process can affect the mouth feel of the alcohol, while adding flavors such as cocoa, caramel and coffee.
We’ve noticed that the texture of the whisky has changed, Quinn says. She’s a little weakened. Generally derived from whiskey, which is usually distilled in barley and barley malt stills, Jameson has a kind of creamy feel or texture. And that has contributed to the sweetness of the taste. We think this distinguishes it from the normal Jameson whisky.
Even if the process seems simple, there may be obstacles. For almost a century, most breweries have kept their beer in stainless steel barrels instead of wooden ones. And that is why distillers, when they need kegs of beer, usually have to go to a brewery first.
That led to the running line at Jack Daniel’s, Fletcher says.
It may sound like a marketing gimmick, but the distillers say the process is effective.
All the barrels we’ve made on the Reunion line so far are our barrels, according to Fletcher. They’re made by our cooperatives. These canes were cut by our employees in our cane factories. They were roasted, charred and filled with our Jack Daniels whisky, first in a brand new oak barrel. A very old Jack Daniels. After the whiskey was removed, we sent the casks to the brewery.
Given years of interest in cask-conditioned beer, it is not difficult to find breweries interested in buying second-hand whisky barrels. In San Francisco, Old Potrero gave some to his former partner, Anchor Brewing, who was based in the same building, before the distiller reused these casks to finish his whisky.
But if the brewery and the distillery are not so close to each other, problems of decline can arise. To ensure that the Caskmates’ barrels don’t become mouldy or spoil, Jameson ships them as quickly as possible in reefer containers from partner breweries, Quinn explains.
An additional problem is the yeast that the beer leaves in the keg, which often needs to be filtered for whisky.
Some beer drinkers have no problem with muddy beer, Quinn says. Whisky lovers do not tend to appreciate cloudy whisky.
If beer whisky looks like a marketing trick, distillers like Fletcher say it’s more of a tribute. The old world of whiskey, he says, found its inspiration simply in modern craft beer.
If we look at the current state of American whisky production and focus on innovation, we see that many American whisky consumers are now interested in trying out new flavours and new things, he says. I mean, there’s a lot of big brewers. And frankly, breweries have been innovating and creating new flavors for much longer, especially here in the United States.
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