American whiskey tradition is in a golden age of experimentation. Within the final decade, we’ve seen (and drank) whiskeys aged in uncommon woods, and in barrels that previously held the whole lot from wine to tequila. However whiskey might have discovered its subsequent nice development: stout cask ending.
Distilleries are all the time searching for new issues to attempt. Even essentially the most spartan manufacturers have launched experimental releases lately. However whereas some experiments haven’t been so profitable, stout casks have caught the eye of various grasp distillers.
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Stout casking is a reasonably easy course of. Distillers lend used whiskey barrels to breweries, lots of whom use these whiskey barrels to age beers like imperial stouts. “Brewers are all the time searching for whiskey barrels,” says Westward grasp distiller Miles Munroe, “so we’d handed some alongside up to now, by no means anticipating them again.”
However because the demand for brand new experimental merchandise has grown amongst whiskey nerds, a few of the buying and selling between brewer and distiller has develop into round—as soon as the beer is emptied out of the barrels, the barrels return to the distillery, to be crammed once more with whiskey that has already been getting older. The whiskey (normally a couple of years previous already) can be put into these barrels—which held beer days earlier than—the place it should relaxation for months or years, taking over the beer’s essence.
For Munroe, who had labored beforehand at Portland-based Migration Brewery, the thought got here when he wished to see what occurred to Westward whiskey after resting in a barrel that had aged considered one of his favourite beers. “Migration requested for a barrel [for its Belgian chocolate stout]. It occurred to us that Westward has this nice chocolate type of roasty end, and that stout may splendidly complement it.”
So Munroe loaned them the barrels below the understanding that when Migration was achieved with them, Westward would get them again. A yr later, Munroe obtained the empty barrels, and put 5-year-old whiskey into them for a year-long end.
The outcomes have been scrumptious—and fashionable. “We offered out of it very quickly,” explains Munroe. “It did simply precisely what I’d hope—it really turned out even higher, in that it form of dried out the whiskey with these roasted notes, after which it added this florality that I used to be simply not anticipating.”
After a couple of extra assessments (and partnerships with a number of extra breweries), Westward ultimately launched Westward Stout Cask late final yr. The whiskey is loaded with aromas of chocolate-covered cherries and nutty sweetness. On the palate, it’s wealthy, silky, and syrupy, with tons of creamy vanilla fudge notes, however balanced with a nice dryness, stopping it from feeling like a “dessert whiskey.”
The end is outstanding, nevertheless it doesn’t overshadow Westward’s character—one thing that’s by design, in accordance with Munroe. “I would like the end to enrich the whiskey,” he says. “I would like the end to showcase sure features of the whiskey, relatively than be a flavoring that masks one thing within the whiskey.”
A number of hundred miles away in Seattle, Westland Whiskey has been doing related initiatives concurrently, although its have come together with much less of a laser focus. “We’re not giving the breweries any path [about how to use our barrels],” says Westland Grasp Distiller Matt Hoffman. “We would like them to make use of the casks as they’d usually see match. It’s our job to work with what’s offered. I feel that’s a way more compelling strategy.”
Westland has, by way of this strategy, been capable of work with two stout initiatives to date: a Russian Imperial stout end (from Kulshan brewing), launched in 2018, and one other final yr, completed in espresso stout casks that have been blended with casks utilized by the identical brewery (Black Raven) to age a cherry bitter.
Westland has produced two very totally different whiskeys with them. “With the Kulshan,” explains Hoffman, “the affect was an prolonged little bit of richness; it made it much more decadent. After which when it got here to the Black Raven one, we have been going to do them as two separate releases, however what we discovered was that, placing them collectively, you ended up with this nearly cocktail-like taste affect. It was like having a Manhattan with chocolate bitters.”
Hoffman says they knew the whiskey was a winner as a result of the brightness of the bitter and the deeper richness of the espresso stout balanced one another so brilliantly. “We imagine very strongly that, in case you have a balanced whiskey, it’s higher whiskey.”
Whiskey has all the time been a utilitarian product: the primary distillers have been ostensibly simply discovering a solution to protect (and promote) extra grain on the finish of a season. And as whiskey has advanced over the centuries, many of the improvements have been born from comfort: an empty sherry barrel led to the primary sherry completed Scotch; an extra of used bourbon barrels led to them being offered to makers of tequila, rum, and different whiskeys for use once more for getting older.
Used beer barrels are simply the most recent iteration of this comfort mannequin of innovation. And it appears to be taking place all over the place, together with a launch from the Jameson Caskmates collection of beer-finished Irish whiskeys.
Each Westland and Westward produce American single malt whiskey within the Northwest, however the story was related in Tennessee the place, final yr, Jack Daniel’s launched a small quantity of Tennessee Tasters Barrel Reunion #2: Jack Daniel’s whiskey completed in oatmeal stout casks from an area brewery.
Barrel Reunion #2 is clearly a Jack Daniel’s whiskey, nevertheless it appears to rumble extra on the low finish: the oatmeal stout lends a mouth-coating and silky texture, and layers of vanilla, whereas softening rye spice notes and butterscotch.
The Tennessee Tasters line of whiskeys is a small-production line of experiments which can be solely offered inside the state, so many of the bottles of the half dozen releases have by no means left Tennessee.
However Jack Daniel’s grasp distiller Jeff Arnett was so blown away by the outcomes from the primary run that he’s cautiously optimistic there can be extra to come back. “I really feel prefer it set a fairly excessive bar so far as what I can get out of a mission like that,” says Arnett. “I feel stout is unquestionably excessive on my record [to return to].”
In the mean time, most of those whiskeys can be tough to search out exterior of collector’s circles, although there’s some excellent news: Westward’s Stout Cask remains to be accessible for about $90, and a brand new launch from Rogue (which had outstanding notes of chocolate lined cherry and tootsie roll) for about $70. Extra batches of each are more likely to be accessible yearly, and it’s clear we’ll be seeing related releases from different distilleries within the coming years.
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