Beer and whiskey have an intimate relationship that goes way beyond the boilermaker or beer cocktail at your local dive bar. “Both beer and whiskey follow a similar process,” explains Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ founder Chris Weld, “in that the grains are cooked with water, then the grains get strained out leaving a mixture of water and carbohydrates that is then fermented.” This is commonly known as distiller’s beer. To make whiskey, the liquid is distilled in column or pot stills, often several times over. So given how closely intertwined beer and whiskey are, it makes perfect sense that the two are intermingling in new and innovative ways.
Beer has long been finished in whiskey casks to give it a particular flavor. Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company has been releasing a bourbon barrel-aged stout for over 20 years, appropriately called Bourbon County Stout. “The process takes place in a non-climate-controlled space,” according to the company, “allowing exposure to the extreme heat and cold of Chicago’s ecosystem, which contracts and expands the wood, pulling the barrel’s whiskey character into our brew.” In other words, this is exactly what happens in a distillery’s rickhouse. Recently, whiskey brands have been finishing their spirits in beer casks to impart additional flavor. Jameson Caskmates, a collaboration with Cork, Ireland’s Franciscan Well Brewery, was released last year. The brewery aged some of its beer in Jameson casks and then returned them to the Midleton distillery where they were refilled with Jameson, imparting a stout flavor to the whiskey.
But the marriage between beer and whiskey doesn’t end there. Berkshire Mountain Distillers and Samuel Adams just released a new whiskey called Two Lanterns, which is distilled from beer. “There are a few folks doing it in the industry,” says Weld, “but not many. We do it because we love to collaborate with craft brewers who are innovators, and because we think it’s fun and super geeky.” Speaking of geeky, other craft brewers and distillers have been experimenting with amaro-flavored beer, distilling clear spirits like gin from beer, and even attempting to revive an old German liqueur called bierschnaps. Here are some of the best new beer-spirits collaborations you can find right now.
Two Lanterns Whiskey
Samuel Adams may have started out as a small craft brewery, but it’s grown into a very successful national brand. For founder and brewer Jim Koch, working with the much smaller Berkshire Mountain Distillers was a perfect match. “There are many parallels between making spirits and brewing beer,” he says. “Marrying the two not only makes sense, but will also produce a drink that beer and spirits lovers alike can enjoy.” The result of this marriage is Two Lanterns whiskey, triple distilled from Samuel Adams’ flagship Boston Lager, and aged for four years in bourbon barrels. The barrels will find a second life, as they will head back to the brewery to be used to age beer that will be released at some point in the future.
Credit: Berkshire Mountain Distillers