Modern brewers regularly dabble in distilleries’ toolsheds, aging rich stouts and barley wines in onetime whiskey and bourbon barrels. Now distillers are turning the tables and producing beer-inspired whiskeys: seasoning them with citrusy hops for a subtle, fruity kick; using ale yeast to give them extra richness; and even distilling IPAs into a hoppy, fragrant liquor. The coupling is hardly crazy when you consider that whiskey and beer are basically fraternal twins.
Whiskey starts its life as “distiller’s beer”—aka wash— that’s fashioned from water, grains, and yeast. That same trifecta is also beer’s foundation. The drinks diverge when the wash is distilled (instead of simply fermented), then wood-aged, slowly developing its trademark notes of vanilla and oak. By adding aromatic hops like Australia’s melon-like Galaxy before distilling, as Nashville’s Corsair distillery does, or transforming a chocolaty porter into 94-proof, slow-sipping whiskey, as Oregon’s Bendistillery does, modern distilleries are creating a compelling twist on the age-old category. Westward American Single Malt, from Portland, Oregon’s House Spirits Distillery, is fermented with the same yeast strain made famous by Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. “It has a much closer relationship to beer than Scotch,” says founder Chris- tian Krogstad. At Brooklyn’s Arcane Distilling, David Kyrejko transforms cultish New York City brews into striking, limited-edition spirits by distilling them at low temperatures.
“With care,” says Kyrejko, “a beer whiskey incorporates the best that the beer has to offer and really bridges the two genres.” It also brings new meaning to the phrase “a shot and a beer.”