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.