Every few months someone poses the same question: What’s next for craft beer? It could be a new type of barrel aging, a long-lost style, or just an unappreciated brew ripe for a resurgence. Or maybe it's … whiskey?
In many ways, this was destined to happen. Whiskey and beer, after all, start off with the same ingredients: sugary grains, yeast, and hot water. Once the yeast has turned the sugar into alcohol, the processes deviate. At that point beer gets hopped up and heads to the bottling line, but whiskey still has to be distilled (concentrated) and placed in a barrel to age.
The pre-distilled "beers" of Macallan or Jim Beam aren’t something you’d want to drink. They’re high in alcohol, sweet, and a tiny bit sour — what one might describe as apple cobbler and runny oatmeal. That’s the ideal character for bourbon and scotch and most of the whiskey you drink, but turning beer into whiskey means new flavors, and the potential for more complex, new products.
This has been done before: Whiskies have been produced with beer coming from places like Sierra Nevada and New Holland Brewing. But the market for beer whiskey is growing. A year ago Berkshire Mountain Distillers announced an initiative to turn 15 craft brews into whiskies. They’re currently making whiskey from the likes of Harpoon, Terrapin, Sam Adams, Ommegang, and plenty more. Even in Louisville, where bourbon reigns supreme, Copper & Kings distillery is working on experimental distillations of Kentucky craft brews.
How soon they have bottles of these whiskies is a big unknown. One thing's for sure: the barrel-aging process will take years. Distillers don’t know how long it will take to turn these beers into great whiskey: two years, four years — six, ten, or even more?
For now, you’ll have to search if you want to try beer whiskies, because when they’re released, they sell off quickly.
Three Whiskeys Made from Craft Beer
Two Lanterns American Whiskey
Here, Sam Adams Boston Lager is triple distilled and aged in ex-bourbon barrels.
Charbay's R5 Lot No. 4
Bear Republic Brewery's award-winning Racer 5 IPA, in whiskey form.
Dead Guy Whiskey
The same three malts as Rogue's Platinum medal–winning Dead Guy Ale make this whiskey.