First draft: Brewers test advantages of whiskey-barrel-aged beers
What do you get when you take a quality locally brewed beer and age it in a freshly drained spirit barrel?
Something different. Something magical.
Of course, breweries and distilleries in places like Kentucky’s famed Bourbon Trail have known this for ages. Proof recently was on display at the North Shore’s Beer Market, which last week ran out of its Kentucky Bourbon Ale, brewed by Lexington Brewing Co. (It was stunningly good — like a shot of bourbon mixed in with a smooth, malty ale.)
Fortunately, we don’t need to go to Kentucky to find really good barrel-aged beers. Because right here in Pittsburgh, we have delicious locally-brewed beer, and we have delicious locally distilled spirits.
Put them together, and you get something different, something magical.
“The idea is that whiskey is distilled beer, so we make beer before we make whiskey,” Meredith Grelli, Wigle co-owner, says. “And we have the region’s best breweries all doing exciting stuff with beer in barrels. So, we came up with the Good Wood Festival.”
The idea is actually a merger of two independently planned celebrations.
East End and Wigle were both planning events for the fall, unaware of the other’s plans, says Scott Smith, East End’s founder and owner (though he prefers the title of CLO, or Chief Libation Officer).
“It was kind of like, ‘What are you doing?’ — ‘Well, what are you doing?’ ” Smith says. “They want to cultivate a market for their barrels, so people know they’re available. And we wanted to introduce our (barrel-aged) beers. So …”
A festival was born.
It starts Nov. 16 at Wigle’s Barrelhouse in Spring Garden with a homebrewers competition . The winner gets to take home a Wigle barrel “for their next homebrew experiment,” Grelli says.
David Harrie, a Wigle distiller and homebrewer, says different barrels will suit different beer types.
Brewing a saison? Try aging it in a rye-whiskey barrel.
“A rye is such a spicy spirit, those spice levels would interplay nicely with a saison,” Harrie says. “Another idea for a saison is a gin barrel. It would have just enough spice and botanicals that it might have an interesting interaction. That’s a more daring move, but really interesting.”
The headliner event comes Nov. 22 when East End will unveil this year’s series of barrel-aged beers at its Julius Street home (which recently became a brewpub, Shenanigans ).
On tap will be Old Knobby, East End’s bourbon barrel-aged version of its Old Nebby Stock Ale; Homewood reserve, which is what happens when BlackStrap Stout sits for at least nine months in a bourbon barrel and soaks up the distinct smoky characteristics of a good Kentucky bourbon; and the Bourbon Barrel Aged Gratitude Barleywine, for those seeking a very big beer.
“You’re getting more than just booze out of the barrel,” Smith says of the barrel-aging process. “You’re also getting the tannins and oak characters that really round out the flavor.”
Several other local breweries will offer samples of their barrel-aged beers, including Full Pint Brewing Co ., Lavery Brewing Co ., North Country Brewing Co ., Penn Brewery , Rivertowne Brewing , Roundabout Brewery and Voodoo Brewery .
Other events include a special dinner Nov. 19 at Wigle’s barrelhouse. Wigle, East End and Legume Restaurant will match a cocktail and beer with each course.
The following night at the Independent Brewing Co . in Squirrel Hill, patrons will get a lesson on which spirits match best with different local beers.
For instance, says the Independent’s manager Pete Kurzeweg: “You can take a rum and pair it with a sweeter stout, and that goes together quite well because the vanilla notes from the rum barrel goes well with the chocolaty notes of a sweeter stout.
“Also, we found you can pair a Wigle Landlocked rum with a Brew Gentleman’s White Sky (chai wheat beer). That one is super-non-obvious (but) the honey base of the Landlocked worked perfectly with the chai spices in the White Sky.”
Call it a crash course on how to sound sophisticated when ordering the dive bar staple of a shot and a beer.
Chris Togneri once watched curiously as a group of Irishmen dropped espresso shots into their Guinness pints. After trying it himself, it no longer seemed curious. Reach him [email protected] or on Twitter a @ChrisTogneri .