Beer and bourbon are made for each other. In fact, you have to make a sort of beer before you can make bourbon, though it’s corn-based and not that good for sipping. Both are made from grains and use yeast and water, and both began as a way to preserve crops and give people access to calories when food was scarce. So it just makes sense that you can enjoy them together, sometimes even at the same time.
According to Goose Island’s Brewmaster, Keith Gabbett, Goose Island was the first to come up with the idea of aging beer in a bourbon barrel, giving rise to this popular category of craft beers.
The idea to put the whiskey back into the barrels afterward to finish it came, as many of these ideas do, from a night of beer and whiskey that sparked an inspiration.
Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout has always been aged in used bourbon barrels and it’s only sold as an aged product unlike many other types of beer. It was designed that way – to be big and bold so it could withstand some time in a bourbon barrel, says Goose Island R&D Manager Mike Siegel.
The flavors from the stout and the whiskey naturally complement each other very well. It’s boldly fruity while also being soft and gentle. There are lots of notes of chocolate from the stout, and there’s also an espresso finish from the roasted grains in the beer.
Most of the barrels for these regular and special releases come from Heaven Hill, so the idea to send some of their barrels back to them seemed like a natural fit.
For this particular collaboration, the barrels are 8-12 years old Elijah Craig barrels from Warehouse I in Bardstown on the 5th floor. It’s the Elijah Craig mashbill – 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley.
Playing in the innovation sandbox like this is fun, Heaven Hill Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll says.
Currently this release is only available for curbside pickup at Heaven Hill visitor centers in Bardstown and Louisville, and more may be released but quantities are extremely limited.
Will this be made again?
“This was an experiment that went really well,” O’Driscoll says. “Watch this space.”
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl