May is our anniversary month and we are excited to release Bois (pronounced "Bwah!"), our fifth anniversary ale this week! This beer is brewed in the English-style Old Ale tradition using our house Belgian yeast strain and then blended using the solera method, where a portion of each of our anniversary ales is saved in our barrels and blended in with the next year's production, providing more complexity and depth of character that comes with age.
In our fifth year, we've decided that using just one kind of barrel is not enough for this beer. Five separate small batches of Bois have been quietly resting in five different kinds of barrels: bourbon, rye, brandy, new American oak, and French oak.
Though bourbon's past is still somewhat disputed, it is clear that its history in Kentucky is a big part of the story. As settlers began to move deeper into the states, those with distilling knowledge were at a slight advantage since water was scarce and grain spirits were easier to transport than the grain itself. Many of these settlers were of Irish or Scottish descent so they were already farmers or distillers by trade, which coupled perfectly with Kentucky's climate and natural limestone water filter to develop bourbon as we know it. Whether Elijah Craig of Evan Williams "invented" bourbon, it was the characteristics of Kentucky that ultimately made bourbon, bourbon.
However, bourbon can be made anywhere in the US, not just in Kentucky. "Though all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon is a very specific type of whiskey," explains Preston Van Winkle, Marketing Manager at Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery in Kentucky and great grandson of "Pappy" Van Winkle. One of the main differences between bourbon and whiskey is the use of corn in the recipe. There's even a federal law in place that stipulates precisely what legally defines bourbon. The standards of identity state that it "is whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type."
Brewer & Distiller Josh Rapp from Stranahans Colorado Whiskey may exclusively make single malt whiskey, but he knows and loves his bourbon. "When I drink bourbon what I am really looking for is complexity. Because of the grain restrictions on bourbons many of them taste exactly like what they are made of: a bunch of corn! Don't get me wrong, I do like the taste of distilled corn based spirit. It is sweet, evaporative and warming but it can also be harsh. I always look for straight bourbons (aged at least 2 years) and enjoy it when they are aged even longer than that because of the added complexity I mentioned. My favorite readily available [options] come from Pappy Van Winkle but if I am trying to save some dollars I like the George Dickel Barrel Select,"
Different kinds of bourbon can range from "high corn" recipes to "wheaters" to "bottled in bond." To find your favorite kind, we like this very thorough post from Epicurious. We use lots of Kentucky's own Heaven Hill barrels here at The Bruery, but you can also find bourbon and whiskey barrels from Elijah Craig, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, George Dickel, Maker's Mark, Buffalo Trace, and Old Fitzgerald in barrel aging programs at craft breweries. Not only do these barrels impart their own distinct flavors, they also up the ABV on a beer resting within an additional 2-4%!
"Bourbon typically has notes of caramel and vanilla. The amount of time it spends in the barrel has a lot to do with the flavor," explains Preston. "The longer in the barrel, the oakier. Also, the recipe dictates how the bourbon will interact with the wood. Bourbons made with rye pick up heavier barrel notes and are spicier, while bourbons made with wheat, like ours, are generally sweeter, softer and more elegant, picking up the lighter, toasty notes from the barrel. With barrel aged beers, if the barrel is too old or the beer aged too long, the beer won't gain any of the benefit from the barrel. It can be bitter and too woody."
Reserve Society members. By the end of the year, French oak barrel aged Bois will be available exclusively to Hoarders.
Bois 100% ale aged in bourbon barrels
Grain bill: It's a secret! But we can tell you we use less than 8% crystal malt
Tasting notes: dark caramel, dates, coconut, burnt wood, dried apricot, vanilla