Double Booze Review: Oak Aged Beer

In honor of American Craft Beer Week, we went in search of some truly unique American beers and found these two: the 18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA from Great Divide Brewing Co. and Funky Jewbelation by Schmaltz Brewing Company.

Two oak aged beers from Great Divide Brewing Co. and Schmaltz Brewing

Aging beer in wood barrels isn’t a new practice.  Before cheap production of glass bottles became possible as a result of the Industrial Revolution, nearly all beer was stored in wood barrels right up until it was served. If it took a few months for a brewer to sell a barrel of beer to a bar owner, then another month to transport the barrel from an eastern brewery to, say, a bar in a distant frontier town, and then another month or two for the bar’s patrons to drain the barrel, a beer could easily end up taking on an aged flavor simply as a matter of circumstance, if not by design.

Despite historical precedent and the widespread use of barrel aging in wine and liquor, finding a barrel aged beer in a modern grocery store or beer distributor can be tough. Though I can’t say I’m surprised. My initial reaction from both of these beers is that they’re more challenging than your average porter, or even IPA. These aren’t beers that you can sip absentmindedly while doing or discussing other things. These beers demand attention.

18th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA

The Great Divide Brewing Company is based out of Denver, Colorado and has, apparently, been around for about 18 years now. Great Divide produces 21 different brews, though they don’t seem to have one that you could call their flagship label (like how Rogue has Dead Guy Ale, or Magic Hat has #9).

The 18th Anniversary brew is aged in American and French oak, which gives it an earthy undertone beneath the hoppy high notes. The result is complex, almost to the point of being overwhelming. This is an interesting beer, and I’m glad I tried it, but I’m not sure I’d order a full pint of it.

Funky Jewbelation

This funky brew is a blend of six different Schmaltz ales aged in whiskey barrels (73%) and bourbon barrels (27%). The result is a nearly 10% ABV dark beer that has an almost wine-like sweetness and a great head.  Individual notes and flavors  are tough to sort out and identify probably due to the six different beers mixed together. The result is muddled, but overall pretty drinkable for a dedicated dark beer lover. Truly, it is a novelty beer that you’ll probably drink once and enjoy. Schmaltz has some way better seasonal offerings that I would go for instead.

Though neither of these brews are great, it’s good to see that American craft brewers are taking risks. Even within the craft beer niche, it’d be easy to settle into a pattern of bold but repetitive IPAs and chocolate stouts. So as this year’s American Craft Beer Week wraps up, go out and find a beer you’ve never tried before. Try something odd or different sounding. Someone was bold enough to craft this fine beer, you can at least be bold enough to sip it.

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Mint Julep

We booze nerds sometimes get carried away by the details of a drink’s flavor, debating the merits of finishing casks, whether vodka can or even should have terrior, and other such minutia that so quickly seem vastly important. But one thing that is often overlooked, and quite unfairly so, is aroma. A drink should stimulate at lease four of your five senses with flavor, mouthfeel, appearance, and aroma. I even enjoy the rhythm of a skillfully shaken cocktail.

Since we are only days away from that auspicious American tradition, the Kentucky Derby, we thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to highlight one of the great aromatic cocktails, the Mint Julep. The julep is a profoundly simple drink to make and yields a wonderfully delicious refreshment.

Seen above is a traditional julep glass. While not necessary to enjoy a Mint Julep, it does help inflate your feeling of American bourgeois sophistication.

While Mint Juleps have been made with a variety of spirits in the past, Kentucky bourbon has been the standard for nearly a century. Additionally, some recipes will tell you to muddle your mint in the bottom of the glass, however this destroys the drink’s aromatic qualities and yields a sub-par cocktail. Instead, let your mint leaves float on the top of your Mint Julep and as you sip, breathe in with your nose. This way, the scent of the mint intermingles with the flavor of the bourbon as you drink.

1 oz simple syrup

3 oz Kentucky bourbon

2-3 mint leaves

Fill your glass (or silver julep cup) to the top with crushed ice. Pour over this your simple syrup, then bourbon. Stir until your ingredients are well mixed and a fog begins to accumulate on the outside of your glass (or ice on your julep cup). Garnish with mint and serve.

Traditional julep cups are made of silver so that as you mix, a thin film of ice should accumulate on the outside of your cup. This keeps your drink colder longer on a hot Kentucky afternoon. But for those not born with a silver cup in your mouth, a julep glass like the one shown above is also a great way to serve this drink.

Also, I hear Mint Juleps taste better when enjoyed beneath a giant floppy hat.

Why I do declare.

Film Fridays: The Secret of Kells and the Wild Irish Rose

The day before St. Patrick’s Day it would be downright irresponsible of me to neglect the Irish contribution to cinema and booze in today’s Film Friday post. A few of my favorite films happen to be Irish including Intermission and Breakfast on Pluto, or feature Irish leads as in The Boondock Saints and In America. I even considered throwing a curve-ball with The Company of Wolves, which as a horror nerd I rank at the third best werewolf transformation scene after An American Werewolf in London and The Howling III: The Marsupials.

But I’ll save the gruesome horror and gore for another week. Instead I decided to go in the other direction with one of the most beautifully animated children’s films that I’ve ever seen, The Secret of Kells. Children’s cinema and booze are, admittedly, not the most obvious match. But I wouldn’t have chosen this flick if it didn’t hold at least as much appeal for adults as for children. Plus, the film’s got an Oscar nomination to back me up.

The Secret of Kells

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New Year’s Eve 2011: Nomayo

While our previous two cocktails, the French 75 and Scotch Royale are classics, our third and final New Year’s cocktail is a new one. The distinguishing ingredient here is St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, which has only been on the market a few years. Even so, this distinct French import has found its way into a host of fantastic new cocktails, plus the deco-tastic bottle looks great on any bar.

This recipe was pulled directly from the St. Germain website.

1 1/2 oz vodka or gin (we used vodka)

3/4 oz St. Germain

1/2 oz lemon juice

top with champagne

Fill a shaker half full of ice and shake all ingredients except the champagne. Strain into a chilled champagne flute or coupe and top with champagne. Garnish with an orange peel.

The Nomayo

New Year’s Eve 2011: Scotch Royale

A variation on the traditional Champagne Cocktail (just champagne, sugar, and bitters), the addition of scotch makes this a little stronger and an excellent New Year’s tipple for whisky fans. This is the second installment of our three day series of champagne-based cocktails leading up to New Year’s Eve. Yesterday we posted the classic French 75, and check back tomorrow for the Nomayo.

1 1/2 oz scotch whisky

1 cube sugar

3-4 dashes aromatic bitters

top with champagne

Drop the sugar cube into the bottom of your champagne flute or coupe and add bitters, then scotch. Top with champagne.

Scotch Royale

New Years Eve 2011: French 75

Well Christmas is over and we’ve said farewell to Egg Nog for another year (officially anyway). Now it’s time to move on to the next major drinking holiday: New Year’s Eve! For our party this year, we’re moving beyond the traditional to something a bit more exciting. We’ve invited each of our guests to bring the cheapest bottle of champagne or sparkling white wine that they can find, and we’ll use them to mix three different champagne-based cocktails. This is a fantastic way to drink well on New Year’s without breaking the bank on a $50 bottle of bubbly.

We’ll post one cocktail per day leading up to New Year’s Eve, so check back often!

Today’s cocktail is the ever-classic French 75, named after an artillery gun used by the French army in World War One. The traditional recipe calls for lime juice, but we think it works much better with lemon. You can also substitute brandy or cognac for the gin to make this a French 76.

A French 75 can also be served on the rocks in a highball glass

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Canfield Killer Egg Nog

This recipe, passed down by my father from a former co-worker, is a departure from the more traditional egg nogs we’ve posted recently. Alton Brown’s recipe is the more traditional egg nog, Trader Vic takes nog back to the basics, but Canfield Killer Nog is like the Epic Meal Time variation of egg nog. Even more so because to get this recipe down to a reasonable size – this one makes about a half gallon pitcher – I had to quarter the original measurements. Whereas previous recipes called for about 3 oz of booze per pitcher of nog, this recipe is around one third whiskey, brandy, and rum.

We’ll be enjoying our own batch of Canfield Killer Egg Nog at the Carrick family Christmas gathering. Check out our facebook page for photos!

5                           eggs

1/2 cup                 sugar

1 cup                     whiskey

1/2 cup                 brandy

1/2 cup                 rum

1 cup                     light cream

2 cups                   milk

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a large mixing bowl. We won’t be using the whites, so save those for an egg white omelet or some other irrelevant foolishness. Beat the yolks until they’re light in color and consistency. While still beating, slowly add the sugar, cream, milk, and booze one at a time. Transfer to a pitcher or punch bowl and chill. This is an egg nog that benefits from aging, which rounds the flavor and smooths the texture. You should make this nog at least a few hours before serving, but you can let it age for several weeks so long as it’s refrigerated. According to Linda Canfield, “The longer it sits, the better it tastes.”