Beer and whiskey have more in common than just being mates in a boilermaker.
In the early stage of production, beer and whiskey start the same way: as a sweet soup of grains that have had their starch converted to sugar. Whereas beer goes from there to cooking and (often) has hops added before fermentation, whisky goes straight to fermentation, but then also to distillation and years of barrel aging.
Since the two drinks are made from the same stuff, brewing and distilling also share some rather expensive equipment in common as well. This has led some craft brewers to branch out and try their hand at distilling, transforming the very beer you can buy on shelves into whiskey.
“If whiskey starts its life as a distiller’s beer, why not create a flavorful beer and then build upon those robust flavors through distillation and beyond?”
– Bryan Ricard, Sons of Liberty Spirits
Rogue Ales – Newport, Oregon
If you are into craft beer, especially Oregon craft beer, odds are you’re already familiar with Rogue Dead Guy Ale. This brewery became a “brewstillery” and got into making spirits by taking that well-known ale and turning it into an American malt whiskey, and it’s a fine example of how using flavorful beer wort can express itself in a young whiskey. According to Jake Holshue, who makes spirits at Rogue, “Specialty malts aren’t used that often in whiskey. Scotch whisky is usually 90%-100% base malt. In beer, however, specialty malts are used often and create more complex flavors in whiskey.”
Deschutes Brewery – Bend, Oregon
Deschutes is another Oregon brewery that ought to be familiar to any lover of craft beer, but unlike Rogue, it did not take the brewstillery route. Instead of installing some distillery equipment under their own roof, the brewery partnered with Bendistillery, a nearby outfit with a specialty in making spirits under contract. The result was Black Butte Whiskey, made from the same wort as Deschutes’ popular Black Butte Porter.
Charbay Distillery – Napa Valley, California
Family-owned and located in the Napa Valley, Charbay was a forerunner of the modern microdistillery movement; it started as a winery and brandy-maker in 1983. Charbay has collaborated with Bear Republic Brewing Company to distill whiskey from beer for several years now, and, in an odd twist, is now literally distilling whiskey from actual beer. The norm is to use the same wort to produce both beer and whiskey, but Charbay is distilling its whiskeys from finished, ready-to-bottle beer instead. The latest example is its Doubled & Twisted, which is blended from whiskeys made from Bear Republic’s Black Stout plus custom-made malt beer and pilsner.
Sons of Liberty – South Kingstown, Rhode Island
This Rhode Island brewstillery was founded on the premise of making whiskey from beer, and is fresh off winning Craft Producer of the Year 2017 at the annual Icons of Whisky. Its two whiskeys, Uprising and Battle Cry, are made from stout and Belgian ale, respectively. Taking things a step further, Sons of Liberty has also released sherry cask-finished versions of both whiskeys.