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New Holland Double Feature

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One of the more interesting crossovers between beer and bourbon is New Holland's Beer Barrel Bourbon. First, they get old bourbon barrels to age their imperial stout in, resulting in Dragon's Milk (that accessible beginners BBA beer that is a reliable standby). Next, they went out and sourced some bourbon (presumably from MGP, because who else?) at 110-115 proof, then dumped that into the old Dragon's Milk barrels (i.e. this is a third use barrel). The result is a beer barrel finished bourbon that lots of people seem to enjoy and that I thought I'd never find. However, during a recent jaunt to the Garden State, I spied a bottle of this very juice and immediately snatched it up, knowing in my heart that I would also snag a Dragon's Milk to complete the double feature. So let's get it on with some hot bourbon on beer action:

Beer and Beer Barrel Finished Bourbon
(Click to Embiggen)

New Holland Dragon's Milk - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light tan head. Smells sweet, lots of vanilla, a little caramel, hints of roast. Taste has a nice caramel and vanilla character to it, roast in the background. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, smooth and creamy, no real evidence of booze. Overall, it's not quite the revelation it once was, but it's a rock solid BBA stout and you have to admire the price point and availability. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/12/15. Vintage: 2015.

New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon - Pours a light golden color. Smells kinda new makish, but with a nice kick, vanilla and caramel and toffee. The vanilla seems most prominent. Taste again has some new make rawness to it, a little more prominent in the taste than the nose, but there is some hints of vanilla in the background. Mouthfeel is light and smooth, hardly even boozy (ah, it's 80 proof, that explains it). Overall, its a little disappointing, but it's also interesting enough that I tried it. Was it worth the flier on the whole bottle? I'd have to drink more to find out for sure. Who knows, maybe it will grow on me. For now: B-

Whiskey Nerd Details: 40% ABV bottle (750 ml). Drank out of a glencairn glass on 12/12/15.

Beer Nerd Musings: The beer barrel almost certainly lent some of those vanilla, caramel, and toffee notes to the bourbon, but my guess is that cutting it down to 80 proof did this a disservice. I'm not looking for barrel proof here, but maybe give us a little more heft, let those beery notes shine, you know? I'm betting this would be fine cocktail material though, and I should really try that. There are apparently some other beer barrel finished whiskeys out there. Sku has tried Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon (which used barrels from Hardywood's BBA Gingerbread Stout) and found it interesting, but perhaps not whole bottle interesting. Berkshire Mountain Distillers has a whole series of beer cask finished bourbons, using barrels from the likes of Troegs, Sam Adams, and Terrapin. I'm sure there are others, but the all appear to be small micro-distilleries, and thus it feels like they'd all be a little young. I'd gladly try more though!

This was fun, and something I will clearly need to try again soon. It appears that New Holland has even started putting out some variants of Dragon's Milk, though none of them sound particularly exciting to me. If I see one, I might take a flier on it, because I'm the worst.

Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded folk from my work who get together every month at a local BYOB for drinkening and fun. Minor error in tonight's choice of establishment in that it's summertime, so it's super hot, and this place isn't air conditioned. Great pizza and sandwiches though. It actually wasn't that bad, but it's off the list for summer events from nows on... Anywho, solid turnout and lots of great beer. I event remembered to take a picture (unlike last month):

Beer Club - July 2013

One of my friends was all scared about what she should bring and so she was trying to downplay her contribution, but then was all "So my friend from Vermont thought you might like this," and pulled out two cans of Heady Topper. She wins beer club.

For the sake of posterity, random thoughts on each beer below. Standard disclaimers regarding small samples and less than ideal conditions, but don't worry, next month we're renting out sensory deprivation chambers and using industrial grade palate cleansers between each sip. But for now, you'll have to settle for imperfection:

  • Kona Wailua Wheat - A pretty straightforward take on a wheat beer, unremarkable, but a nice first taste for the night. B-
  • The Alchemist Heady Topper - Hard to believe, but I actually scored a 4 pack of this stuff last week, so there will be a more detailed review in the next couple days. In short, it's superb. Stay tuned for more (review probably posted on Thursday). A
  • San Miguel Pale Pilsen - From the best beer of the night to the worst. This was actually a can of beer from 2007. Vintage! A friend at work visited the Philippines and brought a couple of us back a can of this stuff. It's pretty generic, bland pilsner stuff, but let's just say there's a reason you don't age pilseners. It's actually not undrinkable, but it's definitely started to get that apple-like off flavor and not something I'd ever want to drink except in small quantities as a joke, like it was tonight. D
  • Professor Fritz Briem 1809 Berliner Weisse - From unintentionally sour and bad to intentionally sour and pretty damn good. One of my contributions! Berliner Weisse (translates to "Jelly Donut Wheat") is a style that's hit or miss for me, but this one is a definite hit, and it was perfect for the hot summer night. Super light, crisp, refreshing tartness, really nice. Definitely worth trying. B+ or A-
  • Horny Goat Watermelon Wheat - Watermelon can work in beer, but it did not work at all for me here. It had this weird artificial twang to it coupled with a sorta almost spicy note? Really weird and unpleasant. Lots of strange faces made around the group, though one person liked it enough. Me, I give it a D
  • Ommegang Fleur De Houblon - One of the recent Ommegang releases that I've been slacking on, this one is a pretty straightforward Belgian Pale Ale, with a nice floral hop character, maybe some herbalness, but it all matches well with Ommegang's standard Belgian yeast flavors (spicy and banana). I wouldn't describe it as super hoppy, and there isn't a lot of bitterness, but there are some hop flavors here. Not an amazing beer, but definitely worth drinking. B
  • Jolly Pumpkin Baudelaire IO - One of my contributions and a beer I've reviewed before. Yep, still a great beer, more fruity and less funky than I remember, but that may be a function of drinking a bunch of other beers and eating food and whatnot. Still fantastic, no matter what, and everyone seemed to enjoy it and would come back to this after some of the next beers (though one person noted that the label artist was stealing the style of another artist!) Still an A- in my book, and I've got another one in the cellar just in case I want another taste.
  • Heavy Seas Holy Sheet (Brandy Barrel) - I like it. It's got a typical Belgian dubbel sorta vibe, but nice rich, boozy Brandy notes hit at the front of the taste before those raisins and molasses kick in during the middle to finish. It was a little too warm when we opened it, but I'll give it a solid B+ for now.
  • New Holland Envious - I got a very cough syrupy vibe off this thing, which wasn't the grossest beer evar, but not particularly great either. The fruit comes through a bit, but there's that syrupy feel that sorta drags it down, and I didn't get much oak at all. Actually very disappointing. I suppose my palate could have potentially been shot by this point, but it still was not very good. D
  • Victory Otto in Oak - My last contribution, I was a little worried about this because I hadn't tried it since it first came out (when I loved it) and I'd traded a few of them out recently, so I was curious to see how it's held up. Apparently pretty well! Indeed, the smoke has faded even more than it had when I first tried it, and the rich bourbon and oak character was really nice. It's not something that beer nerds will go completely wild over, but I really enjoy it and think it retains the A- rating I initially gave it.
At this point I got a phone call telling my that my neighbors (the folks who live under me) had water dripping into their condo, so I had to leave (fortunately, I think we were mostly finished at this point). It turns out that the water leak was not coming from my condo, so all is well at Kaedrin HQ. Stay tuned, some exciting beer on its way, including that Heady Topper review (so good). So all in all, a successful night and naturally, already looking forward to the next meeting.

Dragon's Milk

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It's not exactly a secret that I love me some bourbon barrel aged beers, so it will come as no surprise that I really enjoyed this offering from Michigan's New Holland Brewery. Maybe I've got a problem, but there's just something magical that happens when you put beer into a bourbon barrel for aging. I just love the added richness of flavor, complexity, and thick, chewy mouthfeel that comes with the territory.

Dragon's Milk is aged in old Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels for at least 90 days. As previously discussed, this is partially due to the fact that the legal definition of Bourbon says that the whiskey must be aged on new oak, leading to a big secondary market of used oak barrels that brewers can latch onto. But apparently New Holland can only use those secondary Bourbon barrels once to age beer. "Second-use barrels don't give the beer the same character," says New Holland's Brett VanderKamp.

But this is where things get really intriguing. New Holland also runs a small, artisanal spirits business, and they've started to use their old Dragon's Milk barrels to age their whiskey... Consider my mind blown. What a great idea. When I was in line for Dark Wednesday, some beer nerds and I discussed the possibilities of this very thing (aging whiskey in beer barrels). I didn't think it would happen so soon, but it's a welcome development. This is apparently still in the prototyping phase, though both Jim and Don from the Beer and Whisky Brothers managed to get a hold of some of the stuff. The verdict: everyone seems to love it. It seems something magical happens when you put whiskey in a beer barrel for aging. I absolutely need to get my hands on some of this stuff.

In the meantime, I'll have to make do with some regular old Bourbon barrel aged beer:

New Holland Dragons Milk

New Holland Dragon's Milk - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a small amount of tan head. Smells fantastic. Lots of roasted malt, caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, bourbon, and oak in the nose. Taste starts off very sweet, rich flavors of caramel, milk chocolate, vanilla, light bourbon and oak. Just a hint of roasted malts. Mouthfeel is full bodied and chewy, perfectly balanced richness and carbonation. Goes down surprisingly easy, maybe a bit of alcohol warming when you drink quickly, but it still doesn't feel as strong as it is... Overall, fantastic beer! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 6/1/12.

I have no idea if and when this beer barrel bourbon will be available, but if I get a chance to try some, I'll be sure to let you know. In any case, my consumption of barrel aged beers will probably continue to be unhealthily high. Summer seems a little less barrel-agey, but don't worry, I'm sure I'll be hitting up plenty of interesting stuff in the coming weeks.

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