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Bourbon with Your Beer

Jack Bettridge
Posted: August 8, 2008

Since Bourbon was first created in the late eighteenth century, beer has been the platform from which it springs. Now, a whiskey is returning the favor by lending flavor at the back end of the production of an intriguing brew called Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Bourbon is made from a mash high in corn content that creates a non-carbonated beer that is then distilled and aged in oak casks. The Bourbon Barrel Stout makes use of those casks for a 60-day barrel aging that picks up flavors from the wood. Bluegrass Brewing Co. and McLain & Kyne Distillery, both of Louisville, Kentucky, collaborate on the stout. BBC brews it and M&K provides barrels, which have previously held its signature Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon.

By law, Bourbon must be aged in new, charred-oak barrels. The industry typically sells off its used barrels for use in aging other spirits, such as Scotch and rum.

Scott Roussell, the managing director of BBC, says that the stout was created as a vehicle to bring the local brewery into the national arena and it helps that it ties in with Bourbon, of which Kentucky is the birthplace. He and Trey Zoeller, president of M&K, had been kicking around ideas on how to brand together and settled on the Bourbon Barrel Stout because BBC's brewer, David Pierce, had made a similar product in the past. Roussell reports that it has been especially popular in barrooms, where the draft version is pulled with a tap handle made from a barrel stave taken from the casks they use.

The time spent in oak barrels imparts delicate vanilla and maple candy flavors reminiscent of the Bourbon that had once occupied the casks. The taste is smoother, rounder and less roasted than such familiar stouts as Guinness. The brew is made from a mix of special pale, wheat and chocolate malts and English Roast barley. Roussell says it is less hoppy than the company's other brews, using Northern Brewer and English East Kent Goldings hops.

Another marked difference is that the alcohol content of the stout is 8 percent compared with the company's usual 4 percent. The boost in proof is attributed to residual alcohol soaked up from Bourbon left in the barrel staves.

A priest blesses this year's batch of brew.

The stout is made in small batches of 25 to 30 barrels and then reblended with stout that hasn't been aged to achieve consistency. Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon is also made in very small batches, which Zoeller says helps to control quality. "It's like cooking for a dinner party as opposed to a whole banquet hall."

McLain & Kyne makes two other Bourbons, Jefferson's (a younger version of Jefferson's Reserve) and Sam Houston. The Bluegrass Brewing Co., the largest microbrewery in Kentucky, brews a range of beers, including three ales, a porter and a collection of seasonal beers it calls Single Batch.

Visit bluegrassbrew.com or mclainandkyne.com.

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