From the Dragon’s Barrel
…New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon
Shelves today are crowded with beverages aged in bourbon barrels. From stouts to ales, a little extra time spent in the company of bourbon-soaked staves goes a long way toward magnifying the complexity of a beer, and makers of everything from scotch to añejo tequila know that a stint in a used bourbon barrel can take a tipple from average to exceptional. But what’s not established is whether the same can be said of the reverse: will time spent in a used beer barrel do bourbon any favors?
New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk stout has been a well-respected entry in the bourbon barrel-aged beer category since 2001, with the line expanding in the interim to include several special Reserve varieties, ranging from Coffee & Chocolate to Raspberry & Lemon. Yet for all the merits of this formidable 11% ABV brew, New Holland was treading well-travelled territory till the release of their Beer Barrel Bourbon, a 40% ABV bourbon allowed to mature three months in the oak casks formerly used to age their Dragon’s Milk stout.
Given that stouts tend toward roasted, malty, vanilla-heavy flavors, one would expect bourbon to mate nicely with its profile. Sweet dough and molasses flavors are present here, along with a faint hops note, and the juice itself seems to have a slightly deeper caramel hue from its stay in the cask. This should all work, but the problem is that the bourbon this process begins with is quite ho-hum. It isn’t bad- perhaps a bit hot on the front end and short on the finish- but it isn’t revelatory, either, particularly given its $40-$45 price range.
This makes this whiskey more of a novelty than an essential for the home bar. You’ll get some pleasant and unexpected chocolate and baking spice in with your basic whiskey, but there’s a better way: take one part decent bourbon, one-and- a-half parts stout beer (Dragon’s Milk, perhaps?), and one egg. Crack the egg into a cocktail shaker with ice, add the other ingredients and shake till mixed. Strain that into a lowball glass: that’s more like it- call it a “Dragon’s Egg.”