Look Who’s Distilling Now

Taking the idea of extreme beer to the logical next step some craft brewers here in the US are trying their hands at distilling.  Even though alcohol and tax laws seem to have been written, at least in part, to make brewing and distilling mutually exclusive endevours, these brewers are willing to wade through the paperwork to see if they can make booze as well they can brew beer.

Samuel Adams Cap

You might think that I’m refering to Sam Adams’s Utopia but this brew remains all beer, that is to say, no distilling is used to bring it to the astronomical ABV of 25.6%.   Typically, the yeast that creates acohol dies off somewhere between 14 and 18% roughly.  It was only through the most careful monitoring of fermentation, use of a very high gravity (meaning, lots of sugar for the yeast to feast upon), and two proprietary yeast strains that the brewers at the Boston Beer Company were able to push the final acohol content to the mid-twenties.  I’ve had one snifter full of this amazing stuff and was astounded at the richness and complexity of it.

Brewers that have decided to distill rather than pushing the boundaries of fermentation are stepping into new territory though not wholly unfamiliar.  Rogue Ales, a well respected craft brewer and one of the leaders of the pack of renegade brewers of the Northwestern US, is prodcing quite a line of rums under the Rogue Spirits brand.  These include Dark, White, and Hazelnut-Spice Rums.  And just for good measure they are also producing Spruce Gin.

On the other coast is Dogfish Head.  For a long time Sam Caglione and his band of rebel brewers have been wowing the beer world with impressively off-centered (their phrase) brews like the 120 Minute IPA, Midas Touch and Raison D’Etre.  Now Dogfish Head Spirits are producing Brown Honey Rum, aged on American oak and honey, and Wit Spiced Rhum which is aged on orange peel and coriander as well as “Jin,” line of infused vodkas and even a tequila.

In Denver the owner of the Flying Dog Brewery, George Stranahan, is producing Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.  Unlike the other craft brewers turned distillers, Stranahan is a straight ahead whiskey, aged on American white oak with no flavors or goodies added.

I don’t foresee the same sort of revolution to hit spirits in the way that craft brewing is currently refashioning the American beer landscape.  The long-time burbon producers in Kentucky have been making world class whiskey for generations.  But an infusion of the rebellious spirit of craft beer in American booze will at least prove to be a fun ride.

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