New Holland Brewing Co.
Beer Barrel Bourbon – Bourbon whiskey finished in oak beer barrels
40% ABV (80 proof)
We’ve had some strange weather in South Carolina this week. Starting late last weekend, we apparently switched climates with California as the Left Coast was hit with a citrus-crippling cold snap and the Southeast was given late spring temperature hovering about the 80s for much of the week. Then, yesterday, Iago pushed through and shat a cold front over the entire region, plunging the Palmetto State more than 30 degrees in a day.
So, upon arriving home from work Thursday evening, I decided to tuck into a treat I recently picked up in Atlanta and have been meaning to review: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon.
I’m surprised I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet, but New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk is far and away my favorite year-round stout. It’s thick, rich, oaky, bourbony and all sorts of delicious. Sure, I’ve had better stouts, but when it comes to the one I could walk into the store and pick up whenever I want, Dragon’s Milk is the one for me.
That’s where Beer Barrel Bourbon gets its start. Part of the New Holland Artisan Spirit family, BBB is bourbon that ages in Kentucky bourbon barrels that had previously housed Dragon’s Milk. (So, New Holland buys Kentucky bourbon barrels, puts Dragon’s Milk in, takes Dragon’s Milk out and then puts bourbon back in those same barrels for three months. Follow me?)
I love a good BBL stout, but what would using those barrels do to bourbon on its own? Well …
BBB is a practice in contrasts, and it starts with the nose, which is incredibly boozy and biting. As Ron Burgundy says, it stings the nostrils. But after you get adjusted to it, you really begin to pick up the nuances. There’s a lot of caramel and toffee notes lending a really rich sweetness that cuts the alcohol nicely. It also gets smoother as you adjust to it, and in the background you can definitely get that Dragon’s Milk smell. It’s that sweet, almost syrupy bourbon note, but clearly much stronger in the spirit version.
With a nose like that, it’s be safe to expect an equally biting and abrasive taste. But you’d be wrong. There’s barely a bite on the front of the tongue. Instead, it starts with this almost melted caramel quality that glides across your tongue. The oak, caramel and toffee notes all blend well in the middle of the mouth. There’s a biscuity note to it as well, slightly chewy but not as much as you’d get in a beer. At 80 proof, you’d expect a much harsher experience, but it’s impossibley smooth for a bourbon and has clearly been mellowed and tamed a bit by the beer having been in the barrels first. But that snap of alcohol rises again on the finish, ending with a pinch on the back of the throat and a nicely balanced end. There’s a mild warming in the chest to round it all out.
Going in, I wasn’t sure if BBB would be gimmicky or bland or whatever. What it is is one of the best bourbons I’ve had given what I paid for it. For about $20-$25, which is what I shelled out, you’d expect some cheap-tasting swill. Not this. BBB is flavorful and just perfectly sweet, with a good balance of bite and smoothness. For Dragon’s Milk fans, you’ll definitely pick up the flavors you’d get in the standalone beer. It’s a bourbon that’s impressed my beer and spirit friends alike, and one I couldn’t recommend more.