10 days and counting until the Bourbon Classic, and the excitement continues to build, in spite of a second round of Polar Vortex weather here in frozen Michigan. I received some great feedback on last weeks DBotW (Traverse City Whiskey Co. American Cherry Edition), so this week I continue on with Michigan based bourbons: the New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon.
New Holland Brewing is responsible for many of the fantastic, Michigan-based brands of beer. I’ll be the first to admit, I am not a great connoisseur of beer, but even I am aware of their qualities. The Hatter series are renowned in the area, and one of their most unique and popular labels is the “Dragon’s Milk,” a stout beer aged in Oak bourbon barrels. It is a tasty and satisfying beer, and it’s with this product in mind that New Holland – who extended their beverage creation to the New Holland Artisan Spirits a few years back – created the Beer Barrel Bourbon.
Just as Dragon’s Milk is aged in oak bourbon barrels, New Holland created their Beer Barrel Bourbon by finishing a pre-aged bourbon (sourced from a distiller in Indiana) in former Dragon’s Milk barrels. There is, of course, an irony to this – the bourbon is being finished in actual bourbon barrels that had been ‘borrowed’ to age beer. But it promises a unique finish – taking a bourbon and introducing it to the barrel flavor of a rich, creamy, vanilla-strong stout beer.
Like last week, I should admit here that I have serious reservations about bourbons where the juice itself was prepared offsite and the label company was responsible only for finishing and bottling. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, they say (who says that? I don’t know – i suppose either the purse or bacon industries). So the idea that you can take a less-than bourbon and make it something worthwhile by disguising its real taste is upsetting to me. Allow me to say that the New Holland Bourbon is from neither the best nor worst stock. It’s unfinished taste is straightforward and young. I feel pretty confident that, without the beer finishing, I would not be overly fond of this beverage. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, rather, its mellow, young and not impressively unique. However, I’m not judging it without the finish.
From the cool New Holland bottle, Beer Barrel Bourbon is a nice pour. It has a rich amber color, and looks nice enough in the glass. It’s nose, I couldn’t help but notice, changed with a bit of time. At first blush it has a nice blend of vanilla, toffee and oak, but with a few minutes in the glass, it opens up some malt and hop scents. A faint smell of the beer finish is introduced, and becomes stronger the longer it is in the glass.
It has a thicker mouth feel – not necessarily creamy, but not too light, It has caramel, and corn (a bit more corn than I like), and it delicately smooth on sip. There are oak flavors, but I didn’t get tannins, and it was a pleasant drink.
The finish is where it gets the most interesting. While the sip is easy on the throat, it is really then that the Dragon’s Milk influence comes out – you taste the stout beer presence on the finish – almost like it had it’s own chaser. Given the good pour that Dragon’s Milk is, this was a wholly welcome development.
Also worth noting is the finishing kick this bourbon has – my wife and I both noticed that this one left that warm from-the-stomach-headed-up feeling other liquors do. On such a cold winters night, it was kind of appreciated, and it certainly sets it apart. The finish actually had more kick than the drink!
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this: One of my favorite parts of being a bourbon nut are the scents that are left in a glass after finishing it. I revel in the magical sweet smells you can find in a glass minutes or even hours after a drink has been finished. This one was no exception, but one thing was significantly different: the glass smelled like beer.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Dan’s rating: 7.8 (higher if you are a micro-brew aficionado)