Monday, November 28, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Hip Hops ... Bourbon-barrel aged Imperial Stouts.

AFTER THE FIRE: Hip Hops ... Bourbon-barrel aged Imperial Stouts.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I'm always an quarterly issue behind when it comes to reprinting my columns from Food & Dining Magazine. This one is from Fall 2016; Vol. 53 (August/September/October).


Bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial Stouts

You’ll hear one sort of pitch at a sales meeting, and see another thrown during a baseball game, but brewer’s pitch is completely different.

Brewer’s pitch is a resinous substance used to line wooden barrels so liquid doesn’t come into contact with the wood.

That’s because exposure to a wooden barrel affects the flavor of its contents, and generally over the centuries, brewers have preferred their wooden vessels to be neutral. Brewer’s pitch remains a handy means to this end, and anyway, stainless steel long ago supplanted wood for beer’s storage and serving.

But what if beer’s modification is the stated aim of the exercise?

If submerged wood can positively complement the taste of beer, as with white ash chips or oak spirals, and if wooden cooperage harboring funky microorganisms can leverage its own intended outcome (for example, in some styles of sour beer), then barrels formerly harboring spirits offer a wide potential range of flavor and aroma characteristics for beers aged inside them.

Consider an emptied oak Bourbon barrel. It was charred in order to properly host Kentucky’s indigenous corn-based liquor, and after a period of years, the mellow finished whisky was removed for bottling to proof.

However, this once-used barrel retains considerable evidence of Bourbon. Why not repurpose these flavors and aromas by aging beer in it?

It seems a forehead-slapping moment, and yet the genuinely strange thing is how long it took for someone to grasp the possibilities.

Lost Abbey brewmaster Tomme Arthur, no stranger to the nuances of barrel aging, identifies Bourbon Barrel Zero in this 2013 excerpt from All About Beer magazine.

In 1992, Greg Hall from Goose Island Beer Co. in Chicago might very well have become the first American brewer to produce a bourbon-barrel-aged beer when he filled six oak barrels that previously contained Jim Beam. He poured this experiment at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver that fall, inducing rumors, appreciative nods and whispers of something entirely new.

I can second Arthur’s emotion, for at a GABF vintage beer tasting in 1997, the late, great beer writer Fred Eckhardt was seated next to me. When I asked him the beer he considered the festival’s finest ever, he didn’t hesitate: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

In our contemporary craft beer era, all manner of spirit-soaked barrels are being merrily procured by enterprising craft brewers as creative mediums for aging and experimentation.

The number of beer styles deemed appropriate for barrel again also has expanded, although certain combinations strain credulity to such an extent that I’m almost afraid to joke about Organic Free Range Mezcal-Barrel-Aged Imperial Kolsch lest it somehow comes to tragi-comic fruition.

No timelessness for the impatient

Such embellishments are hip, and I’m square. 25 years are more than enough to concede the elegant pre-eminence Hall’s foundational Bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial Stout.

Hall sourced oak Bourbon barrels in Kentucky, and he filled them with Imperial Stout, the stout family’s brawniest hitter. This inspired pairing remains the bellwether. Bourbon and Imperial Stout are burnished and challenging, richly assertive and subtly intricate. They bring out the best in each other.

At strengths typically in excess of 10% abv, Imperial Stout’s dense, black, viscous intensity lends itself to a panoply of descriptors, including roastiness, coffee, caramel, smoke, vanilla, sultana, plums, figs, cherries, chocolate, brown sugar, licorice, fruit cake and bubblegum.

A wooden barrel saturated with Bourbon offers similar and complementary flavors and aromas, as well as a pinch of added alcoholic potency. The brewer’s objective is to choreograph these delightful factors by calibrating, aging and blending with ultimate “Bourbon Stout” balance in mind.

Consequently, Bourbon-barrel aging is a thoughtful, time-consuming process. Used barrels must be visually inspected for imperfections, and kept from drying out. While uncut whiskey is an effective disinfectant, it’s better to fill the barrels with beer relatively quickly, lest undesirable microorganisms find a safe haven.

Once filled with beer, the barrels need a place to rest, and you’ll sometimes see stacks of barrels in the brewhouse. Ambient temperatures matter, as well as ready access, because brewers will need to pull samples for taste testing. Often they’ll drill holes in the wood and use stainless steel nails as plugs after regularly scheduled nipping.

Just as most Bourbons are blended to achieve uniformity of character, typically beers from multiple Bourbon barrels are, too. Brewers often blend in a second batch of base beer. Aging and blending take time and money, explaining why Bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial Stouts tend to be limited cool-weather seasonal releases, both rare and expensive.

Save that cigar for the second bottle

Imperial Stout is ideal, but it isn’t the only style of beer suitable for Bourbon-barrel-aging. From the hoppy (Double India Pale Ale, Barley Wine) to the malty (Doppelbock, Belgian Quadrupel), characteristics of Bourbon can meld with those beer styles boasting the heft and complexity to compete.

Balance, smoothness and harmony are the watchwords when seeking worthy Bourbon-barrel-aged beers. Beer and barrel must co-exist as equals, with discernible contributions from each. If they don’t, a glorified boilermaker is the likeliest outcome.

Here’s how not to do it

Head Brewer: “We’re making our Bourbon-barrel-aged beer today.”

Assistant Brewer: “Great. How many fifths of Old Rotgut should I pick up at the package store?”

A small number of Bourbon-barrel-aged beers are available year-round (Goodwood Bourbon Barrel Stout, New Holland Dragon’s Milk). Others are the sporadic targets of fervent cult appeal, like Against the Grain’s Bo and Luke.

Plan now for the approach of winter. On-line ratings aggregators like and are the best sources for building your shopping list. Brewery web sites list seasonal release dates, and it’s always a good idea to befriend the beer buyer at your neighborhood package outlet.

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout endures, more widely available than ever thanks to AB-InBev, the Chicago brewery’s parent. BCS remains an impeccable example of Bourbon-barrel aged Imperial Stout, these days the elder statesman in an extensive, ever-changing yearly barrel-aged program. Even I can remember the annual release date for BCS.

It’s Black Friday, on Thanksgiving weekend.


November 21: AFTER THE FIRE: Hip Hops ... Goodwood Brewing Company: Touched by a Barrel.

October 17: AFTER THE FIRE: These old, old habits die hard.

October 10: AFTER THE FIRE: The Great Taste of the Midwest is the best beer fest of them all.

October 3: AFTER THE FIRE: New Albany’s Harvest Homecoming occupation isn't alleviating my "craft" beer Twitter depression.

September 26: AFTER THE FIRE: The seasonality of Oktoberfest in time, beer and year.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

The mustachioed man on the Birra Moretti label gets a trim.

In the mid-1980s, when I first visited Italy, the country was by no means a beer destination.

However, the scene was changing, even then. Demographics were key, as younger Italians gradually rebelled against the wine-centricity of their elders by embracing beer, which at the time meant the usual vapid international golden lagers like Carlsberg and Heineken.

These days, craft/specialty brewing is firmly established in Italy, though less so in Sicily, where we vacationed during Thanksgiving week. There is a world-class beer bar in Catania, our destination, and I'll describe it when there's time.

Of course, Italy always has had standard golden lagers of its own. In the eighties, I preferred Dreher, but it was less common than Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Birra Moretti. Michael "Beer Hunter" Jackson had a high opinion of Moretti LaRossa, an amber, malty lager somewhat after the fashion of a Vienna. Sadly, I saw none of it in Catania.

In terms of mass-market fashion sensibility, a crucial factor in stylish Italia, Birra Moretti always was the hands-down winner, and so it remains. The brewery, which is located in northeastern Italy near Austria, was purchased by Heineken 20-odd years ago, and its trademark mustachioed man has experienced ... shall we say, evolution?

Interestingly, this man was a real person. Here's the story, circa 1942, as explained at Moretti's web site, and followed by the first-generation visuals.

One day, in 1942, the nephew of Luigi Moretti, the founder of the brewery, going out for lunch saw a pleasant-looking man sitting at a table in the Trattoria Boschetti in Udine. There was something unique in that man.

By 2010, there had been a metamorphosis.

What’s changed? For starters, his Reverse Hitler ‘Stache has grown into a Flanders. Also, his de-aged design has given him the strength to hoist the mug of Moretti with noticeable gusto.

In the 2016 label below, as gracing the bottles I recently drank in Catania, he seems a bit bleached -- and I swear, the mustache keeps getting smaller, although it's probably my imagination.

The bottom line: It's possible I won't drink another Moretti until the next time we visit Italy, but it's strangely comforting to know that this classic imagery persists.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hip Hops on HopCat: Yes, the current issue of Food and Dining Magazine is on the street.

The latest issue of Food & Dining was released just as we were boarding our flight for Sicily, so I'm a wee bit late in posting this quarter.

Food & Dining -- Winter 2016, Vol. 54 (November/December/January)

I have my usual beer column byline in the current edition. It's about the advent of HopCat Louisville, and to be truthful, I had a blast writing it.

HIP HOPS | HopCat is the craft beer lover’s meow ... with 132 taps, it might be a good idea to bring a sleeping bag.

Printed copies of F & D are available throughout the metro area in bars, restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores -- and they're free of charge.


Monday, November 21, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Hip Hops ... Goodwood Brewing Company: Touched by a Barrel.

AFTER THE FIRE: Hip Hops ... Goodwood Brewing Company: Touched by a Barrel.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I'm always an quarterly issue behind when it comes to reprinting my columns from Food & Dining Magazine. This one is from Summer 2016; Vol. 52 (May/June/July).


Goodwood Brewing Company: Touched by a Barrel

It is a deceptively simple notion to modify the flavor of beer by aging it in Bourbon barrels.

Just as char and time transform simpler corn-based spirits into a sipper’s elixir, so a barrel’s second use with beer can create a characterful hybrid, balancing the chosen base beer with notes of vanilla and spices.

This principle holds true when using barrels previously filled with other liquors or wine, and to a more subtle extent, by exposing beer to various types of wood (most often oak) through chips or spirals.

Currently there are at least 4,200 breweries in America, and many of them have experimented with wood during the aging process. Often these are small batches for limited release, though Alltech’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is a flagship, available year-round.

Then there is Goodwood Brewing Company, where all of its beers are touched by wood and brewed with limestone water.

Goodwood’s identity dates to 2015 and a rebranding of the entity once noted for brewing Bluegrass Brewing Company’s beers under license for packaging and distribution. The brewery’s new name is fully intentional, meant to inform beer lovers of the roles played by wood and water.

“We became Goodwood because we are known throughout the region and industry as experts in barrel aged products,” says Goodwood’s CEO, Ted Mitzlaff.

“Our barrel-aged program quality is second to none.”

Brewmaster Joel Halbleib adds, “Kentucky water is fantastic for many reasons; our yeast is happy about the extra calcium. Louisville has a global reputation not only for our water quality, but the unique and historic way in which we process it.”

Of course, oak barrels and limestone water are not exactly revolutionary concepts in Kentucky. They form the backbone of the state’s geographically determinate libation, and a tradition informing Goodwood’s tagline.

“What’s good for Bourbon is even better for beer.”

In fact, beer and Bourbon are grain-based cousins, beginning life similarly during the mashing stage, then diverging into fermented and distilled forms. Goodwood’s aim of reinserting beer into a Bourbon-based equation may strike some as audacious.

Others will find it a delightfully appropriate adaptive reuse, both for barrels and ideas.

Pretty used bourbon barrels, all in a row

Goodwood occupies an old industrial warehouse at 636 East Main Street in downtown Louisville. Beer has been brewed there since Pipkin Brewing Company opened in 1998, and in fact, Pipkin produced Louisville’s first Bourbon Barrel Stout in 2001.

In 2006, BBC’s began brewing its Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon Stout here. It was a mainstay in markets outside Kentucky, and remains the basis of Goodwood Bourbon Barrel Stout.

Goodwood’s stretch of Main Street used to be lonely unless the Louisville Bats Triple-A baseball club was playing at Louisville Slugger Field, a few hundred yards to the west. These days the area is changing, and fast.

Angel’s Envy distillery will open soon opposite the ball yard, and the burgeoning NuLu district lies a block away to the southeast. A 200-unit upscale apartment complex is rising directly across from Goodwood, and adjacent industrial acreage is for sale, seemingly destined for residential construction.

Inside Goodwood, there is a tap room and production area packed with stainless steel brewing and fermenting vessels. Upstairs is a vast space that might someday host special events.

In the basement, dozens of barrels are lined in repose. The barrels are used only once by Goodwood, and before being filled, must be closely sniffed, inspected and tested for contamination. Beer remains in the barrel for 30 to 90 days, depending on the type.

Beer ages “in” these barrels, as opposed to “on” them. Mitzlaff explains the difference:

“All our beers are aged either ‘in’ or ‘on’ wood. Aging ‘in’ wood refers to barrel aging from 30 to 90 days, depending on the type of beer we are producing. Aged ‘on’ means we are adding wood to the process.”

Goodwood’s aged-in-the-barrel line includes Bourbon Barrel Stout and Bourbon Barrel Ale, as well as Red Wine Barrel Saison and Brandy Barrel Barbarian Honey Ale. Among those aged “on” wood are Louisville Lager (ash), Pale Ale (poplar) and Walnut Brown Ale (walnut). Intriguingly, a seasonal IPA is planned, with an uncommon twist of aging “on” native aromatic cedar.

Wood changes beer; breweries change neighborhoods

The Goodwood line of beers is available in Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio and Virginia, and with other states queued and ready for their share, Mitzlaff has a plan to serve them.

It is called Paristown Pointe, a $28 million project to be located approximately a mile away from Goodwood’s current location on a patch of ground where Barrett Street meets East Broadway.

Paristown Pointe is a certifiably ambitious neighborhood redevelopment proposal involving multiple investors who are seeking to leverage state tourism tax credits to create an arts and culture district.

Plans call for an enlarged Louisville Stoneware factory, a multi-use theater for the Kentucky Center for the Arts, renovated housing, commercial space … and yes, a new Goodwood brewery.

“We’ll have a 70,000-barrel brewery and a significant taproom, beer garden and rooftop bar in Paristown Pointe,” says Mitzlaff. “We’ll continue to operate our existing brewery and taproom.”

Make no mistake: 70,000 barrels is a substantial amount of beer. It represents a potential brewing capacity four times larger than Goodwood has today. In 2014, a craft brewery producing this much beer would have placed 44th in production for the entire country.

Yet such a rate of growth has ample precedent in craft brewing, and Goodwood’s rebranded identity can only be enhanced by participation in what might be a nationally celebrated redevelopment project.

Goodwood’s brewery at Paristown Pointe will concentrate on aged-in-the-barrel beers, and will boast a fully automated brew house as well as both bottling and canning lines. If all goes according to plan, brewing will start in summer, 2017.

Halbleib is bullish about Goodwood’s overall prospects. “Craft beer as an industry has come too far with barrel aging to think of it as a fad,” he concludes. “The sheer variety of brews aged in barrels or on wood these days is mind boggling.”

It is, and it seems only natural that a Kentucky brewery should lead the way by specializing in this emerging art.


October 17: AFTER THE FIRE: These old, old habits die hard.

October 10: AFTER THE FIRE: The Great Taste of the Midwest is the best beer fest of them all.

October 3: AFTER THE FIRE: New Albany’s Harvest Homecoming occupation isn't alleviating my "craft" beer Twitter depression.

September 26: AFTER THE FIRE: The seasonality of Oktoberfest in time, beer and year.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

I'm taking some time off.

At the Public House.

Posting will resume circa November 27.

A few weeks ago, to celebrate the memory of the late Kevin Richards, I vowed to update and republish an account of our first ever beercycling adventure in Belgium and France. 

The year was 2000, and four (later five) of us rode substandard rental bikes around the countryside in pursuit of ale. It was a blast, and set the pace for subsequent trips of ever-escalating complexity.

I began the reboot, and I have not finished it yet. There'll certainly be a conclusion, but not until December, because we'll be out of town over Thanksgiving, and my work time has expired for now.

In retrospect, the twist in the tale that snagged me most was delving into the photographic archives -- a picture is worth a thousand words, and all that rubbish, except it's actually true.

What I didn't take into consideration while trying to organize and scan these non-digital photos was the impact of 16 years of elapsed time. It's absolutely true that Kevin was the major impetus in getting me back in a saddle, circa 1998, but what I've never really considered is the extent to which this corresponded with concurrent and often wrenching changes in my life (and also rewarding).

These may have proceeded by a glacial pace, and yet the movements engendered back then have left me where I am today, in a more peaceful and comfortable place.

I'm still sorting through it. During six or seven years of tumult, biking time was my happiest time. In essence, Kevin genuinely can be said to have assisted me in saving my sanity. For this reason, revisiting the photos proves to be harder than I thought.

I knew I owed the man a debt impossible to repay. Turns out it's even more impossible than I reckoned. Like I said, I'm still sorting through it.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bourbon's racist history: "It’s simply a warning to be careful which myths we choose to swallow."

Library of Congress.

To view an antebellum image like this is to be reminded that discussions of racist and sexist advertising in "craft" beer are perfectly legitimate, and to be encouraged, lest the Wayback Machine deposits us in unsavory locales.

The recent election outcome isn't to my taste. Let's hope it doesn't take us all the way back to the 1850s, shall we?

Sugarcoating a painful history, by Christine Sismondo (The Globe and Mail)

Marketing-driven nostalgia is bringing people back to American whiskey, whose history, like the country itself, is steeped in anti-black racism

The past decade has been soaked in bourbon, and it’s easy to see why. It tastes like sweet, boozy, butterscotch-ripple ice cream and the price point is decent compared with Scotch.

But the biggest reason for a renewed enthusiasm for the corn-based spirit, however, has been its marketing, which trades on the idea of a hand-crafted product with a long-established heritage ...

 ... The golden age wasn’t particularly golden for those who experienced the lynchings and daily terrorism that was part and parcel of the era being idealized. African-Americans know this, which is why bourbon has never sold terribly well in their communities. Around the turn of the previous century, gin was what they preferred. And ever since African-American soldiers from Jim Crow-era southern states were deployed to fight in Europe in both wars, Cognac has been the most popular liquor among African-Americans who could afford it.


Monday, November 14, 2016

This witty Irishman could eat a horse, and so might I.

Because, if you're a meat eater -- aren't parts just parts? I may be about to find out, so let's return to the topic of carne de cavallo.

I recall the horse butcher across the street from the bullring in Pamplona, and understand very well that the mysterious identity of "indeterminate meat in gray sauce" served at budget eateries in Europe may always have contained bits of protein genetically unrelated to pigs or cows. However, I haven't knowingly consumed horse meat.

Consequently, Catania is the acknowledged capital of horse consumption in Sicily ... and why must turkey always be the slaughter of choice at Thanksgiving?

Red wine or white? Just don't make me drink a Peroni ...

I Could Eat a Horse – Horse Meat in Sicily, by John P. Brady

Via Plebiscito is the home of the horse. It’s also a fine place to go if you want to get a taste of the, at times, shockingly real Sicily. If you are a ferocious carnivore and prefer generous amounts of meat on your plate, then here you will get your satisfaction.

Catania is at least two cities, the first being the clean, elegant and impeccable, via Etnea and its surrounds. The second is an anomaly of sorts – a dangerous, run-down, exciting, noisy but very authentic city. A horse of another colour, if you will.

Via Plebiscito runs from the Pescheria or fish market, behind Piazza Duomo around in a semi circle to near Piazza Stesicoro. It covers a large area of the west of the city where scooters zoom by at high speed and the atmosphere is one of uncertainty. The food prices decrease the further you stray from the centre and here an arancino or a pizza slice can be found for one euro (bargain!).