Barrel-aging beer has long been a concept that usually improves a beer’s complexity. New Holland Brewing is one of the shining examples of this with its Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout. Now New Holland has decided to flip that process and age bourbon in Dragon’s Milk barrels.
Currently New Holland buys bourbon from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana and ages it for three years in the standard bourbon barrel (American oak). Then that bourbon is aged for three more months (called a “beer-y slumber” by the brewery) in a used Dragon’s Milk beer barrel. New Holland plans to distill its own bourbon in the future for this process.
Now I’m something of a bourbon purist, and don’t really like it when distillers/companies mess around with a perfectly great spirit. I’m generally displeased with these manipulations, but in rare cases it’s acceptable. No Fireball — ever! And I understand it’s the nature of the liquor beast that companies want to create the next hot shot tipplers will gobble up at the bar.
When it comes to New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon ($33 at Weiland’s Market) I’m fairly indifferent to the outcome. The bourbon isn’t greatly changed, with only a minimal darker coloration and slight sweetness added. The sweeter flavors resulting from the beer barrel-aging are of the caramel and chocolate variety, with the smallest hint of citrus, which was unexpected and surely not in the unaged bourbon’s original profile.
This bourbon is not bad, but surely not great either. It’s smooth (at 80 proof), has a passable texture and some decent flavors at play. It’s worth trying to see if it agrees with your palette. And it does pair nicely with a Dragon’s Milk, but I haven’t found any bourbon that doesn’t.
I think the biggest flaw with the Beer Barrel Bourbon is probably the original product. It seems like, before the beer barrel-aging, it’s a standard, middle-of-the-road bourbon. I can’t wholeheartedly endorse this interesting take on bourbon, but I can’t knock it either. And maybe the unaged bourbon, and thusly the Beer Barrel Bourbon, will improve when New Holland begins distilling its own.