Craft Beer for the Kentucky Derby

From the Producer, David Page: Go with bourbon barrel aging!

Settling in to watch the Kentucky Derby is a rite of spring for many of us. Actually, given the length of the race, it’s more about settling in for a long afternoon of people talking about the race – and hats – before finally arriving at a thrilling two-minute event. But that means there’s plenty of time to enjoy a beverage or two as the spectacle unfolds. And we all know that the traditional drink of choice in bourbon-producing Kentucky is the mint julep. But you can make another choice.

We beer lovers can stay true to the weekend’s bourbon-based theme by enjoying beers that have been aged in bourbon barrels. They’ve become so popular that many brewers are finding the barrels hard to find. Best we can tell, the first brewer to do this was probably Greg Hall from Goose Island back in 1992, using six oak barrels that had once held Jim Beam. And a revolution was born.

The barrels themselves will add flavors of vanilla, and often coconut, peach, or clove. Each barrel is different so the exact flavor components will differ as well. And then, of course, there's the key flavor for me, the bourbon itself that has seeped into the wood. This particular combination can work with any number of beers – but perhaps none better than a deep rich stout.

On Beer Geeks, we visited a brewery that has really taken barrel aging seriously, Central Waters in Amherst,WI. There, they use both wine and bourbon barrels. We went with bourbon, and Michael helped make a bourbon barrel cherry stout. It’s a terrific beer. I’d consider the tart cherries to be the mint in my julep and settle back to enjoy the race. Of course, the range of bourbon barrel aged beers is immense now. So I heartily suggest you stock up for the Derby.

If you insist on staying even closer to the Kentucky bourbon tradition – as in actually having some bourbon this weekend – you can try a beer and bourbon cocktail. Full disclosure – I haven’t. But I did find this recipe intriguing:

Combine 2 dashes of angostura bitters, .25 oz. fresh lemon juice, .75 oz. maple syrup, 2 oz. bourbon, shake in an ice filled shaker, strain into a tall glass, add a good English style pale ale, garnish with a slice of orange, and serve.

If it’s no good, don’t blame me. I haven’t tried it. I’m just offering an option.

And if you still insist on that mint julep thing, here’s my suggestion. Make one, take a sip, acknowledge the terrible things that simple syrup and mint can do to bourbon, and open a bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout.

Whatever you choose, enjoy the weekend.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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