The sun is setting over Wild Heaven brewery in Avondale Estates. It’s finally turning cooler in the south, which is perfect “beer and bourbon” weather. But then again, what weather isn’t.
This beer collaboration wasn’t easy to come by. Bulleit Bourbon barrels have never really been available to the broker market. You couldn’t broker a few barrels to age your beer of choice. The whole project exists thanks to industry networking, planning, discussions with the distillery, and of course, your PR push. Remember, beer is as much sales as it is an art form.
There’s Bulleit/Beer cocktails and food from Chef Shay Lavi cooking outside, but I’m here for the beer.
Drawing on something I said in part one of this series. Years ago, possessing a bourbon barrel-aged beer in your cellar meant you were winning. Being good at brewing barrel-aged beer meant understanding where the beer and barrel came together in a unity of amazing flavor. That means making sure it and doesn’t fall flat with no barrel notes, or worse the barrel overruns it. “Not enough barrel aging” was the “too hoppy” 1-Star rating on Untappd of a decade ago.
That’s not the case with Wild Heaven 95 Shilling. It’s the balance of toasty caramel, and rich vanilla oak that blend together in a greater sum of the parts of the process. Exactly what it should be. This beer is an instant reminder of the well-made classics that got so many addicted to craft beer in the first place. Beer meets barrel extremely well with fresh Bulleit barrels for the win.
Josh Franks has been brewing at Wild Heaven for years. In my head, I’ve always thought of him as a quiet creative. A talented brewer that has neither a beard nor a cocky attitude. Franks worked hard creating 95 Shilling, and you can just see the pride beaming through his persistent humility as we talk about this new beer. “I can’t believe how this turned out,” he tells me, trying not to smile mid-sentence. “I was just shooting for it to be good.”
“For me, this is one of the more rewarding parts of what we do,” says Executive Vice President Sarah Young. “The more we can spread Wild Heaven around in front of more than just beer people, is always something we look for.” The list of local partnerships nearly doubled in just 2020 alone. To date they have worked with Atlanta icons like Giving Kitchen, Mercedes Benz Stadium, The Fox Theater, 680 TheFan radio station, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Big Peach Running Co, CURE Childhood Cancer, Stuckey’s Corporation and more. Basically, Young has been busy.
One thing I can tell you for certain. Not every bourbon barrel makes great barrel-aged beer, but after trying Wild Heaven’s and Bulleit barrel collaboration, Bulleit definitely does.
Standing here drinking this beer at the brewery’s bar, campfire smoke heavy cold fall air whips through the open garage doors. For a second it feels like a fun dream after the year we’ve all had. The excitement about beer releases has returned to me. I’ve missed this.
Wild Heaven and Bulleit created a great beer here, with a second creation just a week away. Not everything in 2020 is terrible.
Nearly 10 years ago, the craft brewing world was just a fraction of what it is now. IPAs were see-through and the more bitter they were, the better. Beer style guidelines were still very much a thing, and barrel-aged beers were gold. “Bourbon Barrel-aged” was all you needed to emit a Pavlovian-style response to the thirsty beer geek. It proved your street cred.
A lot has happened since those days, besides the obvious 10,000 brewery swell from coast to coast. IPA has gone through quite a few phases. Sour beer has made a big name for itself. Food and candy now have a near-permanent home in many brew kettles. Barrel-aged beer never went away, but feels a bit like it’s not the cool kid in school anymore.
At Wild Heaven in Atlanta, barrel-aging was never a trend, it’s something brewmaster Eric Johnson just did. Quite artfully, I might add. Hell, the brewery was at least 3-4 years into operations before releasing their first IPA because Johnson wanted intention as well as science to have roles in the beer’s creation. Not some trend mandate. Simply stated, doing something just to do it isn’t in his vocabulary (unless it’s drinking).
A Bourbon Opportunity
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey has become a household name in Kentucky Bourbon over the past decade. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bar that doesn’t have Bulleit on their shelf. If you were a brewer hoping to snag some wet barrels to throw your imperial stout into, you were out of luck. Years ago, founder Tom Bulleit told Beer Street Journal almost all of the distillery’s wet barrels were shipped to Scotland. Frankly, the idea of aging beer in Bulleit barrels seemed foreign to him at the time when we asked about it. Over the past year, that mentality has changed.
The distillery and the brewery incidentally share the same distributor in the Peach State, Georgia Crown. GC brought the barrel opportunity to Wild Heaven who eagerly agreed.
Other than collaborations with Guinness in 2019, this Bulleit and Wild Heaven creation is just the second barrel-aging collaboration that Bulleit has done (that we know of).
It’s 2020, and you COULD throw everything from chicken wings to gummy bears in a Bulleit barrel, rip off some throwback 90’s cartoon artwork, and call it a day. Again, that’s not Eric Johnson’s style, and probably not Bulleit’s either. “I wanted to go with beers that would really compliment the wood and the original spirit,” Johnson says.
Two beers are born out of this collaboration, using both Bulliet 95 Rye and Bulleit Bourbon barrels. Each one a classic beer style crafted to express what beer and bourbon can create together. “I liked the idea of pairing a big Scotch ale that featured dried dark fruits, smoky peaty notes, and hints of molasses with the warm spiciness with the Rye barrels.” The original bourbon barrels were home for months to an imperial stout that leans hard into rich chocolate and coffee.
“That one drinks like vanilla chocolate milk and is just downright dangerous,” Johnson adds.
The first of the two releases is 95 Shilling, aged in Bulleit Rye. 16-ounce cans and very limited draft debut this week.
437 Miles South Imperial Stout (the distance from the brewery to the distillery), aged in original Bulleit Bourbon debuts in December.
This is part one of a two-part series on collaboration. Image: David Cone Films
It was 2013 when Atlanta, Georgia first saw Bourbon Barrel-Aged Drafty Kilt. The brewery took their year-round scotch ale Drafty Kilt and aged it in fresh Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. The result won Monday Night a gold at the Great American Beer Festival.
In 2017, Monday Night decided to can Black Tie Series BBA Drafty Kilt, of which series has seen new siblings like Cardigans of the Galaxy, Space Lettuce, Piranha Dealer and Don’t Call it Hotlanta. “It’s full-bodied, slightly smoky and sweet character lends itself perfectly to Kentucky bourbon barrels. Our first batch blew people away, so we decided to make it an annual holiday tradition,” says brewery co-founder Jonathan Baker.
Monday Night Bourbon Barrel Drafty Kilt is available in 12-ounce cans and draft for a limited time starting November 19th.
Availability: 12oz Cans, Draft.
Can Debut: Late November 2017
Latest Release: 11/19/18
21st Amendment Tales from the Kettle
Style: Scotch Ale (w/ Black Tea.)
Availability: 12oz Cans, Draft. Seasonal Release.
PIC: Beer Street Journal
Bell’s Christmas Ale is hitting shelves ahead of the 2017 holiday season with an updated recipe.
What sets this Christmas release by Bell’s Brewing apart, is that it is actually brewed without spices, which isn’t always easy to find in winter seasonals. For years this beer has been a standout on shelves among winter warmers and strong stouts.
For the 2017 season, Bell’s has updated the recipe, changing it into a traditional Scotch ale. The brewery describes this new recipe as having “rich and malty with notes of caramel and a warm finish.” The old recipe finished a little over 5% alcohol by volume. The new version is 7.5%.
This traditional Scotch Ale is rich and malty with notes of caramel and a warm finish. Certain to make any occasion festive, or at least a bit more bearable. Enjoy with the company of friends and family.
Bell’s Christmas Ale is available through the end of the year in 12-ounce bottles and draft.
Style: Scotch Ale
Availability: 12oz Bottles, Draft. Winter Seasonal.
Release: November – December 2017
Sierra Nevada Maple Scotch, a future bottle potential by the California/North Carolina brewery.
By the looks of this release, Sierra Nevada Maple Scotch is a malty scotch ale, brewed with a touch of maple syrup.
Scotch Ales are wintertime staples, known for their rich, malty flavors. This robust beer combines that traditional sweet malt flavor with a hint of maple for and added layer of depth, making this intense beer the perfect thing for sipping near a warm winter hearth.
Sierra Nevada Maple Scotch is a 12 ounce bottle and draft offering. The brewery has not officially announced this release.
Goose Island Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout is a variant of the brewery’s widely known barrel-aged series, and may feature new barrel aging in its 2016 release.
In 2015, Goose Island Proprietor’s Bourbon County Brand Stout incorporated bourbon barrel-aging, plus maple, toasted pecans and Guajilo peppers. In the 2014 and 2013 releases, the barrels were rye whiskey.
It is important to note, that according to Goose Island the final barrels/blend for Proprietor’s Bourbon County have not been chosen. For now, it seems to be the direction the wind is blowing.
A Scotch whiskey variant is a new spin on this ever-evolving brand extension. Scotch barrels definitely bring a different kind of flavor profile into the mix. Depending on the scotch barrels, the resulting beer could be quite peaty and smoky (Scotch like Lagavulin and Islay). Single malts from producers like Speyside are a lighter, even slightly sweeter flavor.
The Proprietor’s release is designed as gift for the Chicago local and loyal. It’s meant to be a little weird, and fun. Scotch barrels are a new twist.
That is. If Goose Island uses them.
Variants of Proprietors include:
2014 variant – Made in Rye barrels with Cassia Bark, Cocoa Nibs, Panela and Coconut Water
2013 variant – Rye Whiskey Barrels with Toasted Coconut