Beer and whiskey are perhaps the least strange of bedfellows.
Beer and a shot is a commonplace order at Chicagoland bars. I understand Scotland has its own version in the “hauf n hauf.” However, it’s not just the consumption side of the equation that finds a mingling of these two libations.
Beer cask finishes, while not ubiquitous enough to be called “commonplace,” at least have enough precedents that they don’t raise eyebrows or set the interwebs alight upon announcement. Glenfiddich released an IPA cask finished expression as part of its experimental series in 2016. We’ve seen an IPA-finished whisky from Chichibu and another in a stout barrel. Alexandra took us through a Westland finished in an ex-Russian Imperial Stout barrel. You get the drift.
Jameson introduced its own “Caskmates” series in 2015 with the inaugural “Stout Edition;” an “IPA Edition” followed two years later. According to the company, the finishing process entails Jameson providing used whiskey barrels to a craft brewery, which then uses them to age beer before returning the casks to Jameson.
This is the type of thing that usually provokes my most ambivalent indifference. I don’t drink much Jameson, or indeed much Irish whiskey. I’ve got a skeptical attitude about the practice of slapping a novel finish on something and bottling it at minimum strength. Under normal circumstances, a beer cask finished Jameson is the type of bottle I would walk right by without delay or contemplation.
However, a recent trip to the supermarket surprised me with a mashup collaboration between Jameson and my favorite local craft distillery, Revolution Brewing. Their Anti-Hero IPA is a staple in my refrigerator, and I eagerly snatch up their rotating cast of seasonal releases. If I were ever to make an exception to my disinterested rule, this would have to be the time!
To create this concoction, Jameson’s has used “casks seasoned with Revolution Brewing’s Fist City Pale Ale.” Apparently, they had the Revolution crew fly to Dublin to brew up a batch, saving the time, cost, and carbon associated with shipping empty casks both ways across the Atlantic. Full disclosure: Fist City is not my favorite Revolution beer, but I have been known to drink one under duress.
Confusingly, the whisky’s back label states that this captures “the spirit of the neighborhoods of Chicago.” Referring in summary fashion to a place that contains multitudes – the seventh-wealthiest urban area in America as well as a large swath of impoverished and forsaken wasteland – I imagine this generalization was likely penned by someone sitting in Dublin who has never visited the Second City.
On to the review! The beer is a “Chicago Pale Ale” made with Cascade, Citra, Centennial, and Crystal Hops. It is 5.5% ABV.
Revolution Brewing Fist City CPA – Review
Color: Pale, translucent gold
On the nose: Pretty, floral nose with the subtlest of bitter, hoppy edges.
In the mouth: Gentle approach. This broadens a bit at midpalate into a sunny maltiness with a gently citric accent. This is soft through the finish, with only the wispiest residual bitterness in the aftertaste.
One for a cookout on a hot day, this scratches some of the hop itch without the high ABV and fuller body of an IPA. No off notes, but not a style that captivates me.
With that as our baseline, let’s see what impact it had on the whisky. This is bottled at 40%. I paid $30 for 750 ml at “Da Jewelssss,” one of our local grocery chains.
Jameson Caskmates Revolution Brewing – Review
Color: Medium yellow-gold
On the nose: Super plump and creamy. Buttermilk with a mango accent. There are ripe melons and citrus fruit aromas that play against raw dough and some yeasty beer notes.
In the mouth: A continuation of the nose. Peaches and cream to start. The midpalate shows more citrus fruit, as well as the beery bitterness of ale. There’s a further soapy note, which has its own, different type of bitterness (a more piquant one), at midpalate. This finishes with a gently rich, woody note and creamy caramel flavors, which might be the most unassuming and nicest part of the experience.
Unlike the Glenfiddich IPA, the beer cask influence evident here without having to reach too far. At points this tips over into too much of the hoppy bitterness, which doesn’t really play well with the whiskey. The highlights for me were the lusciously creamy and fruity nose, as well as that charming rich woodiness through the very short finish.
I was lucky enough to recently try a Fiddich new make. It had flavors of nori, brine and baking spices. Quite delicious. I can see why the IPA couldnt stand up to the Fiddich’s character. I haven’t tried a Jameson new make but I bet it would be pretty light compared to Fiddich’s.
I hope these beer influenced whiskys end up spending more time in casks that held beer with double digit abvs.
John, glad you enjoyed it. I’m not opposed to beer cask finishing per se, so long as it’s done with quality whisky that has already had a sufficient time to mature. However, a number of these releases seem like they’re substandard product rushed to market for novelty’s sake, or in order to hop on the trend. All that to say: buyer beware.
Taylor, I’m usually very cautious when it comes to Pernod products. Livet, Scapa and Chivas are very much at the bottom of my “must drink” list. Pernod’s only bright spots for me are Plymouth gin and their Irish Single Pot still whiskys.
“hop on the trend”
Ha! I see what you did there. I’ve been skepto-curious about beer cask finished whisky but haven’t yet dipped my toe so thanks for the opinions. If I try one I’ll probably seek out a stout finish to start with.
Bifter – pun fully intended. I’d suggest trying to find a malt you like with a cask finish, rather than the other way around. I’d drink a Chichibu finished in Old Style casks but probably wouldn’t touch a Chicago Distilling Company finished in a Dark Lord cask. Cheers!
Really interesting reviews there, love the beer being reviewed along with the Whiskey.
So far I’ve struggled to find an Irish Whiskey to blow me away, favourites so being Green Spot and Redbreast 12. It’s a classic case of a mental monologue of “that’s quite nice but for £XX I’d much rather have YY” something which also happens with Bourbons too.
Andrew, I thought it would be a fun digression from the norm. Happy to hear you liked it. Like you, I’ve yet to be really grabbed by an Irish whisky, but I’m not ready to quit trying. Cheers!
I wonder how many of these they’re planning to do. The Jamesons site lists the Revolution version in Illinois and a Bale Breaker version in Washington State (Topcutter IPA is the beer their).
I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a list of the top markets for Jamesons cross-referenced with the top craft beer markets and started working their way down. If so, I’d like to see them broaden their scope beyond hoppy beers.
Tom, as you describe it, the strategy would be a clever way to move some product, which is what I cynically suspect this is all about. As you (and others) note, broadening the variety of beer casks might produce some more appealing results. Cheers!