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.
Speaking of Irish folks: most denizens of the Emerald Isle won’t get to try this one, given that this is an Illinois exclusive. To bridge the divide, I’m bringing in our grumpy, jealous, pathetic friend Phil to try this. I shared a sample of this with him, and also gave him a can of Fist City so that he’d have a frame of reference and a virtual taste of Chicago. I’ll treat him to an Italian beef sammich and a shot of Malört if he ever makes it here in person.
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 – Taylor’s 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.
Revolution Brewing Fist City CPA – Phil’s Review
Color: Hazy orange
On the nose: Hops, malt, pine resin and citrus – predominantly grapefruit at first which leads to cantaloupe and papaya
In the mouth: A little malt and then the Citra hops take center stage – notes of orange, lemon and grapefruit. A floral characteristic with pine and a moderate bitterness. The finish is slightly bitter with hop oils more apparent after each sip.
A crisp, clean and well-balanced beer that is ideal for a start to the evening but after one I felt like something more substantial and impactful. Overall perfectly pleasant but simple.
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 – Taylor’s 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.
Jameson Caskmates Revolution Brewing – Phil’s Review
On the nose: The signature Jameson floral quality with pear drop sweets is present and correct but without the harsh alcohol note I get from regular Jameson. There’s a hint of caramel and then light citrus oils of lemon and grapefruit. Time brings orangeade. There is a thyme like herbal note here too. The nose is quite restrained and it seems the beer finish has had a soft impact here.
In the mouth: Floral and citrus flavours on arrival – lemon, grapefruit, orange and then vanilla with just a hint of banana. Hop influence more apparent on the palate. A spice kick followed by a dry, pithy bitterness with some black tea too. The finish is fleeting but dry, hoppy and citrusy.
I wasn’t a fan of the Irish IPA Caskmates release and I’m not a fan of this either. The beer finish in both cases highlights the floral, young grain heavy character of Jameson a step too far for my liking but in the case of the Fist City it becomes very dry and bitter very quickly which is the overriding experience, one which I personally didn’t enjoy greatly. In fact I was happy to have the beer at my side to refresh my palate. Of the Caskmates editions I have tried thus far the Stout version is the best by a country mile and is the one I’d recommend buying. I’d give this one a miss.