September 19th, 2012 1:41 pm | by Brian Yaeger Food & Drink | Posted In: The President of Beers

President of Beers: #24

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale: Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., Lexington, Kentucky

We're drinking the flagship craft beer from every state in the Union, counting down from 50-1, to find which is home to the President of Beers.

#24 Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale: Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., Lexington, Kentucky

State: The Bluegrass State is home to the Bourbon Trail and Tobacco Road. As the second largest tobacco producer in the country, it’s economic impact on the state is almost $4 billion–meaning about a third as much as Thoroughbred racing and breeding. Kentucky is also, according to the DEA, the second-largest grower of wacky tobaccy in the union.

Brewery: Alltech Lexington—the qualifier comes courtesy of the biotech parent company founded by Dr. Pearse Lyons. In a roundabout way, he created the brewery since Guinness wouldn’t initially hire him to be a brewer despite getting working his way up from glorified gofer to graduate of a master brewing and distilling course. Now the brewery (and distillery) is a teensy part of his larger multinational empire, but one that marries the new yeasts they design with the “angel’s share” of the bourbon whiskeys that surround My Old Kentucky Home.

Beer: Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale gets overlooked, if not wholly dismissed, by beer snobs since it doesn’t emanate from the likes of The Lost Abbey or Founder’s Brewing (two estimable breweries that concoct bourbon-aged beers.) Shows you what beer snobs know since this beer, rich and velvety on the tongue and endowed with vanilla and cinnamon from the spent oak, has earned a combined seven gold or silver medals from the likes of the World Beer Cup. Having said that, it’s clearly not everyone’s cup of tea since some of the judges ranked it near the top of their scoring sheets while others…did not.

Difficulty of obtaining in Oregon: Distributed generously around Kentucky and sparingly in parts of the Midwest and Northeast (as well as China, South Africa, and Ireland!) our sample was obtained by the author who bootlegged it back from Kentucky in increasingly bottom-heavy trunk of his car.

Rating: 64.1

PHOTO: Cameron Browne
Dr. Lyons was born in Ireland destined to be a fifth-generation cooper. But his circuitous path in life led him to Kentucky, the Horse Capital of the World, and temporarily left behind his dreams of working in the distilling industry that still champions master coopers.

Charred oak barrels used for aging bourbon may only be used once, per federal law. So what’s a distillery to do with all those spent, but otherwise great barrels? Dr. Lyons became convinced that Alltech’s Lexington Brewing could make bourbon ale. Here in Lexington, which previously wasn’t properly a part of the Bourbon Trail, Dr. Lyons relied on Alltech’s reputation to woo these gently used bourbon barrels from local distilleries such as Woodford Reserve.

Distillers generally pay $200 for a new oak barrel and then earn some of that back by selling them, usually to Scotland distilleries where Scotch can age in any ol’ barrel, or to a brewery for about $50. And along with that oak, the brewery gets something else—“the angel’s share” of bourbon, as almost a gallon absorbs into the wood.

The mainline brand Kentucky Ale, at under 5 percent alcohol, is poured into the barrels, and is then imparted with the essence of the 60-percent-alcohol bourbon. When finished, the ale marries out at up to a surreptitious 9 percent. If it seems incredulous that sopping up the booze absorbed by the barrel could practically double the kick, here’s some math. A barrel holds 31.5 gallons, or 2,688 shots. If a gallon is lost to the oak, that’s about 85 shots of tasty bourbon waiting to seep back into the beer. Each of the 336 bottles of beer you get from a barrel is kissed by a quarter of a shot. Osmosis is awesome.

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