Most barrel-aged beers are already brewed before anyone so much as sniffs a barrel. At a lot of breweries, the barrel master is then left guessing at which pre-existing beer will go best with whatever bourbon fell off the barrel truck.
But at Eugene brewery Alesong, it goes the other way around. Since Brian Coombs and Matt Van Wyk—the former barrel master and brewer from Oakshire brewing, respectively—set out on their own with Brian's brother Doug Coombs in 2015, Alesong has gotten immediate props for its barrel-aged sour, farmhouse and wild beers, pocketing a coveted gold at the Great American Beer Festival for its Touch of Brett farmhouse.
Alesong designs its beers specifically for the barrel they will be aged in—it even named a blended milk stout "Bourbon Prelude" to make it clear Alesong considered the beer incomplete until it picked up those vanilla notes from a whiskey barrel.
And so when Alesong got word it would get six big barrels used to age Ransom Spirits' coveted Old Tom gin, it got to work.
"We got really excited when we heard we'd get six of those barrels," says Doug Coombs. "We'd told ourselves when we started Alesong we wouldn't be an IPA brewery. And then we thought, 'You know what'd be good with those? An IPA.'"
Most gin-aged beers are ill-considered accidents—inspiring fond hopes on the menu and then searing disappointment with the first sip. But with Gin Hop Farm, Alesong has made a gin-barrel-aged brew that tastes like a seamless and rounded whole.
"A lot of people have the idea, 'Oh yeah, a gin-barrel-aged IPA,'" Coombs says. "Put whatever IPA in whatever gin and it'll be fine. But any bartender will tell you, some gins go better with some tonics. You try to find a good match."
Van Wyk thought he had the answer for Ransom's Old Tom. He went to the other side of the world for the right hop, pulling a crop of New Zealand hops called Pacifica—a zest-rich, orange-marmalade-flavored varietal with zesty citrus character.
Except only two of those six Old Tom barrels ever materialized.
Since Alesong already had a full batch of Pacifica IPA hanging out, waiting for those Old Tom barrels, it had to improvise—making a dry-hopped Brett beer called Hop Farm out of the majority.
Only the Brett-fermented Hop Farm made its way into bottles distributed in Oregon. The bottles from the smaller batch of Gin Hop Farm were instead mailed off around the country.
But at least three kegs of the Gin Hop Farm, the beer its makers originally intended, made their way up to Portland: one to Bailey's Taproom, one to the Beer Stein and one to Montavilla beer bar Roscoe's, where we found it.
Gin Hop Farm came out as an easy, almost summery beer, a gentle come-on to the palate with precious little heat. Instead, the beer offered a truly rounded citrus-and-juniper flavor falling somewhere between a fresh greyhound and a well-made gin and tonic.
"We weren't specifically thinking of a greyhound," says Doug Coombs. "But I think there's definitely some similarities in the final product."
Sorry to everyone impressed by Alesong's other beers: You missed the best of a very good year, in which Alesong was named the state's best new brewery at the Oregon Beer Awards.
The makers agree—Gin Hop Farm is one of their two favorites alongside that gold-medal-winning Touch of Brett.
"We were like, 'Wow! This!" says Coombs.
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