Last December a bourbon barrel arrived at the doorstep of Healthy Spirits in San Francisco. It wasn’t a newly purchased prop for the store. Owner Rami Barqawi, beer manager Dave Hauslein and bourbon buyer Nate Breed were about to launch the second part of their new project. The barrels contents had already been turned into an exclusive line of bourbon for the shop. They planned on filling it with beer and contacted Denise Jones at Moylan’s Brewery who topped it off with Ryan Sullivan’s Imperial Stout.
Eleven months later you can buy a bottle of the very limited results this Friday, December 16, at 6pm. How limited? Only twenty cases off 22oz bottles were produced. Customers will be limited to two per purchase.
I got a sneak peek of the beer last night and it’s wonderfully balanced. The nose is full of bourbon, but it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor, which contains hints of dark chocolate, toffee and maybe a bit of dark fruit.
This beer is just the beginning of a more extensive barrel aging program Healthy Spirits has embarked on with local breweries. Dave Hauslein provided a few more details about the beer and their plans for the project over email via Q&A.
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When did you decide to launch the program?
We began the process of starting a barrel program about 2 years ago. The selection of the first barrel happened in 2010. We selected our Eagle Rare barrel from over a dozen samples and the bourbon was exclusively bottled for sale at the store. The barrel was delivered freshly emptied and given to Moylan’s, who filled it with a fresh batch of Ryan Sullivan’s. It stayed in the barrel approximately 10 months.
Could you give me some insight into how you’re choosing barrels with the beer or partner breweries in mind?
Since we are taking the bourbon for sale in the store, quality is the primary consideration. The employees make scorecards that list various tasting criteria and we compare our scores. After tasting through all the samples multiple times, we decide on a barrel and it is bottled for us. Usually the distilleries sell the barrels themselves or find other uses for them, but we found out most will give you the barrel if you commit to buying the contents. Once we have the whisky, I contact breweries to see who is interested and what styles they could do. We decide which one to go with based on which beer/bourbon combination seems most harmonious.
Why did you choose Moylan’s to partner with first?
We have known Arne Johnson at Marin Brewing Company for a long time and I’ve always enjoyed the beers of Marin and Moylan’s. They tend to be well made examples of classic styles that are accessible without dumbing it down. More than a few customers have told me that Marin and Moylan’s were their first introduction to craft beer. Also, they’re local and we had a relationship with them. As we go on with the program we’ll inevitably work with some non-local brewers, but for the most part I’m choosing small local producers.
How often do you plan on collaborating with other brewers?
There are a few already in the works, two of which we’re planning to release during SF Beer Week. Every time we get a freshly emptied bourbon barrel, it will go to a brewer. This will assure that we always have something in the works and can hopefully have a couple of releases a year. At least that is my hope.
Which beer styles will you focus on?
Imperial Stouts, Barley Wines, and other strong ales for the most part. We may have a sour ale lined up, but you won’t see that for a little while.