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I found both enjoyable, particularly with an ice cube tempering the ethanol; it's useful to note that for each, the hop contributions manifest as an auxiliary note, not as tongue-numbing, IPA-like bitterness. It's more of a familiar flavor profile, pointing to high-quality ingredients. "Don't get me wrong," adds Karakasevic. "If you add a splash of Antica Carpano vermouth to it and a cherry, it makes an amazing Manhattan. But it's designed to be consumed neat."
In addition to the R5 offerings, Charbay also recently released a hop-flavored whiskey called "S" ($70), distilled from Bear Republic's assertive Big Bear black stout. Other beer-oriented projects are already in process and aging (distilling isn't a profession for the impatient), with Karakasevic and Bear Republic collaborating to tweak their recipes and further improve the distillations. When asked about the future of Charbay's involvement with beer, Karakasevic simply replies, "[It's] a program I'm going to continue with for probably the rest of my life."
Stillwater Spirits/Moylan's Distilling Company in Petaluma recently started up a beer-based distillation program of its own, taking advantage of the common ownership between the distillery and Moylan's Brewery and Restaurant in Novato. "We probably have a hundred different projects going right now," says Brendan Moylan, speaking of the distillery.
"Half-finished," he adds, chuckling.
The new Moylan's brand of spirits was launched earlier in the year, using wort (unfermented beer) created at the brewery and then trucked over to the distillery. While the worts for these first releases are ultimately unhopped, they embody the essence of collaboration between the two entities (and are reminiscent of relations between Bear Republic and Charbay). Moylan's American Rye Whiskey and Bourbon Whiskey Cask Strength will be followed in the coming months by whiskeys finished in orange brandy barrels and ones smoked with cherry wood.
Beer schnapps will follow soon afterward. Tim Welch serves as head distiller for Stillwater and Moylan's, and he currently has a variety of different barrels aging distilled Moylan's beer inside of them, as well as plans to fill more. "It takes a lot of attention," Welch says of using various hopped beers in the distillation process. "When you're putting beer into the still, it's volatile. It's not like making a vodka or a brandy or grappa, or anything like that. It's volatile, so it's susceptible to flash boils; it takes some babying. The same is true of the single malts."
Moylan and Welch plan to bottle two of these hopped distillates in 2013, the first made from Moylan's Kilt Lifter Scotch-style ale and their second from White Christmas, a spiced winter lager. Additional beer-based projects are in the works. While they refer to the results as "beer schnapps," Welch emphasized that this doesn't imply any technical distinction from calling it hop-flavored whiskey or otherwise.
So why beer schnapps? "It kind of rolls off the tongue."