Bourbon truly is a wonderful thing. The legal guidelines a spirit must follow in order to be classed as bourbon are also incredibly strict – as should be the case in the creation of such a venerable beverage. It must be produced within the United States from a grain bill that consists of at least 51% corn. It must be aged in first use, charred oak barrels and it must be distilled to no higher than 80% alcohol, entering the barrel itself at no more than 62.5% alcohol.
As with all whisky – whiskey to our Irish and American friends – the finished product must be at least 40% alcohol by volume. However unlike other whiskies, which must be aged for at least three years and a day to earn that title, bourbon does not need to be aged for any specific length of time to earn its name. Some bourbons on the market can spend as little as three months in barrel, although anything which calls itself “straight” bourbon will have been aged for at least two years.
Like whiskey, bourbon also has a lot in common with beer. Before being distilled, the base liquid is brewed, and malted grains such as wheat, rye and barley augment the remainder of the recipe. This shared ancestry may be why, in part, why many beers fare incredibly well if they are aged in ex-bourbon casks. Enter Old Fashioned, a barleywine from the wizards at Berkshire’s Siren Craft Brewery, which aims to emulate the classic, bourbon-based cocktail.
Sweet notes of vanilla and toasted coconut are immediately apparent on the nose, as the viscous liquid snakes its way into your glass – a wide brimmed brandy-style snifter or a Teku being ideal for this particular style of beer. To taste the beer is very sweet, with flavours of barley sugar and more vanilla present from the outset. This ever-present sweetness is balanced by deep, warming notes of alcohol, with the essence of the bourbon notes imbued into this beer by the barrels it inhabited for 12 months, softening and rounding out the finished product.
If I had to ask one thing of this homage to the Old Fashioned, it would be a whisper more of the promised orange peel. Some extra citrus would really lift this beer to the next level. Despite this, it’s still a stellar effort from the Berkshire brewery. This is a beer to enjoy now, before the days begin to get longer and warmer at the end of the month. Or simply hang on to it until it starts to get colder again, and see what a bit of age might do to this beer.
You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis as UK editor of Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Treat yourself to a bottle of Siren Old Fashioned in store or online while stocks last.