Breweries and distilleries are putting local beer in local barrels

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Charlotte breweries have aged beers in bourbon barrels from Kentucky, wine barrels from California and rum barrels from Nicaragua. And thanks to a handful of new distilleries in town, many are now aging their local beers in local barrels.

Last Sunday, The DreamChaser’s Brewery in Waxhaw released bottles of Wail of the Baen Sidhe, an imperial milk stout aged in barrels from Great Wagon Road Distilling Company. These once held Rúa, the distillery’s single-malt whiskey that is aged in new, charred white American oak barrels.

“These alliances we’re doing with the breweries are exciting,” said Ollie Mulligan, founder of Great Wagon Road Distilling Co. “It’s wide open. People love the collaboration, and obviously the products are excellent, too, which helps a lot.”

Great Wagon Road Barrel Room
The Barrel Room at Great Wagon Road Distilling Co.

Collaborating with breweries is nothing new for Great Wagon Road. Their neighbors at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery produce the distillery’s mash, which Great Wagon Road then distills into its spirits. The mash for Rúa is essentially an unhopped and unfermented Captain James Jack Pilsner.

Not long ago, though, OMB sent over a mash that was very similar to what they use for their Fat Boy Baltic Porter. Once the resulting whiskey was pulled from the barrels, they were sent back to OMB and filled with — you guessed it — Fat Boy Baltic Porter. Mulligan calls it a “circle of malt.”

The brewery releases bottles of its barrel-aged Fat Boy Baltic Porter every January, but this will be the first time they’ve used anything but bourbon barrels. They will release the bottles at a breakfast and optional bottle share held at the brewery the morning of Saturday, Jan. 28. (Tickets are required and can be purchased at www.oldemeckbrew.com.)

Doc Porter's Photo by Remy Thurston

Should the brewery ever want to revisit bourbon barrels, it wouldn’t have to look far. While Great Wagon Road doesn’t produce a bourbon, Doc Porter’s Distillery — also around the corner from the brewery — released its first bottles last October. Since distilleries must use new, charred oak barrels for a spirit to be labeled a bourbon, Doc Porter’s offers up used barrels to breweries after the bourbon has aged for 8-10 months.

“We’re looking forward to working more with the breweries, especially as we continue to release more,” said Andrew Porter, owner and head distiller at Doc Porter’s.

So far, the distillery’s barrels have made their way to The DreamChaser’s Brewery, Red Clay Ciderworks, The Unknown Brewing Co., Lenny Boy Brewing Co. and Wooden Robot Brewery.

Wooden Robot Brewery aged its Godless Killing Machine Imperial Stout in Doc Porter’s bourbon barrels for three months, and plans to tap it at the brewery on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

Doc Porters Barrels at Lenny Boy Brewing

Lenny Boy has two beers aging in barrels from Doc Porter’s: a Russian imperial stout and a stout brewed with beechwood-smoked malt. Both beers will be tapped at the brewery’s Winter Warmer festival on Saturday, Feb. 11, and the smoked stout will also be tapped at the sold-out Brawley’s Black and Blue

At Great Wagon Road, Mulligan plans to add a “barrel tracker” to his newsletter so fans can know where the barrels end up. Red Clay Ciderworks currently has a barrel filled with orange peel and its Cherry Bobbin’ Trolls, a cider made with Michigan cherries. The resulting cider will be called Trolled Fashioned, a play off the Old Fashioned cocktail.

Legion Brewing in Plaza Midwood has several barrels from Great Wagon Road. The brewery’s Irish red ale, Red Rover, Red Rover, is aging in barrels waiting for its name to be called, which should coincide with St. Patrick’s Day. It will be available at the brewery as well as at The Broken Spoke, the distillery’s bar and tasting room.

Though Charlotte proper is just now seeing its own distilleries pop up, Belmont’s Muddy River Distillery has been producing rum since 2011. The distillery ages its Queen Charlotte’s Reserve rum for a full year in new oak barrels, which after being relinquished of the spirits have found their way to breweries.

Several local beers have been aged in these barrels, including Birdsong Brewing Co.’s Mongeese on Monkeys, Triple C Brewing’s Up All Night Breakfast Porter and Kind Of A Big Deal (draft-only) and Sycamore Brewing’s Break of Dawn Porter. Pure Intentions Coffee even aged the beans used to make its cold-brew coffee in the barrels (and then Free Range Brewing aged beer in the same barrels after the beans were used to make the coffee).

Both Mulligan and Porter were quick to point out an advantage of the barrels they use. These smaller barrels (25-gallon at Great Wagon Road, 15-gallon at Doc Porter’s) provide more surface area, and thus the beers pick up more from the oak in a much shorter period of time. 

And that’s good news for lovers of local beers and spirits alike.

Photos: Great Wagon Road Distilling Co., Remy Thurston, Lenny Boy Brewing Co. 

Sip Charlotte is a weekly email newsletter for beer, wine, and cocktail enthusiasts across the region. Click here to subscribe. Have a story idea? Feedback? Connect with editor Caroline Portillo at cportillo@charlotteobserver.com. Cheers!

1 COMMENT

  1. Maybe it’s because I am not that into beer much, but I am so confused by who uses what and for what! Great article, but unless you know these breweries and their beers, pilsners, IPA’s, Porter’s and such, you’re lost! Maybe it’s because I’m not a Millennial! I don’t know!

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