Drink This Now: Improved Old Fashioned, by Brooklyn Brewery
UPDATE, 6 p.m.: Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver responded to emailed questions after deadline, so this article has been updated with his thoughts.
Another barrel-aged beer to add some oaky roundness to your to-drink list, care of Brooklyn Brewery and WhistlePig Rye Whiskey: the Improved Old Fashioned. The New York craft brewery let a strong rye ale rest in the New England distillery’s barrels, and the result is this year’s first Brooklyn Quarterly Experiment (BQE) release.
The Improved Old Fashioned is named in homage to the cocktail movement in the 1860s, when mixologists would add an ingredient to a well-established cocktail recipe in an effort to stand out. Brooklyn says their brewers improved upon the classic, rye whiskey and botanicals sipper by making it a beer. We’ll drink to that.
WhistlePig whiskey “shows the rye particularly well and makes a great drink,” says Brooklyn brewmaster Garrett Oliver.
Gentian root, a main ingredient of Angostura bitters; coriander, nutmeg, tangerine peel sourced from Korea that gives a “citrus ‘pop'” to the brew, and a few other aromatics were added to a strong rye ale, he says. “Making a nice ‘bitters’ flavor is a real balancing act.”
Then, the beer conditioned for eight months in barrels that previously developed the Shoreham, Vt. distillery’s award-winning whiskey.
The result is a medium-bodied, complex beer, with silky spice and fruitiness up front, smoothed out with a little sweetness and oaky vanilla. It finishes dry, thanks to the gentian root and chinchona bark. The 12.8 percent ABV brew tastes remarkably like a classic Old Fashioned. “It’s definitely a sipping beer,” Oliver says.
It’s not Brooklyn’s first foray into the cocktail world. Previously, Oliver collaborated with David Wondrich, a James Beard Award-winning cocktail expert and author, on the Manhattan Project. (See them talk about it in this short promo video for the Improved Old Fashioned.)
“In a way, mixologists are like a middle ground between brewers and chefs. There are a lot of great flavor traditions encapsulated in what these guys are doing, and their evolutions are really fast,” Oliver says.
His favorite cocktail is an Old Fashioned. “It’s amazingly pure and simple as a drink, but it takes a good bartender to really make a great one. In that, it’s like an omelette for a chef—the ultimate test. I wanted to see whether we could pull it off.”
The Improved Old Fashioned, a caged-and-corked 750 mL bottle release, is on shelves now, including at the Boston Wine Exchange, Blanchard’s Liquors, Coolidge Corner Wine & Spirits, Craft Beer Cellar locations, and others. It’s a one-time brew, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Call ahead to your preferred retailer if your heart is set on trying an Old Fashioned in beer form.