Our barrel-aged “Cocktail Series” continues with two new beers – Tequila Barrel Sunrise – a uniquely delicious blonde barleywine that offers a spirited riff on the namesake cocktail, & Mezca-Limón – an exotic beer that evokes the magic of the Mezcalita cocktail.
It was a dream come true when Eric managed to procure barrels from an array of Oaxaca-based producers, all with the intent of crafting cocktail-inspired beers. Eric sat down and told us more about the beers, the brewing and barrel maturation process, and his love of agave spirits.
Learning to Sip
“I’ve been a huge fan of Agave spirits for many, many years and probably drink more agave spirits than any other kind,” Eric shares. “It all kind of stems back to when I lived in Juneau, Alaska about 12 years ago, where one of my really good friends was from Oaxaca. Once a year, he would collect clothing and toy donations, pack up his truck, and drive all the way from Alaska down to Mexico. He would always come back with a few two-to-five gallon wooden barrels because for generations his family made tequilas and mezcals.” Eric shared his early experience with tequila – shooting it with salt and lime. His friend Marcos shook his head and taught him how to sip and savor his family’s liquor. Since then, Eric has only grown his appreciation for agave spirits.
It was a long time coming until Firestone Walker could get its hands on premium tequila and mezcal barrels. More than once, agave spirit barrels have arrived at Firestone’s barrel hall, unloaded from trucks, and have been leaky, warped, and near-unsuitable for use.
A few years ago, Eric got a call from one of his barrel brokers stating he was going down to Oaxaca, Mexico, to try and source Mezcal barrels. While larger companies often make tequila, most mezcal production is extremely small family-run. Eric expressed cautious enthusiasm. The broker came home with barrels from 8 different producers, about 20-30 from each. Eric sees this variety as a bonus: “While tequila is made only with blue agave, Mezcal is made from over 30 different agaves, from the highlands and lowlands. The variety in both agaves and production techniques is very dynamic and exciting.”
Tequila Barrel Sunrise
A Tequila Sunrise cocktail has tequila, orange juice, and grenadine syrup with a bright orange-reddish hue. Inspired by this summertime drink, Eric got to work. Extra Añejo tequila is a barrel-aged, mature liquor spending over three years in oak, bringing a deep golden color and wood flavors found in bourbon. These spent barrels provide sweetness and Helldorado blond barleywine was a perfect fit. To recreate the citrus and fruit flavors, Eric blended in small amounts of beer matured in cherry and orange bitters barrels. Lastly, infusions of orange zest and hibiscus added the final touch to this authentic Tequila Sunrise sipping experience.
“This beer really showcases what the fruited bitters barrels can deliver – deep, wood-aged spirits meet flavors of grenadine and classic bitters,” Brewmaster Matt Brynildson says of this latest creation. “I even get the maraschino cherry and candied orange garnish dropped in the glass.”
The same friend who introduced Eric to high-end, mature agave spirits also introduced Eric to the wonders of the Mezcalita cocktail. A regular summertime sipper, he knew immediately recreating this cocktail was the direction to go with fresh Mezcal barrels.
Echoing the traditional cocktail recipe, the specialty base beer for Mezca-limón was brewed with agave, chile peppers, and sea salt. It was then aged in the mezcal barrels with a complement matured in orange bitters barrels and all finished with a touch of lime zest. The Mezcal barrels lend their smokey, peaty, and earthy undertones. The beer has a note of agave sweetness and a touch of heat from the chile pepper, all integrated beautifully with a dash of sea salt.
“While Mezcal can be made with many different agave varieties, the agave heart is always roasted and often buried underground on coals, producing a smokey, peaty, earthy character. The heat also caramelizes the agave syrup, providing so much aroma and flavor along with the maturation time in oak. I still consider us lucky to have gotten these barrels.”
Scarce Summer Sippers
These two latest creations are being released with the warming weather in mind – dynamic barrel-aged beers without a touch of roasted malt insight. They may just change your expectations about what a barrel-aged beer can be.