Finding Your Niche

Five years ago the idea of craft distillation was a new and exciting possibility; we hoped maybe a gang of small producers could make something better in quality than what was currently dominating the marketplace. Today, after half a decade of white whiskey, designer moonshine, and quarter cask oak juice, there's a rather sardonic outlook that dominates the scene. Unlike the craft beer movement, which brought big flavor and clever innovation to a stale category, very few craft whiskies (if any) have managed to convince die-hard consumers to switch over from the big brand alternatives. The pricing has been too high, the availability too scarce, and the quality too inconsistent to maintain momentum. However, the main reason craft whiskey has failed to make a bigger impact, in my opinion, is because they are seeking to replace a mainstay flavor that doesn't need replacing. Pliny the Elder didn't become an overnight sensation by creating a Budweiser substitute. By the same logic, no American craft whiskey is going to make headway by looking to unseat Jack Daniels.

What craft distilleries need to do is find a niche and do that one thing better than anyone else. One genre of whiskey that is absolutely ripe for exploration is distilled beer. Why not follow in the footsteps of the craft beer movement by distilling that movement into a bottle? There have been many attempts to bring attention to this idea already. Charbay has obviously pioneered this concept with a number of exciting distilled beer whiskies. Anchor recently distilled their Christmas Ale into a bierschnapps called "White Christmas." However, most of these expressions have suffered from practicality -- they were interesting, but no one knew when or how to drink them. Yet, if someone could successfully capture the flavor of really good beer, age that spirit in wood so that the texture was softened, but the freshness of the beer never muted, they could be on to something big.

More importantly, if someone could make a drinkable whiskey that tasted like beer, while catering towards beer lovers, rather than whiskey geeks, I'd be really excited. I've been waiting to taste such a whiskey for more than three years now. Last week, I finally did.

Clint Potter, the distiller for Seven Stills in San Francisco, brought me his delicious Whipnose Whiskey and the Redwood City store fell in love. A collaboration with Pacific Brew Lab, this whiskey has all the hoppy, citrusy flavor of a real IPA, but with the richness and weight of a well-aged Bourbon. It's perfectly integrated -- there's never any intrusive wood flavor or sawdust overpowering the inherent aromas. It's wonderful stuff.

Not only is the whiskey good, but the packaging is clever and reminiscent of what we're seeing with the current beer culture. The Whipnose looks the part, and plays the part extremely well.  We've got a bit available right now in 375ml half-bottles, but this was a limited release. Clint and his gang plan on distilling more beer into whiskey very soon. I can't wait to taste what's ahead.

Seven Stills Whipnose Whiskey 375ml $35.99 - Whipnose is the first in Seven Stills’ Collaboration Series; a project that partnered them with Pacific Brewing Laboratory, located in San Francisco.  They began by distilling each of Pac Brew Lab’s beers individually to see if they could make a unique whiskey. As soon as they tasted the results from the double IPA, they knew they were on to something. 60 barrels of Whipnose IPA were then brewed, distilled into 165 gallons of whiskey, and aged in new American Oak Barrels. The name Whipnose aptly describes the whip of hop aroma this whiskey opens up with.The taste is rich malt, dark, dried fruits, light vanilla, toasted oak, and with a smooth, lingering maple syrup note on the finish.This project was a one-off and yielded less than 2000 bottles.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll