I hit up a ramen house recently that also happens to be one of only a handful of places in the country that brews their own sake (Ben’s Tune Up, in Asheville). They have their own decidedly American take on sake, brewing traditional styles but then giving them irreverent twists. Like their rye-barrel-aged Nigori, which has the nutty flavor you’d expect from sake, but also a bit of spice and oak from the aging. It’s awesome. A bit surprising of a find—stumbling upon house-brewed sake is rare, whiskey-barrel aged house-brewed sake is like finding a unicorn. In a noodle house. In Asheville—but awesome.
But then, everything is being aged in whiskey barrels these days. Beer, wine, sake, some tweed...
A couple of bottles of new spirits showed up on our doorstep recently—a tequila (Hornitos Black Barrel) and a rum (Brugal 1888)—both of which were given the whiskey treatment.
For the tequila, Sauza takes a 100% blue agave tequila and puts it in charred oak barrels for a year, then they take the lightly aged tequila and put it in used whiskey barrels for a few months. Double aged. The folks at Sauza call it the “tequila for whiskey drinkers.”
Brugal is a rum out of the Dominican Republic that’s aged like crazy. For the 1888, Brugal ages their rum for up to eight years in American white oak, then sticks it in Spanish sherry casks for another two to four years. They’re going for all kinds of single-malt connotations with this, and Brugal calls it, the “rum for whiskey drinkers.”
See the trend here? Whiskey is so hot right now, other spirits distillers can pick up a new audience simply by letting their booze hang out in the same places that whiskey hangs out. Purists will probably balk at a rum or tequila “for whiskey drinkers.” But whatever, purists are always pissed about something. Personally, I love the trend. It’s like Turducken—you take one great liquor, and put it in another great liquor. If only you could add bacon.
While the aging methods are similar, the results couldn’t be more different. The Hornitos Black Barrel is lighter in color, and has strong hints of lime on the nose. That tart citrus comes through on the sip, too, along with a bit of saltiness. There’s an oily texture and just a hint of caramel, which is more pronounced when you drop an ice cube in it. While I get hints of the whiskey treatment around the edges, there’s no doubt that I’m drinking a tequila here. A far more complex tequila than your standard anejo, but a tequila none-the-less.
The Brugal 1888, on the other hand, is malty, with a sweet backbone and a thick, velvety mouthfeel. It’s dry, and a bit of oak creeps up the sinuses if you allow the rum to linger in your mouth. It’s not as complex as the tequila, but it’s a hell of a drink.
Each of these distilleries set out to make a FILL IN THE BLANK for whiskey drinkers, and both were successful. If you like whiskey, you’ll probably like Hornitos Black Barrel and Brugal 1888. I can’t wait to see what else they decide to put in whiskey barrels.