Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ölmönger's Lair: Beer Meets Whisky - Part 1, Sinebrychoff Koff Porter

Most of you don't probably know but I fell in love with fine whisky few years before I became a beer fan. The turn just happened overnight one day. Or the next day, if we're completely honest, because the night usually is between two days, not in the middle of one, all right?

Getting very slowly towards the point, the recent boom of barrel-aging has made me wonder, what is the point of barrel-aging i.e. storing the beer for some time from one month to one year in a barrel that used to contain spirit or wine. Yes, you'll get some of the flavours of the barreled whiskey, rum, cognac or wine to the brew and, if the result is good, the flavour from the barrel supports the original aromas and flavours of the beer and adds some features from the barrel's previous contents to them. Someone with some better knowledge about the chemistry inside the barrel could give us a little more complex explanation, but... who cares?

However, the question of a former standard whisky sipper is: can the flavours of the spirit be transferred to the beer without a rather long barreling process? Like with mixing a small dose of whisky with a larger dose of beer. The question is relevant (Oh, really?), because both the flavour and the price of the substance have some meaning, when a beer lover thinks about buying something good to drink. In my eyes, the barrel-aged brews have notably higher prices than the same style beers without the barreling have.

Since this is a case of home testing, the number of different kind of whiskies is limited. So, to make the test more relevant (Really really?), it would be nice to have some different-style beers to be test. However, for the first three parts - "the original trilogy" - I stayed on the comfort zone and picked two Baltic porters and one Scotch ale. Possibly, in the future there'll be some unorthodox, doomed and probably failed combinations involving, let's say, German bocks and any substyle of India Pale Ales. Time will tell.

First, 1 cl of each whisky to a Glencairn...
First beer to be tested had to be Sinebrychoff Porter, of course. Don't even ask why. Well, it's rather cheap, it's excellent on its own and its style seems to be suitable for barrel-aging. Enough good reasons or reasons good enough, if any are needed.

The whiskies involved in this experiment are Glenmorangie Lasanta, Ardbeg 10 Year Old and Maker's Mark. Glenmorangie Lasanta is a partly sherry-cask matured, altogether 12-year old single-malt Speyside whisky. Ardbeg Ten is a rather heavy, peat-smoky classic single-malt Islay whisky. Maker's Mark is a straight Kentucky bourbon whiskey. In my opinion, all of them taste at least fine by themselves - acquiring bad or mediocre tasting spirits to one's own shelf would be rather expensive and, clearly, very stupid (Forgetting that this is a beer blog, right?).

... then a closer look to the amount and the color of each whisky...

The test

Enough with the babbling. Let's get to the details of the test. For the first test I poured approximately one centiliter of whisky to the bottom of a Glencairn glass. Then I shared one 33 cl bottle of Koff Porter as evenly as I could by eye. Before smelling and tasting I used a simple teaspoon to mix the liquid up. If the measurements were even close to the desired ones, there would have been 1 cl of whisky and 11 cl of beer in each glass.

The volumes and the abv's of the whisky, the beer and the mixture are presented in this table:

Koff Porter
Whisky Whisky volume (l) Whisky abv (/1) Beer volume (l) Beer abv (/1) Total abv (%)
Glenmorangie Lasanta 0,01 0,46 0,11 0,072 10,43
Ardbeg Ten 0,01 0,46 0,11 0,072 10,43
Maker's Mark 0,01 0,45 0,11 0,072 10,35

About the cost of each mixture I can say that a bottle of Koff Porter costs around 3 euros in Alko, Finland. One centiliter of Glenmorangie or Ardbeg Ten costs around 1 euro, and Maker's Mark's price for 1 cl is a little under 60 cents. When thinking bottlewise - 33 cl beer and 3 cl whisky - the cost would be 4,80 - 6 euros per a dose. So, that's the cost - so what?

After showing the technical data, we'll get to the most important part of the experiment. The result. The experience. The one thing we've been waiting for. The mother of all results, the father of all future experiments. The journey to Beer & Whisky Cocktail Wonderland. And so on.
... finally a bottle of porter shared to the glasses

The tasting notes

Every mix is black in colour and has a bit varying, but still rather small beige head. As you can see from the pic above.

Koff Porter & Glenmorangie Lasanta

Aroma has berry-fruit liquor and coffee beans with hints of roast. Taste begins with gentle fruity and oaky roast. Dark-roasted coffee and spicy booze take over. Towards the end fruity and vanilla-spicy whisky gets mixed with bitter coffee-chocolate with an oaky twist. Aftertaste has slightly sweet fruity liquor, roasted bitterness and dark chocolate.

It's clear that the whisky dominates this. Fruits, spices and oak dominate and belong to the qualities of sherry-barrel-matured Highland whisky. Though, there are elements of  Porter present - roast, coffee and chocolate - that appear in the taste more near the finish. Good stuff - the fruity part is the one I could cut out. 

Koff Porter & Ardbeg Ten

Aroma has campfire smoke, tar and charcoal with some spices. Taste starts with powerfully bitter tar and smoke. Strong tar and smoke flavours dominate completely over the thin roasted malts in the background. Near the finish the tarry smoke grows sweeter with liquorice and roast getting through. Aftertaste has heavy campfire smoke with bitter roast and alcohol kick.

The "Ten" completely runs over Koff Porter - only the late hoppy bitterness somehow manages to show up. Otherwise it's very much of campfire smoke and tar followed by a boozy kick in the finish. The tiny liquorice part is probably a mix of whiskey tar and beer roast. It seems that a strongly smoked beer easily takes the power from a beer style based on roasted malts. For a lover of heavily smoked Islay whiskies this tastes nice but it's pretty one-dimensional and tough to drink.    

Koff Porter & Maker's Mark

Aroma has sweet bourbon vanilla and oak with caramel and booze. Taste begins with spicy roasted vanilla kick. Oaked vanilla, roasted malts and sweet milk chocolate take over. Near the finish bourbon qualities - vanilla, oak, caramel and booze - get over everything while some sweet bitterness appears. Aftertaste has bourbon vanilla-oak-caramel heaven with dark chocolate and dry roasted bitterness.

The bourbon presence is beautiful and dominant. Sweet vanilla, caramel and oak are everywhere "filtering" the other flavours but letting the Porter's original flavours through a bit enhanced. Especially bourbon caramel and vanilla seem to pair perfectly with the beer's chocolate. Excellent - one of the top beer flavours I've had recently. And I haven't been drinking much of bad beer lately.


In the end, the preference order of the beer-whiskey mixes is pretty clear:
  • Maker's Mark is the clear winner: only whisky of this test that really enhances the qualities of the brew, others more or less suck the power from the beer. A delicious combo.
  • Glenmorangie Lasanta takes the silver medal in this competition, because only the fruity flavour is the only thing that doesn't fit to the beer style. Ok, but nothing too special.
  • As much as I love sipping standard Ardbeg by the fireplace, it has to be placed last because of the too strong dominance: Koff Porter turned completely to a heavily smoked strong ale. Failure - probably expected, but still a failure.
For the next experiment, I have to change the whiskies at least partially and use a little less, probably a half of the tested amount of spirit. Just out of curiousity.


The song choice probably explains itself. Would it surprise you too much to tell that there's more of this kind to come?

The Dubliners: Whiskey in the Jar (YouTube)

Released originally as a single in 1968, the song is a traditional Irish song.