You’d have to live in a cave to not realize bourbon barrel-aging is hot right now. A myriad of breweries are now throwing their beers in used barrels, knowing that with a little aging time their rich stouts and malty barleywines will pick up the vanilla, wood, and bourbon-y flavors still lingering in the oak staves. (Actually, even living in a cave you’d probably be aware of this phenomenon, as breweries like Founders store their barrels in caves).
While I love bourbon barrel-aged beers as much as the next flavor geek, I’ve noticed things have started to get out of hand. It's not just breweries in on the barrel-aging craze. Now, countless “artisans” are aging all sorts of crazy items, both potable and not, in bourbon barrels. The results are, if nothing else, interesting.
Many bourbon barrel-aged beers also use coffee in their recipes, so it’s no surprise there’s now bourbon barrel-aged coffee. Maryland’s Ceremony Coffee is credited as the inventor of the concept, first experimenting with bourbon barrel-aging unroasted green beans in 2012. Colorado’s Whiskey Barrel Coffee barrel-ages several coffees, all packaged in distinct wax-dipped bottles.
Chicago’s Dark Matter—which lends its coffee to Three Floyds for its iconic Dark Lord Imperial Stout—has become perhaps the most prominent barrel-aging roaster. In the past, it has aged beans in Knob Creek and Heaven Hill barrels, as well as bourbon barrels previously used for Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. Dark Matter has even bottled a bourbon barrel–aged iced coffee Black Splash. By the way, if coffee ain’t your bag, there’s also barrel-aged tea.
Standing for Because Life is Short, BLiS is a gourmet foods company out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It makes a series of exceedingly interesting and extraordinarily tasty bourbon barrel-aged sauces, notably a hot sauce and a fish sauce.
There’s also an entire company devoted to bourbon-tinged edibles called Bourbon Barrel Foods. Opened as America’s first soy sauce microbrewery, the Louisville outfit has a “Bluegrass” soy sauce, a Worcestershire sauce sweetened with sorghum and then softened in bourbon barrels, and even something called Kentuckyaki sauce. All the sauces are perfect for foodies who like to hit the bottle for some extra flavor on their plates.
Sugars and spices
Bourbon Barrel Foods also has a series of barrel-aged sugars and spices, like smoked sea salt, pepper, and paprika. They are all perfect for rimming your cocktail glasses -- or just making your french fries a little boozy.
Indiana’s 240Sweet offers bourbon barrel-aged sugars and extracts, some of which they use for their famed marshmallows. Fellow Indiana company Best Boy ages its stone ground mustard in bourbon barrels for two months. Slathering on the mustard with an edge is like dunking your hot dog in a glass of Maker’s Mark.
Maple syrup is a natural for bourbon barrel-aging treatments, although the end result is a little pricier than Aunt Jemima’s. Vermont’s Hill Farmstead, perhaps America’s finest brewery, released a bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup last year that sold out almost immediately -- even at $50 a bottle. Its nearby neighbor Wood’s Syrup also has a bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, as does Ohio’s Bissell Maple Farm.
But the best bourbon barrel-aged syrup I’ve tried is from our old friends at BLiS. Aged in Kentucky bourbon casks nearly 20 years old, this syrup is a libation all on its own. I’d be a liar to not admit I’ve literally drunk this syrup neat. Sometimes, life is too short not to glug maple syrup.
Few things pair better with a belt of bourbon than a cigar. Thus, some companies have figured it’s time to cut out the middleman. Nicaragua's Drew Estates makes the Kentucky Fire Cured cigar, which is rolled with American filler tobacco aged in Buffalo Trace and Pappy Van Winkle barrels. Also from Nicaragua, Perdomo uses sun-grown wrappers that have been bourbon barrel-aged for anywhere from six to 14 months for its line of Exhibición cigars.
Kentucky Gentleman exclusively makes bourbon barrel-aged cigars using local tobacco. One stick is even aged in Fireball barrels. It’s ideal for the cinnamon whiskey-lovin’ bro that also likes to have a classy smoke on occasion.
While all the previous bourbon barrel-aged products have a tasty utility, this final one seem like pure gimmickry, at least initially.
Last year, high-end blue jeans purveyor Noble Denim teamed up with Bulleit Bourbon for one of the oddest culinary fashion mashups since Lady Gaga’s meat dress. The Cincinnati-based clothing company aged fifty pairs of over-dyed raw denim jeans in freshly-dumped five- to seven-year-old bourbon barrels to see how the pairs would change in color over a few months. You can actually watch a pretty compelling video on the process, which ultimately sold me on the bourbon blue jeans. The jeans aren’t on the market yet, but I bet the 50 pairs will go fast. Dressing casually hip and getting to smell like the nectar of the gods? I want a pair.