“This is madness. Delicious, bourbon-y madness.”
When an American distillery makes a bourbon, they’re left with two things—many bottles of delicious drunk juice, and a barrel that set them back $120 that can’t be reused but is still saturated with delicious bourbon flavor. As in, legally, you cannot reuse a bourbon barrel to make another bourbon. It’s a one-and-done proposition. So, for decades, bourbon barrels were either discarded or sold to college students,
Then, in 1992, an at-the-time-relatively-unknown Chicago brewery called Goose Island released a beer called the Bourbon County Stout, and this happened. Before eventually being bought out by Budweiser in an acquisition that was lamented on this very page, the concept of re-using bourbon barrels on products besides other whiskeys began to grow with Bourbon County Stout’s increasing popularity, and in the past several years we’ve not only seen dozens of beers that spend time aging in used bourbon barrels appear on the market, we’ve seen dozens of completely non-beer-related products that spend time in bourbon barrels got up for sale. Literally dozens.
The wisest and most magnanimous among us know that adding bourbon to anything makes it delicious and American, and we can literally think of nothing that isn’t improved by the introduction of bourbon. Have an empty glass and the distinct feeling you’ve wasted the last 15 years of your life? Boom, put some bourbon in there and watch your worries melt away. It’s 3AM and the last woman left at the bar looks like a goblin who manages a Wal-Mart? Bam, bourbon yourself up, next thing you know you’ll swear you’re taking home 1998-era Cindy Crawford. Your new baby from the aforementioned ill-advised union won’t shut up and you’ve got a hangover? Boo-ya, drunk babies don’t cry, that’s fucking science. So with that in mind, we’re going to list of fifteen products that, on their own are good, but when aged in bourbon, are incredible. (Except for a few gross ones).
Fifteen Bourbon Barrel-Aged Products of America
Bourbon spends years aging in wooden barrels before being bottled for our pleasure, and in that process a surprising amount of “the angel’s share” is released. While each barrel starts with 53 gallons of distilled goodness, a large percentage of that goes to these alcoholic God-servants—the 2013 release of George T. Stagg started with 157 barrels, or about 8,321 gallons of bourbon, and ended up with just 2,218 gallons after almost 16 years of aging. Now we fear math as all red-blooded Americans, but our computer has a thing called a calculator that informs us that of the 53 original gallons in each barrel, all that was left was fourteen gallons a barrel once the angels got through with it.
That means that each used barrel has a lot of residual bourbon flavor seeped in its wood, which is why putting other things in those barrels when they’re done are going to give you an awesome bourbon taste on anything and everything you could dream of, which we wholeheartedly support. It might have started with beer, but the bourbon barrel-aging fad has gone on to bigger and better things, and it is our sworn duty to keep you apprised of these developments. But first, let’s start with the one that started it all.
1: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Beers (And Ciders)
Breweries market so many beers aged in used bourbon barrels that you can find Pinterest pages that list only the “best” of the barrel-aged beers and still come away with nearly one hundred different varieties. Honestly, bourbon barrel-aged beers have become so common among craft brewers that if your initial reaction to this section involves exclaiming, “Wow, they put beer in bourbon barrels now? What’ll they think of next!” then we truly worry about you. Less universal, but increasingly en vogue, you’ll find hard ciders that spend some time with bourbon ghosts as well. We can’t speak ill of these developments, since it means brewers are taking two different delicious alcoholic beverages and making them even more delicious (and more alcoholic) by letting them spend some time napping in bourbon’s old bed, and if that sentence doesn’t make you thirsty for a bourbon aged cider or beer, it’s too late for you, we’re so sorry, but in a few days you’ll be speaking French and complaining about burnt coffee. There’s nothing we can do for you but intravenously introduce bourbon until it passes, to make you more comfortable.
2: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Sriracha
And we just pushed this shit to eleven. Nope, we’re not going to hold your hand as we roughly transition from the warm, soothing familiarity of bourbon aged beer to the bold, spicy, “wait, what the actual fuck is going on here” brazenness of barrel-aged Sriracha, we’re diving right the fuck in. We love spiciness, and we love bourbon, so naturally we wholeheartedly endorse this union. Sosu Sauces was quick to realize how the internet works when they came up with this product, funding it on Kickstarter and reaching five times as much funding as their originally stated goal. Making a Sriracha out of chili peppers, brown sugar, garlic and salt, the sauce is placed in whiskey barrels for one month (three months for the limited edition batch). The end result is spicy with a lingering smoky sweetness and also your face, your face is in the jar, no one knows how you got the whole thing in there, the jar isn’t that wide, but your entire face is now in that bottle and you’re just going to have to deal with it.
3: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Hot Sauce
Sosu also has created a bourbon barrel-aged hot sauce of the non-Sriracha variety, but they’re less unique in that front. You can find a variety of restaurants and distilleries who have decided to combine the burning of bourbon with the burning of various hot peppers. The salt and vinegar in the sauces tends to pull moisture from the barrels, bringing with it much of the bourbon flavor and creating a bit of a darker, sweeter flavor that might not go quite as well on pizza as a more vinegary hot sauce but who are we kidding it probably goes great on pizza only a monster would think otherwise.
4: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Vanilla Extract
This is the part of the program where we debate whether this idea is brilliant and incredible, or if we as a nation of innovators have simply gone insane and are just blindly obeying the voices in our heads shouting, “BOURBON! BOURBON! MIX IT WITH BOURBON!” On one hand, vanilla extract is primarily alcohol, and bourbon can often have very strong vanilla notes that can meld with a vanilla extract while adding some subtle depth and character. On the other hand, you’re spending ten dollars on vanilla extract, an ingredient you use so little of it comes in tiny bottles that still take years to go through, and if we ever baked something using vanilla extract and had someone say “huh, is that a hint of bourbon I detect?” we’d know they were bullshitting us or, more likely, they were eating a cupcake while downing a glass of bourbon. Either way, don’t spend too long imagining 53 entire gallons of vanilla extract lingering in a wood barrel. Is there even 53 gallons of vanilla extract in the world? For those of you keeping track at home, this particular bottle in the picture gives you 100 ml of extract, which means a full bourbon barrel can be used to make 1,211 bottles with a little bit left over. We’ll let you internalize that knowledge however you deem fit.
5: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup
You see that bottle up there? It’s 12 ounces of maple syrup that’s been aged for weeks in bourbon barrels. You can buy it from William Sonoma for $30, because if there’s one thing we know about William Sonoma, it’s that they’re definitely in touch with typical American spending habits. Of course, if you want to avoid the non-douchey-white-person-catalog approach, you can buy it straight from BLiS’s website for a mere $19, which is not too much more expensive than standard grade A maple syrup. So, if you want to drop twenty dollars, your pancake breakfast can have even more alcohol in it (on top of the Bloody Mary and whiskey chaser, aka the Breakfast of Champions) which we’re not going to get in the way of. Admittedly, the concept of maple syrup being aged in bourbon casks seems strange, but the more you actually think about it, the stranger it becomes.
So, in order to make this product, you have to cut a hole in a maple tree during a time of the year where the days are starting to warm up, but the temperatures still fall below freezing at night. You then collect the dripping sap (or “tree blood” as we like to refer to it) in a bucket. You get yourself 40 gallons of this tree blood for each gallon of syrup. You take this sap and filter out sediment, bugs, and twigs before boiling it until all that is left is the syrup, which will again be filtered. Then, at this point, after forcibly stabbing a tree to boil down its life force, you move this sticky substance into a barrel made from the dismembered and charred remains of an oak tree. Then and only then is it bottled and sent to your door by a UPS guy who maybe is wearing one of those old hats that milkmen used to wear, honestly we’ll be kind of upset if he shows up not wearing a milkmen cap given the fact that we just paid William Sonoma thirty bucks before shipping to get twelve ounces of syrup mailed to our house whose only unique quality is that it got to spend time in both a living and dead tree at various stages of its creation. And don’t say, “Oh, um, we wore a milkman’s hat, you just weren’t home when we dropped it off.” Because we’ll know if you’re lying. Fucking William Sonoma.
6: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Fish Sauce
Eww, no. BLiS, we’re starting to think there might be something slightly wrong with you. Yes, this is also needlessly expensive, and we’re going to go on a limb and say that this is the most diabolical item on the list. That’s not a joke, we honestly believe that there is evil behind this product, which takes Red Boat 40°n fish sauce and ages it in a barrel for seven months, combines all the goodness of bourbon with all the “um wait what the holy hell are you doing why would you think this would mix with bourbon?” of fish sauce. First of all, fish is not exactly a dish we associate with bourbon. Secondly, fish sauce has very…unique and pungent attributes to it, which we don’t think would necessarily be enhanced or improved upon by bourbon. No one ever has fish sauce and thinks, “interesting, I think it could use a hint of vanilla sweetness.” No, they say, “ah yes, this is very fishy, what did you say it was called? Fish sauce? Huh, I guess that makes sense. It is a sauce that tastes like someone condensed the fishiness of fish into a sauce, hence the name, I suppose.”
But that’s not even the worst thing about this product. No, the true villainy lies in the fact that they put this brown liquid in a bottle, seal the top with wax in such a way to make it look eerily similar to a bottle of Maker’s Mark, and then make a label where the first thing you read are the words “Small Batch Bourbon Barrel.” They then decided to write “Fish Sauce” in weird fancy sort-of-cursive, and most of us haven’t read cursive since we were in 5th grade, and basically what we’re trying to say is, there is a zero percent chance that someone has not had this out during a party where a guest accidentally took a swig of this bottle mistaking it for bourbon before screaming, “OH MY GOD SOMEONE IS TRYING TO POISON ME THIS BOURBON TASTES LIKE FISH AND THERE IS NO GOD.”
Beware the bourbon fish sauce.
7: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Soy Sauce
While there’s thankfully no confusing soy sauce for bourbon (and if so, what the fuck kind of bourbon and/or soy sauce are you buying, you goddamn lunatic?) we’re back into the territory of bourbon products where we have an existential crisis as we wonder what right we have to force this knowledge on you. You, the reader, woke up this morning in a world where you were blissfully ignorant of the fact that for $5.50 plus shipping you can tell the internet to mail you a soy sauce that was created when someone decided to ferment winter wheat and Kentucky-grown soybeans in a re-purposed bourbon barrel. That knowledge will bring absolutely no joy to your life, and you just forgot a relatively inconsequential but still nice memory of your childhood to make room for the “revelation” that you can ferment soy sauce in a bourbon barrel. And for the handful of you that didn’t even realize that soy sauce is made through fermentation, you additionally forgot what your friend Billy got you for your eighth birthday (it was a GI Joe figure, but it was Chuckles, whose only redeeming quality was that he looks like he’s pantomiming a handjob on the cover, but you didn’t pick that up at the time, so it was pretty underwhelming, and it kinda explains why you and Billy don’t talk anymore).
Anyway, this is a thing. We probably don’t even care enough to try it. It probably doesn’t suck, but at the end of the day isn’t soy sauce just liquid salt? That’s what Kikkoman has been telling us all these years at least.
8: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Coffee
Based in Chicago, Dark Matter Coffee sells java exclusively to a city whose winters are so bad it’s probably impossible to survive them without copious amounts of bourbon and coffee, so last August they decided to cut out the middleman and store their coffee beans in two bourbon barrels that had just been used for a batch of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout. Here we have the first non-liquid entry to the barrel-aging market, and while you’d assume the flavor transfer would be less effective than the previous bourbon barrel-aged products on this list, apparently a large amount of vanilla and honey notes from the bourbon are transferred to the green coffee beans during the three weeks they spend in the barrel, where they naturally absorb the lingering moisture from the wood which comes out during roasting.
We’re going to take a moment to answer the question you are currently breathlessly stuttering to your computer screen—no, none of the booze transfers over, these coffee beans are 100% non-alcoholic. They just taste like bourbon, which as far as things to taste like is much better than, say, soap or spiders or, honestly, many things that aren’t bourbon but also aren’t steak or other food and drink that people enjoy the taste of more than bourbon.
The first batch of bourbon coffee yielded 50 bags, all of which sold out in less than a day, but Dark Matter vows to make batches of booze barrel-aged coffees whenever they can get their hands on any barrels, be they bourbon, rum, sherry, absinth, or wine, and now we can’t think of anything other than absinth coffee which would either be the best thing to ever happen or the man kind’s greatest culinary sin ever. Either way, we need it, right now.
9: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Gin
We absolutely love this idea. We love that there are multiple distilleries that also absolutely love this idea. And we like the fact that you can click on those links without having to fill out that garbage “put down your date of birth so we can prove you’re 21 but you’re lazy so you’re just going to keep it at January 1st and slide the year down to a random year in the 70s” form that most liquor and beer websites insist on. We’ve yet to try this particular combination, but we can see it working—both bourbon and gin have unique flavors, but they’re both on the sweeter spectrum, and we can the union to be if not incredible, at least interesting and enjoyable enough to keep drinking. At it’s very worst, your response to bourbon barrel gin would be, “Huh, I’m curious as to how that would taste.” At best, you’re a bartender and you’ve already planned out an entire menu of cocktails to make using it. Either way, might as well pick up a bottle—it’s one of only two things on this list that can actually get you drunk.
(Well, okay, you can get drunk on the vanilla extract too, we suppose, but trust us, that’s a dark path you do not want to start venturing down.)
10: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cocktails
Well fuck, we jumped the gun with that last statement. Here’s another way to get drunk on something from a bourbon barrel that is not bourbon. A recent trend among high-end cocktail mixologists, barrel aged cocktails were first espoused by Tony Conigliaro, who apparently was the owner of a London bar and not an American baseball player with a black eye, it’s found a place among bartenders in America who look to prepare large volumes of a cocktail and store them in bourbon barrels, which adds a subtle complexity to the drinks that you probably won’t notice since you pounded the first one to get a buzz, pounded the second one because it tastes good, and now your taste buds are all out of whack and you’re just focusing on finishing the third glass without the bartender realizing you’re so smashed they probably shouldn’t pour you a fourth (but you’ll get your fourth, goddamn it, you’re a pro). This isn’t an overly common phenomenon, but the establishments that sell it swear that it brings out the flavor, character, and color of the liquor being used, and since all the work is done on the front-end, customers don’t have to wait for their cocktail to be prepared, which is great news for the American consumer impatiently waiting to get drunk.
11: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Tequila
If we were to try to come up with one spirit other than gin that would not be ruined by the addition of whiskey to it, we’d go with tequila. Sure, tequila and bourbon might have very different reputations—one is associated with, say, Ron Swanson and mustaches, while the other conjures mental images of salt and shots poured into belly buttons, but we think if the two sat down together and had a long deep conversation about their hopes and dreams they’d come out the other side saying, “We’re not so different, you and I.” It’s why you can find cocktails that combine bourbon with mescal (which, like tequila, is made from agave) that are smoky and delicious, and why no one thought Corazón was insane for procuring bourbon barrels to make a variety of bourbon barrel-aged, high end tequilas. The Buffalo Trace Reposado Tequila was aged for 10.5 months in Buffalo Trace barrels, while the George T Stagg Añejo Tequila sat in bourbon’s coffin for 22 months, and the Old Rip Van Winkle Añejo festered in the barrel of one of the better bourbons commercially available for a whole 23 months. While these are out of most of our staff’s price range (the bottles set you back around $80 each, give or take) we’d definitely not turn down some free samples from the lovely Corazón distillery. Cough. Hint.
We said, cough. Hint.
(hit us up, guys)
12: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Worcestershire Sauce
Okay listen, we love Worcestershire sauce, because we live in a world where people know how to make Bloody Marys that taste good. But it’s a pretty, um, strong flavor, like the same company’s soy sauce which, by the way, is one of the ingredients in this Worcestershire. Well, not the bourbon barrel aged soy sauce, we don’t live in a society advanced enough to handle a bourbon barrel-aged Inception event, but it does have this company’s regular soy sauce, as well as sorghum, apple cider vinegar, tamarind and spices—so basically a whole slew of strongly flavored ingredients that will probably mask any flavor imparted from its time stored in bourbon barrels. But hey, maybe we’re wrong, maybe it’s a revelation, maybe it’ll make the best Bloodys you’ve ever Mary-ed. It’s just $5.50 before shipping, and it does have the word “bourbon” in it, so if you bought it, we’d not give you a hard time. We’re just not going to line up and kiss its ass trying to score some free products.
Unlike you, Corazón. We heart you guys. Get it? That’s right, we actually managed to teach ourselves the definition of a single word of another language. That has to be worth a free bottle of tequila, right? Hit us up.
13: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Tea
There are at least two tea distributors that got the idea to take loose tea leafs and age them in bourbon barrels, and we suppose we’re for it? This seems to pretty much be the tea equivalent of the bourbon barrel coffee beans which, like tea, has it’s bourbon counterpart. Coffee has the Irish Coffee, and tea has the Hot Toddy, which arguably is a more bourbon-appropriate beverage. Then again, we can’t claim to have any staff members who are tea-purists, so maybe there are people who view this as a sin on the Dalai Lama or whatever deity is in charge of tea culture, we don’t know. We just hope it tastes like bourbon, so we can put bourbon in our bourbon flavored tea and make a point not to think about how much easier it would have been to just add hot water to a glass of bourbon for the same effect.
14: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cigars
Holy hell this is brilliant. Holy hell, this is brilliant. Specifically talking about Perdomo’s 20th Anniversary cigars, which are aged for 6 years before spending an additional 14 month in bourbon barrels, we don’t even care if no bourbon flavor makes its way into the tobacco, we want to believe that it does so badly we’d be more than willing to go Placebo effect if we ever got our hands on one. “Oh yes, we can totally taste the bourbon, it’s rich and smooth and offers complexity,” we’d say.
“What are you talking about? I can’t taste a thing,” an actual reviewer of cigars who doesn’t write articles with copious use of the word “fuck” would reply.
“Well, if you can’t taste it, we have to question your palate,” we’d cluck, completely full of shit.
“Wait, who the hell are you guys? Why are you in my house, stealing my cigars? I’m going to call the police,” he would respond.
Anyway, we’d smoke these. And, speaking of smoking, that brings us to…
15: Bourbon Barrel-Aged Meats
To be perfectly blunt, as much as we want to get behind this (it’s meat! It’s bourbon! It’s everything we’ve dreamed about since Sharon left!) we’re still a little worried about this offering from Smoking Goose and Goose the Market in Indianapolis. This isn’t meat that’s smoked using the boards of a used bourbon barrel, it’s literally just seasoned hunks of pig that were jammed in a bourbon barrel for a while to age. Smoking Goose claims that you get a strong sweet bourbon flavor with each bite, so maybe we’re just being overly cautious. We’ve been hurt so many times before that we want to believe that this is truly as wonderful as we hope, but how can we know for sure? That is, unless Smoking Goose wants to send us a sample or four. You know, if they only had some way to email us and get our office location.
And with that, you now know fifteen bourbon barrel-aged products you can be proud of. Well, more like, six or so we can be proud of, four or so that are awful, and another five that the jury is still out on. But still, bourbon-infused things! America!