Photo by photo courtesy of Trent Tilton
Spirit made from Council Brewing's stout sits on fresh oak at San Diego Distilling
In San Diego, we've seen collaborations between breweries and between breweries and coffee roasters. Add another to the list, as a Spring Valley spirits producer is working to convert beer into whiskey.
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"I'm really trying to spearhead that in San Diego," says Trent Tilton, owner and distiller of San Diego Distillery. He notes that all whiskeys are distilled from beer, including the homebrew recipes he came up with to produce his regular line of whiskeys. However, he's promoting these collaborations as beer whiskeys to highlight their connection to craft brews.
For example, next month he plans to release a beer whiskey distilled from the Belgian ale named Foreplay, by Thorn Street Brewery. "That particular whiskey," Tilton says, "is one of the most unique things I've ever made. The Belgian yeast characteristic comes through, and the hop profile."
Having spent the past year in a bourbon barrel, this could be a preview of things to come, as Thorn Street has plans to add a distilling component to the larger brewery it's building in Barrio Logan. Tilton says Thorn Street is not alone in this ambition, as he's working with a number of Southern California breweries that have distilling aspirations.
While he's not at liberty to discuss them all, he's discussed plans for a number of beer-whiskey collaborations that may connect a few dots for fans curious about what flavor profiles their favorite beers may produce post-distillation.
Another of Tilton's whiskeys (currently sitting in a new barrel) was distilled from a bourbon-barrel-aged version of Council Brewing's imperial oatmeal stout known as Pirate's Breakfast. He calls that one "Kind of an eye-opener…. When the distillate was coming off the still, it already had some barrel character on it!"
It was eye-opening to Council co-owner Curtis Chism, too. He'd never previously participated in the distilling process and marveled that Council's chocolaty, roasty stout produced hints of peanut butter and marshmallows coming off the still. "The fact it had such a dynamic flavor profile right away was pretty interesting," he recalls.
Making whiskey from beer has an added benefit — putting the occasional bad batch to good use. Three of the eight barrels aging that batch of Pirate's Breakfast had acquired a wild yeast strain, so Council was ready to dump them. Instead, they gave the beer to Tilton, since the distilling process can remove unwanted flavor compounds.
Home Brewing Co. had a similar reason for sending Tilton a batch of its Coffee Dopplebock. Brewer Shawn Manriquez explains Home Brewing made the first batch as a collaboration with Modern Times Beer, using a Modern Times coffee blend. "That had been very successful with its first run," he says; however, "The second run we used different coffee."
Adding three pounds of coffee to that batch produced a hazy effect the brewer couldn't clear. Manriquez says he thought, "I don't want my name on this because it looks ugly." Then he had the idea to give it to his friend the distiller, adding with a laugh, "Trent can make it look pretty."