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17 Must-Try Beers for Whiskey Advocates

Whiskey. Every libation-loving person across the world knows about this wonderful beverage, which refers to a barrel-aged distilled spirit made from fermented grain mash of malted barley, corn, rye or wheat. With a wide range of base ingredients, there are a few different monikers with which it can be addressed. After extensive "research" on the subject, we came up with 17 must-try beers for whiskey advocates.

The most common usage is “whiskey” (note the 'e' in there). The Scots produce whisky (sans the ‘e’) while bourbon is another type of whiskey, though a large contingent tell us “true bourbon only comes from Bourbon County in Kentucky. Despite the names, the finished product is similar enough to be grouped together yet dissimilar enough to sit, sip and contemplate the differences. Add some peat-smoked malt and you have Islay Scotch Whisky. Last but certainly not least, charring levels can also further influence the finished product.

Regardless of the origin or lore, beer aged in barrels that once matured such spirits is something worth seeking out if you’re a fan of that fabled beverage. That same complexity that exists in a whiskey barrel can transfer into your favorite beer tipple as well, and with that in mind, craft brewers all over have embraced the whiskey and bourbon barrel as a major part of their offerings.

Founders KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)

Founders cave-ages and matures their KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) in oak bourbon barrels for a year. This (along with a judicious amount of coffee) creates a wonderful breakfast beer – Kentucky-style, of course. The opaque black liquid offers pleasant light coffee, vanilla and oak notes from the barrel alongside bigger, richer aromas and flavors of roast malt and a kiss of sweet Kentucky Bourbon whiskey. This beer is available March and April every year and ages quite well; also look for its rarer cousin, Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS), which Founders ages in Bourbon barrels that previously held maple syrup and releases in December.


AleSmith Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout

AleSmith takes a queue from the whiskey industry in their Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout – they blend multiple barrels of this barrel-aged beauty to create a smooth, highly drinkable ale. The rich, roasty dark malt and locally roasted coffee beans create wonderful complexity after a year in the variety of Bourbon barrels. Sip and savor it now or age it for a couple of years and explore how it changes over time, as the barrel provides scintillating new elements of vanilla and oak. AleSmith’s Speedway Stout enjoys wide notoriety and the brewers and workers there enjoy creating many Speedway variations. To celebrate its versatility, they hold a Grand Prix of Speedway every year during San Diego Beer Week (early November) where they feature up to 16 variants. It is indeed a versatile beer and their Bourbon Barrel-Aged Speedway Stout variant continues to be a popular choice. While this is a limited release beer, the 2018 vintage just came out – grab it now!

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout Elijah Craig (12 Year)

FiftyFifty Brewing of Truckee, California brews an Imperial Stout that is aged in a variety of bourbon or whiskey barrels annually. While AleSmith above relies on barrel blends, FiftyFifty creates the equivalent of single barrel variants. Within 2017, the brewery released varieties such as Belle Meade Bourbon, Elijah Craig 12-year Bourbon, Evan Williams Bourbon, Joseph Magnus Bourbon and Willett Bourbon. This allows us to pick out the spicy rye character of, say, the Belle Meade version. The base beer is an opaque, thick, black Imperial Stout full of rich, roasted malt complexity. The barrels each impart their own uniqueness, with the Elijah Craig 12-year being one of my favorites (though I have a few more to try). Consumers tell the varietals apart by the wax color, and so far, the brewer has shown an amazing ability to produce quite the color palette when it comes to wax.

Baladin Xyauyù Fumé (Islay Whisky)

Aged for 12 months in Islay Scottish whisky barrels, this variant of Baladin Xyauyù offers a natural peaty flavor to one of Birrificio de Baladin's already complex beers. This English Barleywine features a rich, bready, kettle-caramelized malt character with low hop bitterness and a high, warming alcohol content at 14 percent ABV. A true sipper and one that deserves the proper temperature to allow the peaty Islay Whisky to shine through.


Cigar City Bourbon Barrel-Aged Hunahpu's Imperial Stout

Cigar City’s Hunaphu’s Imperial Stout enjoys a cult following, and even has an annual celebration held in its honor. Rustic wood character and Bourbon spiciness from its time spent resting in white oak barrels ratchets up this impressive Imperial Stout to new heights. The base Hunahpu’s Stout is brewed with ancho and pasilla chile peppers, cinnamon, vanilla and cacao nibs, and is a contemplative, complex beer even without the added wrinkles from its time in barrels. This is an exclusive beer and will certainly test your resources to find and enjoy.


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