Nothing tastes better than a beer at the end of a long, terrible day. But what if the beer itself has been through hell and high water? Find out this week when Upslope Brewing begins pouring Scottish Style Ale, a collaboration with Spirit Hound Distillers that was born in the devastating floods of September 2013.
Actually, the whiskey was created a month before those floods.
In 2012, five friends decided to start Spirit Hound in Lyons as a way to channel their passion for straight malt whiskey. But because they hadn't yet received their brewing equipment (malt whiskey starts its life in much the same way as beer, by being boiled with malted barley in a mashtun) by August of 2013, they decided to make their first few batches of “wash,” which is pre-fermented whiskey, on Upslope's system at the brewery's original Lee Hill location.
Spirit Hound co-founder Wayne Anderson and Upslope founder Matt Cutter had known each other for years, and since Upslope didn't brew on Saturdays, Cutter let head distiller Craig Engelhorn use the place on that day. Engelhorn made six batches of wash at Upslope, trucking each one up to Lyons afterward, where it was fermented, distilled and poured into six 53-gallon oak barrels to age.
But on September 12, 2013, the distillery was damaged by the floods that crippled Lyons and other parts of Boulder County. Although the floods damaged the facility and destroyed some raw materials and other goods, it left the whiskey alone. “The water was eighteen inches deep, and the two bottom barrels had water marks on them, but the whiskey survived,” Engelhorn says.
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Spirit Hound got back on track six months later, and in August 2015, it bottled five of the six original "flood-proof" barrels (the first one is still aging) and then quickly sold out of them. But to commemorate the rebuilding effort – and the partnership with Upslope – the two companies decided to brew a Scottish-style ale last November and age it in two of those barrels.
The beer, overseen by Upslope brewer Charlie Condon, will be tapped for the first time at both Upslope locations (on Lee Hill Road and in Flatiron Park) at 5:30 p.m. on March 8. After that, it will be tapped at Backcountry Pizza & Taphouse in Boulder at 5:30 on March 9; at Lyons Fork in Lyons at 5:30 p.m. on March 10; and at Falling Rock Tap House in Denver at 5:30 p.m. on March 11.
“It's a similar style to the wash that we were making the whiskey from. It's got some peated malt in it,” notes Englehorn, who hopes to age more whiskey in the two now-empty barrels to try to impart some of the beer flavors back into the whiskey. “It came in at 10 percent. And it is exciting that it came out so well. It's got big, bold, caramel-y rich flavors, with a whiskey character to it. It's a beer drinker's beer for sure.”