It only took a few drinks to see the potential. Daryl Hoekstra, the head distiller at Rising Sun Distillery, and his wife, Jules, agreed: A great whiskey could be made using Epic Brewing Company's Big Bad Baptist barrels.
On Friday, October 9, Rising Sun will release the resulting collaboration, Dark Angel. The whiskey honors the essence of Big Bad Baptist’s robust nature by including three of its malts and by aging in barrels that previously held batches of the imperial stout, but it also stays true to Rising Sun’s intention to make unique spirits that still taste familiar. The result is a complex, nutty whiskey with notes of coffee and chocolate.
Rising Sun was started by Dawn and Sol Richardson seven years ago as a creative business pursuit. “I was a high school teacher for fifteen years, and I joke that it drove me to drink,” says Dawn. While searching for a new, less stressful career, she offered up the idea of making booze. After all, creating alcohol was somewhat of a family tradition.
Dawn’s great-grandfather was a mining engineer in Utah, and in those days, the only way to drink liquor in Utah was to make it. And he wasn’t the only relative with a still. Unbeknownst to them until recently, Sol’s mother’s family made moonshine out of pears in Wisconsin and ran it down to Chicago during Prohibition, Dawn says.
So the couple went into business. “I have the 24th distilled-spirits license in Colorado, and [now] there’s well over 100,” Dawn continues. Rising Sun focuses on creating beverages that put subtle twists on traditional spirits. Their drinks are made to be relatable, unique and refined, all from quality ingredients.
Quality and taste partly inspired the collaboration with Epic Brewing. The Hoekstras had known the brewery's owner, Dave Cole, for years and already enjoyed the award-winning Big Bad Baptist. “They were the ones that really spearheaded the project,” Dawn says, noting that the pair began the process of creating Dark Angel months before she was brought in on the project. They were excited about the potential to use a combination of Epic Brewing barrels and malts to create a complex and flavorful whiskey.
Big Bad Baptist is an imperial stout aged in whiskey barrels to begin with. Aging alcohol such as whiskey and beer requires oak barrels, which expand and contract with fluctuations in humidity and temperature, Because of this, the wood flavors the booze and the booze flavors the wood. The Hoekstras knew those Epic Brewing barrels could help create a nuanced whiskey because of the multiple flavors that would present themselves in the aging process.
Dark Angel is also made with three of five malts that Epic Brewing uses in Big Bad Baptist. Rising Sun combines the malted barley with corn and, after fermentation and distillation, ages the resulting spirit on new American oak spirals to add elements of vanilla, oak and toast (in addition to time in the Epic barrels). “Dark Angel Whiskey is multi-dimensional due to the complexity of the malt, hints of bourbon from the corn and the unique mouthfeel given by the Big Bad Baptist barrels,” Richardson continues.
The whiskey is best enjoyed “neat or on the rocks,” she says. “Beyond that, you shouldn’t mess with it that much.” She envisions enjoying the whiskey as “an evening drink, after you’re done winding down...when you’re just sitting there by the fire.
“It’s a warming drink,” she continues.
After its release, Dark Angel will be available at both Rising Sun Distillery tasting rooms — the original at 1330 Zuni Street and the new location at 1121 Dillon Dam Road in Frisco — as well as from select retailers on the Front Range. This first batch is limited to 600 bottles and will be available while supplies last.
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