Devils Backbone & Jack Rose Willett 12 Year Barrel-Aged Sour Old Ale

Where in Town: Jack Rose Dining Saloon, 2007 18th St. NW

Price: $7/16 oz.

Rolling Out the Barrels
The magical power a whiskey barrel can have on beer is no secret. Bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts hold a disproportionate number of spots on lists of the world’s highest-rated and most sought-after beers. Many brewers put their beers in wine, whiskey, and other spirit barrels, often with delicious results. Few bars have the resources, space, or time to experiment with barrel aging, but Jack Rose Dining Saloon is a special case. Owner Bill Thomas, whose personal whiskey collection is double the 2,000 bottles that line the shelves of his bar/restaurant in Adams Morgan, leverages relationships with whiskey makers to acquire rarities—among them, a 21-year-old Willett Pot O’ Gold bourbon barrel that Beer Director Nahem Simon has employed to condition an imperial coffee stout from Pennsylvania’s Saucony Creek Brewing Company.

Willett or Won’t It?
Simon and Thomas’ latest undertaking is a British-style old ale, a collaboration with Devils Backbone Brewmaster Jason Oliver, who provided a blend of two of his beers—two parts six-month-old Tectonic Barleywine, one part fresh Ale of Fergus, an award-winning English-style mild. He then aged the concoction for three months before placing it in Jack Rose’s Willett 12 Year bourbon barrel for another 13 months, long enough to draw out plenty of the 10 liters of bourbon absorbed in the staves. The result is a rich and complex yet balanced beer. Its nose has traces of coconut and vanilla underneath oak and boozy heat. The 8-percent-alcohol brew’s tart, acidic character—due to wild yeasts picked up from the wood—tones down the original beer’s sweetness and intensity while still allowing for a warm, wine-like finish. This fantastic beer will almost certainly be gone by the time you read this. But don’t fret: Jack Rose has another keg put away for a rainy day and is working on barrel-aging projects with Flying Dog, Perennial, and Belgium’s Brasserie de Silly.

Photo by Tammy Tuck