“American whiskey with hops” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but the world has yet to come up with a sexier sounding term for booze made from beer. There’s plenty of it out there these days, including this latest bottling from Arcane Distilling, the first whiskey from the Brooklyn-based operation.
Here’s a little backstory:
Helmed by CEO Brian Thompson & Distiller Phil Morgan, Arcane is a new type of distillery that lives at the intersection of beer and whiskey. Arcane combines the vibrant culture and innovative flavors of craft beer with cutting edge distillation technology to create unique and extremely smooth, nuanced, and environmentally responsible whiskeys. With extensive backgrounds in both beer and distilling, the team questioned every step of whiskey making to create a dynamic new approach that yields delicious results. Arcane’s vacuum distillation process captures the intense malt flavors and hop aromas of beer, delivering complex and flavorful American whiskies unlike any other.
Though complicated in practice, the Arcane approach is simple: make great beer and distill it into great whiskey. While all whiskey is made from a type of beer, Arcane comes from fresh, locally brewed craft beer designed to showcase exceptionally bold but familiar flavors. Beginning with IPAs and stouts, Arcane is the only whiskey that truly retains the essence of the craft beer, which shines with ripe, tropical flavors, notes of hops, and nutty malty aromas.
Beer is at the core of Arcane’s process, and as such, they take great care to source specific ingredients that produce precise flavors every step of the way. The entire approach to brewing differs greatly from a traditional whiskey distiller, where the goal is often to maximize the alcohol content in their ‘distiller’s beer.’ Rather, the Arcane approach is to make the most flavorful craft beer possible to produce the most flavorful whiskey possible. Using only premium malted barley and hops – the same ingredients you would find at a craft brewery – and fermenting with a particularly flavor-forward yeast called kviek, they brew beers that not only transform into great whiskey, but also taste great on their own.
Because so many of the aromas and flavors of beer are delicate and volatile, traditional distillation would all but destroy them when boiling beer to evaporate the alcohol. Under vacuum, however, alcohol evaporates at a much lower temperature. Arcane’s custom-designed vacuum still operates at room temperature, allowing the system to preserve and collect those volatile aroma and flavor compounds. Further, Arcane’s still is equipped with three auxiliary condensers, one of which operates at -30 degrees Celsius, and is designed to capture exceptionally flavorful but extremely volatile compounds that cannot be captured in a traditional still.
Alpha is made from a triple IPA base and has a mashbill of 77% two-row malted barley, 11% Munich malt, 8% malted rye, and 4% C-60 malt — and plenty of hops, from the taste of it. Bright and piney on the nose, it smells much like a fresh IPA, with a touch of charry wood rumbling underneath — slightly dank. The palate is bittersweet and again evokes an IPA, more west coast in tone, with bitter evergreen notes dominating. One hopes for some fruit here but it’s elusive, showing some elements of baked apples with cinnamon and a touch of strawberry, but ultimately overwhelmed by the essence of IPA — turned earth, tobacco (a little smoky here, even), and pine needles on the finish.
The overall composition feels a little thin and in need of more body, and it’s slightly less polished than other whiskeys in this category — the recently dropped Wolves immediately springs to mind — but as a first stab at the style, it’s definitely on the right path.
B / $46 / arcanedistilling.com