Noob Brewer Question: Which Whiskey to Use?

So my bourbon barrel porter is doing well.  The bubbling has slowed after a few days of rowdy gurgles and the amazing yeast cake on the top of the carboy is slipping into the murky depths.  Soon it’ll be time to siphon the beer to secondary and then add the whiskey and the oak cubes.  I guess using cubes makes it a faux bourbon barrel porter, but if it tastes good, I think it’s a clever way to infuse oak and whiskey into a beer without having to get a barrel.

But I digress.  Right now I have everything I need to finish the brew except for one critical component – the whiskey.  So what kind to use?   

Now, brother Don knows his bourbons and I’ve asked him which whiskey I should use for the beer, but Don’s never brewed before.   But I know lots of you guys and gals have, and I suspect you’ve had some experience with infusing whiskey flavors into beer.  My main priorities are taste and finish – I’m going to have a lot of time invested in this beer, and I’d like it to be as pleasurable as possible to drink (as soon as possible as well – don’t want to have to wait six months for the whiskey to mellow in the bottles).

The recipe calls for 16oz of Maker’s Mark.  Have you ever brewed with that stuff before?  Is there something better?  Does it even matter?  Please let me know below – this is a critical part of the brew and I want to get it right.  Thanks!!


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Categories: Beer, Home Brewing, Whiskey


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14 Comments on “Noob Brewer Question: Which Whiskey to Use?”

  1. March 12, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    I wouldn’t know…I’ve never brewed a bourbon stout. Mike has…I’m sure he’ll let you know.

    • March 12, 2010 at 10:27 am #

      Wow – that’s a shocker. I figured you’d done it all. Not your style?

  2. March 12, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    General rule is use a bourbon you like and you can afford to use. I know that sounds obvious but, like cooking with wine, people often think they can skimp here. Or, they go overboard using something super fancy and rare and just turned their $30 batch of homebrew into a $70 one.

    I use Maker’s a lot. Its a good middle of the road bourbon that imparts a nice, familiar flavor (i.e. its easier for less developed palates to pull out the flavor) and it won’t impart too much complexity to compete with the oak. That said, its also real sweet so if you are pushing for a dryer brew I’d look to something a little more complex. Elijah Craig imparts a great flavor while being slightly less sweet and Michter’s Rye (yes, rye is not bourbon) also brings some interesting notes.

    Also, from a brewing standpoint, soak the cubes for 24+ hrs in your pint of bourbon to sterilize and meld the flavors for a more “bourbon barrel” flavor. You will have to let this one sit in bottles for a minimum of a month but that’s not from the bourbon, its from the astringency of the wood. 6 months is ideal.

    • March 12, 2010 at 10:59 am #

      thanks, Chris. I’ve read that folks have gotten great results using Makers, but I really like Elijah Craig as a sipping companion. But I like a sweet bourbon flavor in my barrel aged beers, so Maker’s might be the way to go. Hmmm.

      I’m planning on soaking the cubes for a while – it’s actually why I’m asking the whiskey question so early.

      I’ve heard folks say that they get a terrific result with this brew when they keep the cubes in secondary for 10 days, otherwise the oak tends to take over. But I agree, this is the type of beer that ages wonderfully. What a stupid thing to pick for my first brew – I’ll have to wait forever!

      I’m actually planning on starting a wheat as soon as the primary is clear. I think I’ll bottle it three ways – plain, cherry (wife’s request) and lemon (like a shandy) or possibly blueberry. Anyway, it looks like the wheat will be ready long before the porter has hit its stride.

  3. Don
    March 12, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    OK little Bro this is something I have a little bit of experience with. Whiskey is my thing, and I’m all over it like white on rice. So, if you are going to use a wheater like Makers, there is a far superior whiskey to use, which will impart that sweet and boozy flavor way better than the Makers will, IMO. I would use Old Weller Antique. This is a whiskey that is 107 proof, aged 7 years in Oak and is a great wheat whiskey, and will cost you about $10 less than Makers will (Although Buffalo Trace has increased the price of late). Anyway, I think you should be able to get it for about $22 or less. You can read my review of it here. It is my favorite wheat bourbon, and should make and amazing Bourbon Barrel Porter.

  4. March 12, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    I would agree with Chris; I use Elijah Craig with mine. But you want to use a bourbon that you like the flavor of. Where I digress from Chris; I soaked my cubes for several weeks in a sealed tupperware until all the bourbon I added was soaked up. a sandwich size container, lay the cubes nicely in there, add bourbon until it reaches the top of the cubes, and seal up lid. Now that I have a barrel it is different, but that is how i’ve done it in the past with great success.

    • March 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

      Thanks, Peter. I want to soak the heck out of the cubes as you suggest, so they’ll probably be in whiskey this weekend. That’ll give me at least 3 weeks of sopping up flavor.

      I like Elijah Craig, as well as Knob Creek. The recipe calls for Makers, but Don says Old Weller Antiqiue ISA superior choice. Decisions, decisions!

  5. March 13, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    I’d do the Knob Creek. The more flavor, the more impact. I like to stick with the ones that are over 50% ABV because I feel that Bourbons are better when they reach that point, hence the Knob Creek suggestion. It all depends on you. Maker’s is a Wheat Bourbon and less spicy than the Knob Creek (which is a Rye). I don’t know that there’s really a wrong way to go. Like Peter and Co said, it’s what you like.

  6. March 14, 2010 at 5:11 am #

    Stumbled onto your blog after wordpress generated one of your posts onto one of mine. I saw this and wanted to suggest Four Roses’ Single Barrel (100 proof). I picked some up at their distillery on a recent road trip back cross country. Not a fan of bourbon in general, I was impressed by its smoothness, hint of oak and vanilla. Now I’m intrigued about a bourbon stout… I’ll have to see if I can con a friend into brewing some from me to try! Jenn

    • March 14, 2010 at 8:43 am #

      Thanks for the suggestion Jenn. Sounds like Four Roses would be a great place to get a barrel from for properly aging a beer. This time I’m using oak cubes, but I’d eventually like to try the real deal. Where is the brewery located?

      • Don
        March 14, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

        Dude!!! Whiskey is not made in a Brewery! And 99% of all Bourbon is distilled in Kentucky, the mecca for Bourbon. There is Tennessee Whiskey, and now a couple Bourbons are being made in a couple other states like Colorado, Texas, and New York. Four Roses Single Barrel is very good bourbon, and would be a great one for your porter. I forget about it because they don’t sell it here in Idaho. Here is my review of it.

  7. March 18, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    I have learned that Founders uses Elijah Craig barrels for aging many of my favorite beers. So we have a winner – I just picked up a bottle of EC12 and will be soaking my cubes (eww) shortly.

    • Don
      March 18, 2010 at 10:12 am #

      Yeah, every once in a while after a hard day at work, I like to come home and give my cubes a good soakin’…

  8. March 19, 2010 at 1:14 am #

    Four Roses is in Kentucky but you can order it over the web, which is what I will be doing again soon. You two crack me up, btw. Jenn

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