The natural collaborative relationship that exists between craft breweries and distilleries has made the boom in American single malt whiskeys possible in recent years, as any beer can theoretically be distilled into a spirit, with extremely eclectic and intriguing results. In recent years, I’ve tasted everything from distilled lager and distilled IPA to distilled Belgian quadrupel or distilled porter, and in almost every case I’ve walked away marveling at how much more room there is for experimentation in this corner of the whiskey world. Suffice to say, there’s just as big a potential variety out there for distilled beer as there is for literal beer, and these whiskeys (or bierschnapps, as some call them) have become increasingly common.
Still, it’s always exciting when you see a beloved producer throw their hat in the ring, especially when they’re bringing something new and unusual to the table. That’s what Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. did with today’s announcement that they’ll be releasing an impressively aged malt whiskey, primarily distilled from their own Ruthless Rye IPA, made in conjunction with California’s St. George Spirits.
Now, the collaboration itself between Sierra Nevada and St. George is nothing new, as they’ve actually been working together for more than two decades. Sierra Nevada is effectively the brewer for St. George, producing the “wash” that St. George uses to distill and manufacture their own malt whiskey. This wash is effectively “beer” in an academic sense, but it’s unhopped and never consumed on its own. The new Ruthless malt whiskey, on the other hand, is the first time that Sierra Nevada has distilled one of its own finished, core beer brands for sale to the public.
There are a few aspects here that specifically catch my attention. First is the fact that this is mostly distilled Ruthless Rye IPA, but it’s also blended with “a small portion of the first barrel of St. George Single Malt Whiskey, which was brewed by Sierra Nevada and distilled by St. George Spirits in 1997.” So clearly, they’ve been holding onto that one for quite a while.
The second notable thing is the fact that this release has been a LONG time in coming, as the Ruthless Rye IPA was distilled in 2013 and laid down to age in both new American oak casks and used French oak port casks in 2013. This is a very, very long time to age a distilled beer—in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever tasted any distilled beer that has aged for even half this long, but it speaks to the fact that Sierra Nevada is the kind of large craft brewery that can afford to be very patient with such an experiment. When they first conceived this plan in 2013, it was likely a concept that very few had pursued in the U.S. craft beer industry. Things have clearly changed since then. Regardless, Sierra Nevada says their long maturation resulted in “chocolate, turmeric, pistachio, fruit punch and coconut notes on the nose. On the palate it shows marmalade, coconut, roasted pineapple, ginger, white pepper and even Tootsie Roll notes.”
“I have been a fan of St. George’s products for many years and I think they’re some of the most talented and creative distillers in the world,” said Ken Grossman, Founder and Chairman of Sierra Nevada. “St. George’s friendship has been very meaningful over the years, and I am thrilled that we were able to work together to craft such a special and unique product.”
Unfortunately, the release is as limited as you might expect, although the $75 MSRP seems reasonable to me, given the crazy amount of time that went into this project. According to Sierra and St. George Spirits, Ruthless will be available starting Dec. 18, 2021, exclusively at the St. George Spirits Distillery in Alameda, CA, with a limit of two bottles per person.
Perhaps if Sierra Nevada liked how the barrels were shaping up during the last eight years, we’ll see some more distilled SN beers before too long? We can only hope.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.