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New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

Review: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon  (73.5/100)
Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published January 18, 2017

I first encountered Beer Barrel Bourbon (from Michigan’s New Holland Brewing company) when one of my buddies brought a bottle to one of my tastings and left it with me to review. The spirit is rather unique, a bourbon which is first aged in new American Oak for several years, then finished for 90 days in second use Dragon’s Milk Beer barrels. Dragon’s Milk is New Holland Brewing’s own stout beer which was in fact aged in a used Bourbon barrels. (You’ll get dizzy if you think about that too hard.)

The spirit is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

beer-barrel-bourbonIn the Bottle 4.5/5

The bourbon arrives in the squat whiskey bottle shown to the left. It is sealed with a cork topper (which seems to be holding up quite well). It took me a little while to figure out that the graphic on the front was a stylized representation of the Dragon’s Milk Beer barrels which were used to finish the bourbon, but once I got it, I was quite amused. The back of the wrap-around label gives us the story of the bourbon and serves to whet our appetite for something new.

All in all, I quite like what I see.

In the Glass 8/10

I was surprised by how light the colour of the spirit was in my glencairn as it  displays itself as pale golden amber liquid in the glass. I was expecting a darker hue from both the time the spirit spent in the new American oak, and the 90 days in the Dragon’s Milk Stout barrel. This is probably an indication of a young bourbon perhaps only 3 years old.

The initial breezes throw up light astringent notes of a young corn whisky (fine oak spices, corn, orange peel, almond and vanilla) as well as a few malty beer-like scents. The combination is strange to me, although at this point, it is hard to say whether this is a ‘good’ strange or ‘not so good’ strange. I am suspicious of spirits which are ‘enhanced’ in exotic barrels. Sometimes the reason they are ‘enhanced’ is because the underlying whisky cannot stand by itself.

I let the glass sit and remained (for now) on the fence about the spirit. Some cinnamon and baking spice was trying to break through, but everything seemed to be held back by the light malty presences of beer.

In the Mouth  43/60

Taking my first sip, I have to say that I fell of that fence firmly on the side of disappointment. The beer enhancement although not dominant is aggressive enough that a large portion of the bourbon flavour is lost. I taste a young grain whisky with astringent alcohol and almond notes; but the normally rich flavours I would encounter in bourbon (honeycomb, caramel, dark tobacco and baking spices) are smothered by the presence of beer foam. (There is no actual foam, but that is what the beer-like taste reminds me of.)

The second sip brings a candied corn sweetness into focus; but combined with the youthful astringency of the dram this sweetness is penetrating rather than soothing. The spirit does not appeal to me at all as a sipper. Unfortunately, I found I could not enjoy the spirit as a mixer either. Perhaps (as I am not a fan of beer) I am not a fair judge. But the light beer foam flavour seems to run too firmly through every cocktail I made. I just could not enjoy myself.

In the Throat 11/15

Two things become clear in the short finish. The whiskey is indeed young as we have a light burn and astringent alcohol flavours at the end of the swallow. And, it does appear the purpose of the beer enhancement is to help disguise this youthfulness. The underlying whiskey needs more time to mature.

The Afterburn 7/10

I was on the fence regarding the whiskey after I had nosed my glass; however, after finishing my tasting sessions I am unimpressed. Someone who likes beer will enjoy the enhancement more than I have, but that does not change my opinion that the underlying whisky was sub par to begin with.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


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