My love for craft beer has been well-documented on this site, but another long time passion of mine is fine whiskey. Not many things can beat an ounce or two of well-crafted bourbon in a glass with a tiny splash of water. The thought of these two worlds combining always peaks my interest. Mark McDavid, TJ Miller and Denis Rylander from San Antonio felt the same way, leading them to create their own “brewstillery” back in 2009. What is a brewstillery you ask? It is the clever name the trio derived for there passion project Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling. Ranger Creek is not only a brewery but they also distill there own craft spirits as well.
By distilling and brewing in the same facility1 they are in a unique position to merge the beer and whiskey worlds together and create products that both fan bases can enjoy. They age many of the beers in the freshly-emptied whiskey barrels and even distill some of the beer into whiskey. The combination of this unique operation and their creative spirit is perfectly showcased in the brewery’s Small Batch Series. This experimental project has produced many different types of beers 2 including multiple barleywines, a smoked porter, a sweet potato stout and even a few sour beers.
The sixth release in the small batch series was a Flanders-style red ale that was refermented with strains of brettanomyces, lactobacillus and pediococcus with the addition of sour cherries and locally grown figs. The final product is a blend of beers aged between 18 and 24 months in oak barrels. It was bottled July 1, 2013, so as I open it today it is just under a year and half old.
As I peel back the wax on the bottle the first thing I noticed was rust on the cap. That is never a welcomed sign when opening aged beers. After popping the cap I realize there is a solid line of rust around the edge on both the inside and outside of the cap. The beer pours a murky brown whish is typical for the style. The smell of apple cider vinegar and sour cherries are the first thing that jumps out at me when I raise the glass. As I dig a little deeper into the beer I pick up some musty earthiness, a touch of red wine and a hint of copper. The copper like smell is a little concerning since the cap had rust on it.3
As I sip the beer I get a moderate level of acidity that is not quite a puckering level of sour but more enjoyable and mouthwatering. The cherries and the acetic acid4 are there but the cherries have more of a stale or old taste to them then the nose would have suggested. Not off putting but just not as bright or refreshing as I would like. The beer also has a nice hint of sweetness I would describe as raison or fig-like.5 The rather high ABV of 8 percent is noticeable as I swallow each sip and lingers into the finish. There is a noticeable mouthwatering effect that leaves you wanting another sip but the hint of the copper I noticed earlier shows up as well. It is not strong enough to over power the rest of the flavors but it is there and does subtract from the experience a bit.
Overall, I think this is a solid offering from the guys at Ranger Creek. It was enjoyable, but not without its flaws. The slight metallic taste and stale fruit character distracted from the beer and the flavors were not as cohesive as some of finer examples of the style. I look forward to trying additional offerings from ranger creek and if I find myself in San Antonio definitely pay them a visit