At Firestone, we encourage our brewers to pursue what they are most passionate about. Eric Ponce, Barrelmaster for our Vintage program, is passionate about brewing with spirit barrels. It is through his innovation that we are able to experiment with our cocktail-inspired beers like Tequila Sunrise, Old Man Hattan, and One Stormy Night.
Part of the success of our Vintage program has to do with the relationships we have built with distilleries and barrel brokers. This allows us to ensure the barrel quality will meet our standards and also allows us to acquire premium spirit barrels of all types.
— Eric Ponce, Vintage Barrelmaster
All Spirit barrels impart different characteristics.
Another aspect that ensures we are making only the best barrel-aged beers is understanding the different types of styles within one particular spirit. Understanding the differences is crucial, especially when it comes to a spirit like whiskey. If Eric wants to create a beer with a pronounced peaty, campfire smoke characteristic, then he will look to Scotland; if he wants a beer with some spice notes, then he will look to get high Rye Whiskey barrels. Even the location of the barrels changes the effect a barrel might have. Rum barrels from Jamaica will bring forth different sensory characteristics than Rum barrels from a distillery in Barbados.
But it is not just about selecting a barrel from a particular location or distillery and using it. Eric looks at the condition of the barrel, the cooperage, and how long the spirit has been in the barrel. Every truckload we receive (roughly 288 barrels per truck) can be different. With Bourbon laws, a Bourbon can only use new oak-charred barrels once. After it has been emptied, it must be discarded. Most other spirits can use the same barrel multiple times.
Many bourbon barrels are purchased by other spirit distilleries like tequila, rum, and different types of whiskey for maturation.
When it comes to favorite spirit and beer combos, Eric can’t choose one specifically. However, there are a couple of tried and true combos. One that we do every year is a rich, black, and chewy imperial stout and bourbon barrels. Another is an imperial blond in Gin because we are using no roasted grains that will add roasted characteristics in beer. This allows for a clean, somewhat one-dimensional beer maturing in the Gin barrel allowing the botanicals from the barrel to be the star in the final product.
To find out more about our barrel-aged beers visit our website.