Imagine if a local brewery were to team up with a local distillery and turn a popular craft beer into a craft whiskey. Only now that is not some far-fetched idea, but reality, as Marble and Safehouse Distilling have joined forces to create Double White Lighting Whiskey.
There will be a bottle release party today at Safehouse, which is located at 616 Gold Ave. SW (near Boese Brothers), from 6 to 10 p.m. To learn how this unique collaboration came together, I sat down separately with Marble head brewer John Carroll and Safehouse distiller Chris Leurig.
“We were approached by Chris Leurig, who is one of the founders and distiller at Safehouse Distilling,” John said. “He’s a good buddy, a good friend of the breweries, we get along really well. He had this idea of doing a collaboration where we take Double White, one of our flagship styles, and would basically brew a wash. A wash is to distilled spirits what wort is to beer. We were just going to do a wash of Double White, put it in totes for him to distill, give him our yeast for that, so he could ferment it and it would have the same fermentation characteristics.”
Chris said the inspiration for turning beer into whiskey came from his time working for a distillery in the Dallas area. A UNM graduate, Chris frequented Marble and La Cumbre after turning 21, and would always stop in whenever he came back to New Mexico on vacation.
“Every time I would come back to visit, to snowboard or whatever, I would bring spirits from the distillery I was working for, do a beer trade,” Chris said. “Brewing was so close to distilling. A lot of the older distilleries they kind of don’t realize how much craft brewing has helped them with the fermentation, with the equipment, with everything. I just came back, kept being friends with them. In Texas, I was friends with the breweries, too. Anytime a brewery would have a beer that would go bad in fermentation, they would give it to us so we could distill it.”
The distillery in Texas had working relationships with quite a few breweries, giving Chris plenty of opportunities to hone his craft.
“In Texas, there were probably 30 different breweries (that) I was taking beer, cider (from and) distilling it,” he said. “I was still learning what this type of grain, this type of hops, would do in distilling, since there was no database for it. I made a single-malt whiskey there that was not identical, but some of the same ingredients as the base of Double White. I didn’t know it was that until they told me the recipe. It was close to it, so because of that I knew kind of how it would taste. Obviously a different yeast and everything, but I knew the white wheat and 2 Row (malts) that they’re using over there. I knew what it would basically be like as a whiskey. I knew that beer would be good and unique without having to wait a long time to test it.”
The main difference between distilling and brewing comes down to one key ingredient.
“The hardest part is hops. They brewed Double White and just skipped the hop addition. So there’s no hops in this fermentation, so that way the hop oils don’t transfer through to the whiskey. Whenever you do hops in distilled spirits, the oils and everything just … it’s a hop bomb, it never leaves once it’s in there.
“We took the same base Double White without hops, with the same yeast they use, and ferment it here and distill it here. It’s Double White without hops to make it whiskey, because whiskey can’t have hops in it.”
Chris said he was unsure of what the reaction would be to turning Double White into a white whiskey.
“We assumed white whiskey is white whiskey, no one does much with it,” he said. “We assumed it would be a novelty for beer drinkers/whiskey drinkers that could buy it that like Marble, like whiskey, kind of a crossover. We’ve had a lot of feedback from bars. We assumed they wouldn’t sell it. White whiskey, you can’t do anything with it, but bars are begging for it. That was a surprise to us that we were not expecting.”
Safehouse is only six months old, but already has 70 accounts across the state with bars and restaurants. Several already have special events planned.
“Taos Ski Valley this Saturday the 21st is having a party for it, a release party of their own. We’ll be doing bottle signing, samples, with Double White, with Double White Whiskey. Marble will be up there doing some stuff with it.
“Sandia Casino, I don’t have exact dates, but in February they’re going to have a spirits dinner with it. Savoy is doing a barrel with it. They’re doing their own aged cocktail with it at their bar. That restaurant on top of the Sandias (Ten 3), they’re picking it up and doing a cocktail dinner with it. There’s a lot more bars that (responded) than we were first predicting. We thought it would mostly be liquor stores and then we’ll sell it here.”
For those that do come to the release party tonight, there is a way to reserve a bottle in advance by purchasing a ticket online for 10-percent off the sticker price. There are only 1,000 bottles being sold of the un-aged whiskey, but half the original batch is currently being aged in barrels that will be ready in 18-to-24 months, and that should yield another 1,000 barrels. After the barrels are emptied, they will be given to Marble to use for aging beer.
“That’s the idea, yeah,” John said. “We’ve been making a decent amount of it. We’re really excited. He had us come over and pull some nails out of the barrels. It’s tasting good.”
John added that the version being released today is still plenty tasty.
“I think it’s delicious,” he said. “It’s strong, it’s hearty. I think it’s really, really good. … You can still tell it’s reminiscent of Double White. I look forward to experimenting with it, different mixers, that type of thing.”
In a fun twist, the proof of the whiskey is 111, which matches up with Marble’s address at 111 Marble Avenue.
As for what beer is next, Chris said Safehouse has been in talks with more breweries than just Marble.
“This one, we started with Double White, probably the first talks in planning about a year ago,” he said. “There have been some talks with other breweries about doing one with them, too, but nothing has been finalized yet. We’ve been doing test batches of different beer and breweries across the state right now. There’s not an official this is the next one in the line, but I’m sure there will be another series. I don’t know what the series will be called, but there will be one down the line, at least one a year.”
Fans of craft beer and craft whiskey, rejoice, for a grand time is now upon us.