Sometimes, you just get lucky as a beer writer.
We have been blessed with quite a few beers sent to us over the years for review, including some that were barrel aged, but we never got to try the beer side-by-side with the liquor that used to occupy those barrels. Oh, and that whiskey was made with the same malt bill as the beer, making it an even more unique collaboration.
The recent Canteen Brewhouse/Taylor Garrett Whiskey collaboration was not something we were about to pass up. While you can enjoy the Zoom review we have above on our YouTube channel, this experience also included myself and Erin heading over to Vara Winery and Distillery, which is home to Taylor Garrett.
There we got a chance to have a guided tasting of the whiskey and beer with head distiller Scott Feuille, who provided more background on the two recipes and how it all came to be.
“This whiskey is done with the same grain bill, with the exception of the base malt, as this imperial stout,” he said. “We did an experimental run, and (Canteen head brewer Zach Guilmette) used some of that experimental run, an early version of this, and seasoned his barrels. It is extremely complex, but I think it really showcases the different grains that are in the spirit very well. If you’re looking for a typical bourbon, a typical Scotch, or a typical anything, this is not it. This is all on its own. It’s bottled at 95 proof.”
Malts in common included Roasted Barley, Victory, Black (Patent), Chocolate, and Crystal, with the only difference being that base malt — 2-Row for the beer, 6-Row for the whiskey. All of that gives the whiskey a unique combination of flavor and aroma.
“What I get off of it is a little sweet kick off the front, followed by some baking spice, and a little wood, maybe some sandalwood, and then the finish just goes on and on and on,” Feuille said. “You get chocolate, you get coffee, you get roasted sugars. It’s just really cool how long this finish goes. To me, I never pick up a bitterness, a harshness, and it’s 95 proof. I typically like my whiskeys over ice, or opened up with a little water. This? I’m really digging straight.”
We also received some advice on how to properly go through a tasting.
“Here’s a trick with whiskey that a lot of people don’t know,” Feuille said. “You’ll see people like with wine, doing that (swishing it around). You’re stirring up a lot of ethanol there. It’s going to hit you right in the brain. I like to just roll it around. With your nose, smell with your mouth closed, now do the same thing and simply open your mouth. See what other things kind of show up. It really adds to the complexity, adds to some of those layers.”
Feuille declared the Imperial Stout to be “phenomenal,” praising the efforts of Guilmette and his brewing team at Canteen. Just getting the chance to do a collaboration of any sort was an experience that Feuille said he truly enjoyed, and it is something he hopes occurs more and more often as the New Mexico distilleries continue to grow and evolve alongside the breweries.
“Breweries are very collaborative,” Feuille said. “The executive director (Leah Black) of the Brewers Guild was here the other day. We had this discussion about the collaborative nature of breweries. We know there’s a couple that don’t follow along, but for the most part, the brewing community is very cohesive, very collaborative.
“We really don’t have that in the distilling community. Part of it is because it’s young. I think part of it is the businesses are just starting and they don’t have that mindset. I’ve talked to other distillers and I hear them talking about each other. We don’t need that. All boats rise with the tide, and if you don’t believe that, just look at we’re doing with the brewing community. I want that to be an absolute part of what we do in the distilling community.”
Feuille got into the world of distilling after careers as a pilot in the Navy and with American Airlines, the latter of which he has been on a paid leave of absence from for almost a year.
“With what other people are going through, I’m extremely fortunate to be able to dedicate my time to this,” he said. “But, the Taylor Garrett brand is about our family. The formation (on the bottle) is representative of aviation and my career in the Navy. It’s also representative of family. As my son says, there’s dad, there’s mom, there’s me, there’s Brooke, there’s Trooper, our dog. That’s the impetus of the brand.”
Family definitely plays a part for Feuille. He named his fledgling brand after the middle names of his two children, Brooke Taylor and Tyson Garrett.
“(The emblem) also shows speed, which is the heart of what I do,” Feuille said. “I have an engineering background. I was a UNM grad, mechanical engineering, so I understand a couple of things about science. I realize that I love beer, I’m a huge fan of beer. I wanted to get into beer. I realized there’s no way I’m going to get into brewing. I don’t have the experience. The market is very tight. So I looked at something else, I looked into distilling.”
The upside of craft distilling is opportunity. The downside is the most popular styles take a long time to make, unless you can figure out a way around that.
“I also realized where the growth is in distilling in craft right now is whiskey, brown spirits, whiskey in particular,” Feuille said. “But, you either buy something from Midwest Grain Products, or you put something in a barrel for five years. I don’t have five years. I’m getting old. I basically started working in the science of aging and developed a process that replicates aging in a very short period of time. That whiskey that you just tried was aged for nine days. It’s a purely physical process. It’s actually more sustainable than barrels.”
Circling back to the collaboration itself, opportunities like this are something that can further help Feuille and other distilleries get their name out there among the craft consumers in New Mexico and beyond.
“I’m hoping this puts a spotlight on spirits in New Mexico,” he said. “I’m hoping we can get some legitimacy here for the state. We’ve got award-winning beers. We’ve got production going in an awesome craft community.
“I want to keep building that community. We need to think about New Mexico not as a craft brewing destination, not as a craft distilling destination, not as a craft wine destination, but we need to think of New Mexico as a craft destination.”
We give a huge thanks to Scott and everyone over at Vara for inviting us over for the tasting. We, of course, also give thanks to everyone at Canteen for partnering with them in this adventure.
The Imperial Stout is still available in four-pack cans and on draft at both Canteen locations, and the whiskey bottles and a small number of cans and draft are available at Vara. If you are so inclined, get both, and take your palate on a unique little trip during these ongoing days of lockdown.
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