Craft beer has exploded as a trend. So much so that it seems nary a day goes by without a new brewery being announced. With that many new, great, beers on the market, it can be a challenge to enter the craft beer space and stand out.
Seven Stills has managed to do so in a unique way. They aren't a brewery per se, though they do make beer. Seven Stills distills liquor, from vodka to whiskey, but are doing so from a craft brewery perspective. Let me explain.
Whiskey is made from wash (beer before it is carbonated). Usually that wash is fairly straightforward, without any of the specialty ingredients found in today's craft beers. Seven Stills is brewing beer, but before it gets into the carbonation stage, they take the brew and distill it in charred oak barrels.
Perhaps Tim Obert and Clint Potter from Seven Stills can explain it best.
"When you use adjuncts like specialty malts, Candi sugars, hops, etc. in the wash, they add depth and character to the flavor of the finished whiskey."
It seems like common sense, but begs the question why no distilleries have tried this before.
According to Obert and Potter, "Distillers have believed much of the character from any adjuncts is stripped out in the distillation process, but if you taste any of our whiskeys that's definitely not the case."
In sum - Seven Stills is exploring the potential of craft liquors by utilizing the inventiveness found in the craft beer industry.
It would make sense, then, to try Seven Still's beers next to their whiskeys and compare the flavor subtleties. However, regulations with the ABC prevent them from producing their beer for the public.
"Our licensing only allows us to sell distilled spirits. It's really a shame...especially when we are trying to demonstrate how different beers translate into different whiskey flavor profiles. That's why we started doing these collaboration projects so people can try the beer and whiskey side by side and discover the similarities for themselves."
You may have seen their latest collaboration, with the great Pacific Brewing Laboratory, called Whipnose. Whipnose is distilled from Pac Brew Labs' Double IPA - and you can tell by the hop aroma emitted by the whiskey. While I was unable to try the beer next to the whiskey, I could definitely taste some of the common flavors in IIPAs in the whiskey itself. It's a bummer that Seven Stills can't do more beer and liquor side by side as it would be an incredible tasting process - but that may be fixed in the next year or two.
"We'll have our own distillery in San Francisco within the next year or two...with a tasting room and a tap room adjacent where we could serve the beer the whiskey is distilled from."
As for now, good luck trying to get a hold of Whipnose, as the one-off whiskey yielded less than 2000 bottles. If you're looking for the next beer collaboration from Seven Stills, they may have a pleasant surprise coming. Initial talks with an awesome local brewery have sprung up - and the pending collaboration would be incredible.
What you can look forward to is a re-release of Seven Stills' popular Chocasmoke (whiskey based on an oatmeal stout), as Seven Stills is distilling 360 gallons of the elixir, which will be divided and aged for six, ten, and twelve months.
Seven Stills has found a unique way to get into the "craft" market - and it's great to see San Francisco continuing to innovate in this space. It's worth giving them a shot - or taking one of theirs.
Beer of the moment: Anchor Brewing's California Lager