Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Arcane Distilling. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Every whiskey we taste starts out as beer. This is not news to you, whiskey lover. Typically, a whiskey maker will aim to make a distiller’s beer, which is high in alcohol for the most effective springboard into the spirit realm.
Arcane Distilling, on the other hand, seeks to make a delicious craft beer and then maintain those magical flavors through the distilling process. Their marketing paraphernalia proclaims their whiskey “the only whiskey that truly retains the essence of the craft beer from which it was distilled.”
I know another craft distillery or five who would take umbrage with that, but let’s look at their process, which is unusual if not wholly unique. In place of the average lauter tun to separate the wort from the grain solids, Arcane use a mash filter press, freeing nearly 100% of the liquid (and therefore, fermentable sugars). This extraction allows them to use 15% less grain and 30% less water for the same yield. Disposing of the spent grain then takes less energy, too.
The most significant change is swapping traditional distillation for vacuum distillation. A vacuum lowers the boiling point of liquids, so instead of the wash reaching the neighborhood of 172 degrees Fahrenheit for ethanol to vaporize, fractions will separate at much lower temperatures. Keeping the liquid cooler means the delicate beer flavors are preserved.
This gentle process would be for naught if the starting point wasn’t thoughtful. The mash bill is after a brewer’s own heart: a majority your familiar two-row malted barley, then Munich malt and malted rye, rounded out by C-60 malt. C-60 is can be both crystal malt and caramel malt (the distinction being the roasting method), but either way it’s been exposed to higher temperatures, yielding dextrins which lend a toffee flavor and won’t be lost to alcohol via fermentation.
The resulting brew is flavored with Cascade and Mosaic hops, both known for citrus-spectrum flavors and balanced bitterness. To avoid imparting too much oak character, the whiskey is matured in foudres, vats that can hold a thousand liters.
Tasting Notes: Arcane Alpha American Whiskey with Hops
Vital Stats: Mash bill of 77% two-row malted barley, 11 % Munich malt 8% malted rye, and 4% C-60 malt fermented with Voss kviek yeast. It’s bottled at 93 proof. Find a 750mL bottle online for $45.99, shippable to 30 states.
Appearance: This liquid is a clear, medium pale amber that beads and quickly forms fat tears.
Nose: This smells just like hops with cereal character underneath. I could have an IPA in my glass. There’s a little fresh seaside in there, too.
Palate: It’s not nearly as hoppy on the palate as expected. There’s malt sweetness on the attack, and hop bitterness on the back palate and finish, with no hint of skunkiness. Citrus floods the mid palate. Overall, this is a well-balanced sip.
Whiskey Review: Arcane Alpha American Whiskey
I didn’t think this whiskey would be my thing. I am impressed by the delicacy of the flavors (owing to that vacuum distillation, I’m sure). The hops don’t take over and the many layers of malt shine through. This one is worth checking out if you’re an IPA devotee, or interested in atypical spirits done well. I can hardly wait to mix with it.
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In 2014 I founded Portland Bitters Project with the vision to create the best bitters on the market. Now our bitters are enjoyed around the country and internationally to make expressive, delicious cocktails. I teach at two Portland colleges and visit private groups, distilleries and maker's spaces to spread the...