A beer with a shot of whiskey is a classic combination, and there’s still a time and place for that—namely, your local dive bar. But the relationship between whiskey and beer has blossomed into something so much more complex than that simple yet satisfying pairing, with distilleries and breweries working together and exchanging barrels for special releases. The latest collaboration comes from Kentucky’s Four Roses and New York City’s Brooklyn Brewery in the form of Black Ops beer.
This is the fourth Black Ops release, which dates back to 2019. This limited-edition beer is a Russian imperial stout, a high-ABV style that can be traced back to stouts brewed in England for Russian emperor Peter the Great. The 2022 edition clocks in at 11.5 percent ABV, which is strong but manageable, and gets much of its flavor from the nine months it spent aging in Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon barrels chosen by master distiller Brent Elliott.
This collaboration between big bourbon and craft beer is based on the friendship between Four Roses COO Ryan Ashley and Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver. “Black Ops is unlike any other barrel-aged imperial stout,” said the latter. “Rather than being thick, sweet, heavily roasted, and cloying, this beer is brisk and light on its feet, despite its 11.5 percent ABV… A light tang of roast acidity on the palate is followed by layers of caramel, chocolate and a slight bourbon bite. I think it’s fair to compare this beer to ‘third-wave’ coffee, showing less roast and greater balance, structure and elegance.” Elliott cites the Four Roses barrels as specifically bringing fruit, oak and spice notes to the beer that might otherwise be absent.
Whiskey and beer collaborations have been coming fast and furious these days. A few high-profile recent examples include Breckenridge Distillery and Brewery’s Buddy Pass barrel-aged oatmeal imperial stout and stout cask-finished whiskey, Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Bigfoot aged in Colonel E.H. Taylor barrels, and Stranahan’s collab with Flying Dog Brewery. Of course, the most famous of them all might be Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout lineup, an annual release of various stouts aged in whiskey barrrels. And that’s just in the world of American whiskey, because Irish and scotch have gotten in on the action as well.
The new Black Ops will be available around the country at stores, and can also be found via the Brooklyn Brewery website, at the tasting room in Williamsburg and at the Four Roses gift shop in Lawrenceburg, KY.