Scottish ale aged in single-malt Scotch whiskey barrels.
By Alan J. Wax
A recently released beer from the F.X. Matt Brewing Co. could be a beer for Scotch whiskey aficionados or, perhaps, a Scotch for beer drinkers.
The beer, called Saranac Single Malt is a strong Scotch ale – a one-off, limited edition brew that’s part of the Utica, New York-based brewer’s Saranac High Peaks series targeted to beer geeks.
Matt, established 126 years ago, besides being known for its Utica Club American lager and its line of Saranac beers, produced since 1985, is a big contract brewer whose customers over the years have included Brooklyn Brewery, Boston Beer Co., Harpoon Brewery, Kirkland (Costco) and numerous other labels that have since vanished into oblivion.
The Matt brewery, now ranked No. 11 in terms of sales volume among U.S. craft brewers, appears to have taken a step forward with this new release from its long-time aping of product lines of other brewers, among them Samuel Adams.
Like many beers on the market these days, Saranac Single Malt is aged in wood, but instead of Bourbon barrels, F.X. Matt aged its high gravity (9% abv) Scotch ale aged in hundred-year-old whiskey barrels from the Tomintoul-Glenlivet Distillery, a somewhat off-the-radar whiskey producer in Ballindalloch, in the Speyside region of Scotland. Its unpeated whiskey rarely is seen as a single malt; most of Tomintoul’s output goes into blended whiskies. Previously, the barrels were used to age Sherry wine. Matt started aging the beer almost a year ago on the oak.
“In our mind, the barrels are 125 years old!,” Fred Matt, president and 3rd generation owner, said in a press release. “In all seriousness though, they are very close to that. Imagine how much character is in this beer between our brewing history and the history of these barrels. We’ll say 125 years worth of character.”
The beer offers an enticing nutty, caramel, scotch whiskey aroma and on the palate there are rich, sweet malt with undeniable Scotch Whiskey-like, oak, fruit and sherry notes.
To be sure, Matt is not the first brewer to go the Scotch whiskey barrel route. Two years ago, Schafly Brewing Co. in St. Louis released its own whisky–aged beer called Single Malt Scottish Ale (what else?) to mark its 21st anniversary. Schafly used emptied Highland Scotch whisky barrels from the Glen Garioch Distillery.
If nothing else, Saranac Single Malt demonstrates Matt is capable of producing a beer that can appeal to aficionados. Indeed, old dogs can learn new tricks.