In the beginning, the mere fact that a stout had been aged for a spell in bourbon barrels was enough to send customers into fits of delight. The excitement is still there, of course, as people line up for annual releases of dark ale aged in whisky containers.
They open bottles for special occasions and collect vintages for vertical tastings. But, somewhere along the way, the notion of just bourbon and stout became passé or quaint to some, so brewers started adding chocolate or coffee to their recipes. Then came the birth of pastry stouts, and the excitement shifted from big and boozy to sugary sweet.
A few weeks ago beer message boards across the Internet lit up when proposed labels for the 2018 versions of Goose Island's (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev) Bourbon County Brand Stout were released. Among the batches that have become familiar, there were variants that capitalize on the current fondness for all things dessert, including a Bourbon County Brand Neapolitan Stout, aged in bourbon barrels and blended with strawberry puree, chocolate, vanilla, and lactose; and Bourbon County Brand Horchata Stout, aged in bourbon barrels and flavored with Ceylon cinnamon, vanilla, and lactose. The latter got a lot of excitement, including ISO:FT designations. This week, when the brewery announced the official 2018 lineup the horchata was nowhere to be seen. Seems the brewery pulled a fast one on the internet sleuths.
Still, this doesn't mean you can't get a beer horchata fix.
For the unfamiliar, horchata is a sweet and spicy drink popular in Central and South America. There is no agreed upon recipe, so it can vary wildly from country to country and even region to region. One nearly universally agreed-upon ingredient is cinnamon. The rest is a combination of milk, rice, vanilla, and other ingredients to create a sweet, smooth, almost restorative, beverage. Chef Pati Jinich has a recipe on her website for those who want to make the beverage at home.
It was a cinnamon aroma, left over in a barrel from an earlier batch of beer from a previous brewer at Hi-Wire Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina, that led current brewer Peter Batinski to create his horchata stout. But, first he took a detour. "The cinnamon basil aroma left over was prominent, and we decided to do a horchata sour with the barrel, using a lot of the flavors found in the drink," he says. A limited batch was made and released last April with flavors of amaretto, vanilla, pie spices, and cherry, all in a mixed-culture ale. Although it was well received by customers, Batinksi says it was a beer to enjoy a few ounces at a time, not by the pint.
But, it got him thinking, and soon he was brewing up small test batches of an imperial stout with the horchata flavors he has come to love (born out of a "sweet tooth that will kill me one day" and multiple research trips to Mexican restaurants in western North Carolina to sample different variations.)
Earlier this summer Hi-Wire released a horchata version of its 10W-40 imperial stout. At 8% ABV, Horchata 10W-40 Imperial Stout carries much of the warmth one would expect from the cinnamon and a smooth, almost silky, quality from the amaretto.
There are multiple ways to add the ingredients, and Batinski says that if you try a recipe at home, he'd encourage experimentation. However, he's learned a few things that have helped make his batches run smoother. He uses ground cinnamon and powdered chocolate and adds them during the boil. "Naturally, there's lactose, too, because that's what the people want," Batinski says.
He says homebrewers could try aging a finished beer on cinnamon sticks, but that it has the potential to introduce unwanted microbes to the beer, since there are a lot of nooks and curves on the sticks.
He also isn't afraid of extracts (especially with the cost of vanilla these days) and adds those on the cold side. "Add a little, and then try it every two days until it gets to the level you desire," he says. "It's a straightforward imperial stout that can get as weird as you want."
There are already a number of other breweries around the country that are experimenting with horchata, mostly in the stout arena. These include Belching Beaver Brewery (San Diego), Abita Brewing Company (Abita Springs, Louisiana), Untitled Art (Waunakee, Wisconsin), Cigar City Brewing (Tampa, Florida), Surly Brewing Co. (Minneapolis, Minnesota), and more. Based on current consumer demand and growing awareness of the flavor combination, it's not unreasonable to expect to see more pop up on draft and on shelves in the coming months.