What Happens When a Craft Beer Icon Tries Making Whiskey?

Hint: It's something epic.

sierra nevada ruthless whiskey
Sierra Nevada

For over 40 years, Sierra Nevada has been a leading icon in the craft beer movement. From its Pale Ale to any of its Little Things beers, Sierra Nevada has been at the forefront of bringing innovation and creativity to the craft beer world. The brewery's dedication to creativity, perhaps, is why we aren't so shocked by its shocking new announcement: Sierra Nevada hasdistilled one of its beers into a whiskey.

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In collaboration with California-based St. George Spirits, Sierra Nevada's new Ruthless whiskey has been eight years in the making. Back in 2013, the brewery and the distillery got together to turn Sierra Nevada's popular Ruthless Rye IPA into a whiskey. The IPA has been sitting in American oak and used French oak port casks for eight years, after which St. George's head distiller and blender, Dave Smith, chose and blended seven Ruthless Rye IPA casks, while also mixing in some whiskey from the first barrel of St. George Single Malt Whiskey. That first barrel St. George Single Malt Whiskey just so happened to be brewed by Sierra Nevada and distilled by St. George Spirits in 1997.

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"We first started working with St. George over 20 years ago on a spirits project with [its founder] Jörg [Rupf], supplying them wash for some early whiskeys, and struck up a friendship with [St. George's master distiller and president] Lance [Winters], and later Dave," Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada's founder, says. "I have been a fan of their products for many years, and feel they are some of the most innovative and best distilleries in the world. Over the years we have provided them with a wide range of fermented malt wash and beers, and they have artfully distilled and blended them into wonderful spirits."

Ruthless features a unique mixture of flavors that's almost like savory-sweet chocolate-covered citrus. Some of the tasting notes are reminiscent of Ruthless Rye IPA, but the age in two different types of barrels, as well as a mixture of St. George Single Malt Whiskey make this a whiskey worth seeking out.

For the record, beer being turned into whiskey isn't new. It's a popular method of making whiskey in countries like Germany and Japan. Distilled beer is also the basis of what makes Charbay, a distillery in Mendocino County, California, so popular. One of its most cult-worthy offerings is its Pilsner Whiskey, which is distilled with bottle-ready pilsner beer and aged 14 years. But for an icon like Sierra Nevada, this new undertaking shows that there is still room for new undertakings in beer.

"St George has produced many different offerings and blends that we have played a role in," Grossman says. "I would expect there will be some more collaborations in the future."

Starting on December 18, bottles of Ruthless will be available for $75 exclusively at the St. George Spirits Distillery in Alameda, California. A very limited number of bottles will be available with a limit of two bottles per person.

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