Sometimes craft beer is weird. Brewers of beer (or at least craft beer) are an inherently creative bunch. With brewers, like bakers, chefs, and pretty much anyone else who uses their noggins to turn a concept into a finished product, you’ll find that the concept itself is often as important as the process that leads to the finish product. And boy, oh boy, do the Quaff Bros. have some concepts. Strong – sour – barrel aged – stout- wheat – IPA, their creations run the gamut. I thought Sour Grapes (check out my review) was weird, but apparently I had seen nothing yet.
Obviously, following a sour brown ale aged in bourbon barrels with wine grapes (yep), they release a beer that attempts to mimic a classic cocktail. Manhattan Project is a rye beer, aged in rye whiskey barrels with maraschino cherries and bitters. Like I said, craft beer is weird.
Anyways, on to the good stuff.
To begin, a little background on Manhattan Project from the horse’s mouth (in this case, the horse being Danny Gold – co-founder of Quaff Bros. and head of the beer department at the Party Source):
The idea is this – Jay and I have wanted to make this style of beer for a
longtime but instead of pushing for it things just kind of fell into
place. Willet made the Party Source a small batch of hand numbered and
labeled Rye whiskeys for our groundbreaking ceremony last fall for the
distillery. The Rye was called Groundbreaker and only existed to those
that we are at the ceremony. But, lucky for Quaff we still had the empty
So we took this empty Rye barrel and the idea to Kevin at
Listermanns/Triple Digit and after a few days of brainstorming the wheels
were in motion. It got to the point though that I almost pulled the plug
because Kevin’s base Rye was so good I almost didn’t want to mess
with it. But…we did.
We added 2 cans of Luxardo maraschino cherries. These were imported from
Italy and cost about $80 a pop. We could of gone much cheaper but after
tasting a sample of these cherries, there was simply no going back. The
cans were over 6lbs each and we used every bit of the skin and juice.
The bitters were non-alcoholic obviously and came from a great company
that we do a lot of business with their NA mixers.
Popping and pouring, Manhattan Project is brown with a thin white film of carbonation. This beer isn’t going to win prom queen or Miss America, but I didn’t buy it to hang on the wall and look at.
The first thing that should strike one about this beer is how uncannily similar it smells to a Manhattan. The second thing that struck me, at least, was that I’ve never really given much thought to what a Manhattan smelled like before I had this beer. Maybe I just drink my cocktails too quickly; I dunno. Regardless, you get a malty base on which the spicy whisky and sweet cherry smells rest. It was weird, yes, but it was also intriguing. What the heck would a carbonated Manhattan taste like?
I’ll admit, I didn’t care for flavor of this beer at first. There is just a lot going on, which, of course, is intentional. Like the nose, the slightly spicy, slightly sweet rye base is the platform for the rest of what goes on in the flavor. Very sweet cherries, spicy whisky, and slightly drying oak all tangle together with the base to build something complex enough, in my opinion, that it takes almost an entire bomber to fully appreciate. It’s complex in a different way than Sour Grapes, where there are very different flavors vying for attention. Like in a well-crafted cocktail, the individual flavors meld together in this beer and it takes some patience and some attention to pick out the individual notes. I had a hard time getting much from the bitters, but maybe that’s just me.
Manhattan Project wasn’t my favorite Quaff Bros. beer (this title goes to Sour Grapes), but it is still a very good one. It is a well-crafted, complex attempt at a very neat concept. For those of you who have tried Boulevard’s Rye on Rye (a rye beer aged in rye whiskey barrels), the two are very similar. Manhattan Project is just a tad sweeter and with cherry flavors.
Quaff Bros. have come out with so many great beers in a row (with Listermann brewing many of the most recent and best ones) that I’ll pretty much buy at least two of any bottles they release now on faith alone. I bought two of this and I’m glad I did. The bottle I didn’t drink is now with its other Quaff Bros. brethren in my cellar. I highly recommend you pick this one up and hurry while you do it; there are only 31 bottles left at Party Source at the the time this was written. Pick it up in person or order over the web here.
Some other random Quaff Bros. news: Bottles of Savage Blank (collaboration beer with Blank Slate), Big Kahuna (barrel-aged coconut porter), and Corn on the Knob (aged in Knob Creek barrels) will be released in the near future..