They started smoking early on a Monday morning. In the parking lot behind the Rossmor Building, which houses Tin Whiskers Brewing, Joseph Pirri and Justin Sutherland from Handsome Hog, and Tin Whiskers brewer Derek Brown, watched over a gigantic smoker, set to 175 degrees. “Just hot enough to smoke,” Brown said, “not hot enough to roast.”
Inside the smoker was a mountain of Maris Otter malt, destined to flavor the Handsome Hog Smoke Ale—an exclusive Tin Whiskers beer sold at the southern-inspired eatery on Mears Park, just down the hill from the brewery.
Every now and again, the brewers and chefs would open the smoker and grab handfuls of dry malt from the inside of the mounds and push it on top, so the malt would smoke evenly. The pile would then be sprayed with a mixture of bourbon and water. Maple logs were added to the firebox sparingly—no huge fire necessary for a low and patient smoke. They expect the malt to smoke for four hours.
The smoked malt is combined with roasted, caramel, and chocolate malts—the same bill that makes up Tin Whiskers’ Short Circuit Stout (minus the lactose that sweetens the Short Circuit). The result is a mildly smoked beer, with just enough fiery character to echo the intensity of its other dark malts. It’s perfectly suited to handle some smoky pork from Sutherland’s kitchen.
This collaboration is among a trend of local restaurants partnering with breweries for exclusive, proprietary, or one-off house beers. Bauhaus has partnered with Revival to make a Kentucky Common designed to temper the heat of hot chicken. Mucci’s Italian has a Bang Brewing exclusive called Hive—a light, clean ale that’s ideal with pizza and pasta. And Tin Whiskers isn’t new to the restaurant collaboration game—having debuted their Daisy Chain saison for Heirloom, before it became more widely distributed.
Malt from the first batches of Smoke Ale were smoked on sheet pans in the kitchen at Handsome Hog. As one might imagine, that doesn’t translate into very large batches. And with the remarkable traffic Handsome Hog has seen in its first year, Smoke Ale’s availability has, until now, been hit-or-miss.
That’s why they’ve called in the big guns (err, smoker), to prepare enough malt for a 15-barrel batch. Smoke Ale is now back on at Handsome Hog (with plenty of kegs in reserve). Drink it with Handsome Hog’s pimento cheese, roasted hog jowl, wedge salad, and braised pork cheeks.