Of Malts & Wood

Sometimes you don’t need a reason to celebrate, you just need to raise your glass to the fact that you continue to draw breath and wake up in the morning.

Jenn & I have been working on a killer stretch of lack of sleep, work-related obligations and some non-minor family drama that have left us pretty raw of late.

So Saturday night I let my hair down a bit. I went to my local liquor store and made two purchases I thought would ensure an enjoyable evening: a four pack of Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron and a dram of The Balvenie DoubleWood.

Both beverage brewed (or distilled) of malted barley and achieving their unique flavor/taste profiles from the use of wooden barrels. Not so unique for the Scotch, pretty special for the beer.

Here’s what the wood imparts to the beer (per the label, emphasis mine):

An unfiltered, unfettered, unprecedented, brown ale aged in handmade wooden brewing vessels. The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this ale comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted. At 10,000 gallons each, these are the largest wooden brewing vessels built in America since before Prohibition. It’s all very exciting. We have wood. Now you do too.

Palo Santo Marron
Palo Santo Marron

The Scotch takes its wood no less seriously, they just talk about it differently:

The Balvenie DoubleWood is a 12 year old single malt which gains its distinctive character from being matured in two woods. Over its period of maturation it is transferred from a traditional oak whisky cask to a first fill European oak sherry cask. Each stage lends different qualities to the resulting single malt ~ the traditional casks soften and add character, whilst the sherry wood brings depth and fullness of flavour.

The Balvenie DoubleWood
The Balvenie DoubleWood

I’m an accomplished beer snob, but I’ve only recently succumbed to the siren song of Scotch. I must have spent a full half hour in the liquor store aisle consulting my brother over the phone and the sales guy at the store. In contrast the beer took me all of 30 seconds to pick once I realized it was in stock.

Comparisons are crass (apples & oranges?) but the Palo Santo Marron is easily one of the deepest, most complex beers I’ve ever had while I’ve been told that The Balvenie (even the DoubleWood) is one of the sweetest and most honeyed Single Malt Scotches.

If I wasn’t a Scotch convert before, I am now. I must’ve sat with the empty glass in my lap for an hour while we watched a movie, keeping it handy so I could continue to smell the residue left in the glass. The nose and the experience were almost better than the drinking. Almost.

I’ll never give up beer, but having something new to geek out on is always fun. It’s that much better knowing that it’s just a different expression of a fermented malt beverage aged in wood.


Got a favorite beer or Scotch? Let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: Here’s a great Scotch pronunciation video guide from Esquire magazine as hosted/narrated by the Scottish actor Brian Cox.

Also, in the comments, Russell points out a New Yorker article on Dogfish Head & Sam Calgione that talks about the Palo Santo wood. I must’ve shared that here or Twitter at some point. If not, it’s new to you.

UPDATE II: This video may or may not be applicable.

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