Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops
blog | 11/08/2019
We’re excited to announce that we partnered with Brooklyn Brewery on a special beer called Brooklyn Black Ops—a robust stout aged in Four Roses Small Batch barrels. The beer is just as rich as the friendship in which it began, and we can’t wait to share more information on this special collaboration with you, our most loyal Bourbon friends. Check out an exclusive interview with Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver and take a look at photos from the beer release.
The partnership began with a long-time friendship between Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver and Four Roses COO and Director of Operations Ryan Ashley. The beer that resulted is a Black Ops aged in Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon barrels selected by Master Distiller Brent Elliott.
Brooklyn Black Ops is a legend, originally concocted by the Brooklyn brewing team under the cover of secrecy and hidden from everyone else at the brewery. This version rested in the hand-selected Small Batch barrels for months, emerging with a hint of mellow Bourbon character, and a smooth, regal finish. The beer is re-fermented with Champagne yeast and raises a rich, fluffy dark brown head, combining big chocolate and coffee notes with a rich underpinning of vanilla-like oak.
To get a bit more information on this special beer, we sat down with Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver. He has been the Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery since 1994 and is known for his personal style and attention to detail when it comes to brewing. Check out the conversation below.
Can you tell us how you and Ryan Ashley (COO and Director of Operations at Four Roses) met and how this friendship and collaboration came to be?
I’ve known Ryan Ashley for more than 20 years. We first met at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in the late 90s. At the time, Ryan was a young brewer just as I was; he was brewmaster of a brewery called Mickey Finn’s. Of course Bourbon can be considered a form of distilled beer, so the disciplines are related. I lost touch with Ryan for several years, and by the time I ran into him again on Facebook he’d become a distiller. I started looking to him for barrels, but it took us a long time to finally work together on Black Ops.
The Small Batch Bourbon barrels were selected by our Master Distiller Brent Elliott – did you have any discussions with him about the kinds of barrels you were looking for? I.e. were you trying to obtain a certain profile and flavor for the beer or did you extend that freedom to Elliott?
We wanted the unique character of Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon to show through in the barrel selection and into the beer. This made things difficult for Brent and Ryan, because they had to select barrels for us that had held each of the four Bourbon recipes that make up Small Batch, and in exactly the same proportions. So the idea is that the character of Small Batch would now drive the character of Brooklyn Black Ops.
Though the Four Roses team liked our original version of Black Ops, they were not easily convinced to work with us and put the Four Roses name on the beer. I had to fly down to Kentucky and present Brent, Ryan and their colleagues with a large range of Brooklyn barrel-aged beers before they were convinced that our skills were good enough to represent their Bourbon brand. I’d already enjoyed plenty of Small Batch, so my mind was already made up!
Black Ops is legendary in that it may or may not exist. Can you tell us more about its elusiveness and exclusivity?
Brooklyn Black Ops became a small legend in the beer community partially because of its rarity. At first, it wasn’t even a company secret – it was a brewhouse secret. Only the brewers themselves knew that we had brewed and barreled the beer. The sales team had asked us not to make the beer; they were afraid that we would make much less beer than their customers wanted, and the salespeople would end up being blamed for the shortfall. Well, I solved that problem for them. I didn’t even tell them that we’d brewed it, and then the first year we gave all the beer away to our brewery employees. We called the beer “Black Ops” because we’d brewed the beer under cover of secrecy – it didn’t even appear in our brewing logs. When we handed the beer out around Christmastime in 2006, the family and friends of our employees were instantly enamored. Soon the salespeople wanted more. Even today some shops don’t even get full cases of Black Ops. So if you see some, you should grab it….
Black Ops rested in these barrels for months – how do you determine when the product is ready to be bottled?
We aged the beer for nearly a year in the barrels. At about four months in, Ryan and Brent traveled up to the brewery to taste through the barrels. We were all pleasantly surprised by not only the quality of the beer, but at the fact that the beer had a different character depending on which of the four Bourbon recipes had previously been in that barrel. Even though we had more than six more months to go, we knew at that point that the beer would be great.
Were you able to “thieve” any bourbon from the barrels before resting the beer?
Ha! Yes, in each barrel there was up to a 1/2 cup of Bourbon that had been expressed out of the wood during its travel up to Brooklyn. We carefully drained that Bourbon out, and over the 200 barrels that we had, a decent amount of cask-strength Bourbon started to build up in a bucket at the brewery. All the brewers ended up getting some, and I can confirm that I still have some at home. Not everyone gets to drink it!
We hear individuals will be able to try some unreleased Ghost Bottles of single iteration Black Ops. Which iteration are you most excited about?
The single iterations, each representing one of the four Bourbon recipes in Small Batch, are pretty interesting. They range from floral and cinnamon flavors for one recipe to big toffee and vanilla for another. So people at special tastings will be able to taste the components of the flavors that were imparted to the beer by each separate Bourbon recipe. It’s pretty cool.
Black Ops has been part of the Brooklyn Brewery annual lineup for quite some time. What were you looking forward to with this new collaboration with us?
Four Roses Small Batch is special partly because its flavors are more complex and less “obvious” than those of other Bourbons. Vanilla and coconut flavors from charred American oak are present in all Bourbons, but Small Batch has many more flavors going on. We wanted a more complex flavor in our beer. I’m personally a big cocktail geek and many of my friends are leading bartenders and drinks writers and educators. So I know the esteem in which Small Batch is held. I think the combination of the legendary Brooklyn Black Ops and the equally respected Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a situation where 2 + 2 = 7. The drinks are each ennobled by the other. And that’s a perfect partnership.
What food recommendations do you have to pair with this edition of Black Ops?
The range of pairing options is pretty broad. At the top of the list are blue cheeses, duck in Mexican molé sauce, ice cream, chocolate desserts, tarts and cakes, and especially cheesecake. This is the ultimate dessert drink and is an even better match than dessert wines at the dinner table.
Is this a good beer for folks to cellar? If yes, how long do you recommend stowing it away?
Normally Black Ops is nice, but maybe a little bit thin-tasting at bottling. The beer undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle and this is what gives it all its carbonation, which is soft and creamy. But it usually takes a few months for all the flavor components to fully marry, and then the beer improves for years in the cellar. But this new version is excellent straight out of the gate – we are astonished at how polished and elegant it is already. So we know that is will get still better over the next few years, and we’re really excited about that.
Brooklyn Black Ops will roll out to select retailers this month and will be available in limited quantities wherever Brooklyn Brewery is available. If you are able to enjoy a bottle, please share your photo on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and tag Four Roses and Brooklyn Brewery.