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A shot of Fernet and a pint of beer have long lived in double-fisting harmony. But now, with the release of Odell Brewing Co.'s Fernet Aged Porter, they meet in the rich, glorious chocolate-minty middle.
Fort Collins' Odell and small batch Denver distillery Leopold Bros. collaborated on the 9.8% ABV robust imperial porter aged in emptied Leopold Fernet barrels and blended with un-aged porter. Odell has been collecting the barrels for the past year since Brent Cordle, pilot brew and barrel aging manager at Odell, brewed a small batch of porter, aged it in one of the Fernet barrels, blended it with un-aged porter, and it "turned out to be a hit." They brewed more and released the barrel-aged beer in 750-mL bottles and on draft in late September.
Leopold's Fernet is the only known American-made version of the herbal after-dinner drink. Distiller Todd Leopold, who founded the distillery with his brother Scott, says his intention wasn't to replicate the popular Fernet Branca, but to create a distinctive American take—their recipe includes lavender, honeysuckle, ginger root, bitter aloe, dandelion root, rose petals, chamomile, and peppermint.
Given Fernet's strong, bitter kick, it takes a beer with a hefty malt backbone to complement it, says Leopold. "Some of these collaborations, you drop a beer in a whiskey barrel and the whiskey is overpowering. What [Odell] managed to do it is to just get hints of the Fernet. You get a little bit of the mint, a little bit of the bitterness from bitter aloe, and some of the complexity from the savory, spicy ingredients." In the end, says Leopold, "It's a really well-balanced beer." When asked about the beer's flavor, Cordle says: "My main description is a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie."
The beer pours dark brown with a tan head and a vivid minty aroma. Licorice, chocolate, and mint flavors come through, as well as a hint of vanilla. Treat it as dessert itself, or take Cordle's suggestion for a float—a scoop of vanilla ice cream plopped in the Fernet Aged Porter. A rich, dark chocolate mint brownie pairing would also do nicely.
Leopold's barrels are no stranger to craft beer collaborations—New Belgium, also of Fort Collins, has aged beer in their apple, peach, and blackberry whiskey barrels. Leopold is also a former brewer himself, with a Diploma in Malting and Brewing from the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and experience at several breweries throughout Germany.
"It was an awful lot of fun," says Leopold of the collaboration. "I'm a former brewer and before I went to brewing school I grew up here in Colorado and [founder and brewmaster] Doug Odell was a legend already, so it was quite the honor to get the chance to work with Odell."
Cordle echoed the sentiment. "It's definitely appealing to us to keep it within the state, locally. They're a craft distillery; we're a craft brewery. We make a good team."
Fernet Aged Porter is available in limited quantities throughout the brewery's 10-state distribution footprint.
About the Author: Heather Vandenengel is a nomadic beer writer and the News Editor for All About Beer. You can follow her on Twitter @heathervandy.