Big beer is a billion dollar business, but that doesn’t mean they’re the trend setters. One brand looked to craft beer and a different industry entirely to create their newest beer.
Shock Top is best known for their Belgian-style wheat beer, but they’ve made everything from a shandy to a wheat IPA. They turned to whiskey and craft beer for their latest creation, Shock Top Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat Beer. While the name might be circumlocutious, what’s in the bottle follows the trend of seemingly every craft brewer and major whiskey producer in the game today.
We were fortunate enough to track down Shock Tops brewmaster Jill Vaughn and ask her a few questions. It’s an interesting peak behind the fermentation tanks of the consistently expanding brand. But first, the new beer…
How long does it take for a flavor to go from an imaginary light bulb above the head to actual beer in the bottle?
At Shock Top, we’re independently minded and have freedom to experiment and create beers we feel beer drinkers can appreciate. My brewing team and I are always getting together to brainstorm new flavor ideas and sample ingredients. As you can imagine, some ideas are more promising than others, so the time it takes to refine the ideas and brew the beers varies. No matter what the idea, we take the time to really think through and experiment with the unique twists on beer styles we brew at Shock Top.
We try to move quickly—and we use our research pilot brewery to try small batches—but getting it just right takes time and attention to detail.
What’s the process like for developing a new variety?
Quality ingredients and creativity are what drives me and the entire Shock Top team. In the case of our new Shock Top Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat beer, we drew a lot of inspiration from food and flavor trends. Both honey and bourbon are classic flavors that are driving renewed interest among diners and beer drinkers.
After ideation, it’s time for ingredient sourcing followed by small-batch brewing and meticulous tasting sessions. We’ll make lots of adjustments to the recipe before it’s finalized. It’s hard work and takes lots and lots of hours … but we have fun along the way.
Can you paint me a picture (not literally) of how beer ages ON cask staves?
We manually place bourbon cask staves into our secondary aging tanks to maximize exposure and extract as much flavor as possible.
Are the staves from barrels that housed honey whiskey or is the name just a reference to the honey used in brewing?
Shock Top Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat is brewed with honey and caramel malt, and then aged on bourbon cask staves, which gives it that incredible smoke-y flavor.
Can you say what was in the barrels before they found their way to you?
We can’t share the exact source, but Shock Top Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat is aged on authentic oak bourbon cask staves.
You’ve made a Shock Top IPA before, are there any other beer styles you’re considering trying?
Shock Top is all about experimentation and introducing new beers that will excite beer drinkers, and invite them to try something new. While we aren’t yet ready to announce what’s next, we’ll definitely be drawing on our expertise and creativity to grow the family with new flavors and packages that make sense for this unfiltered, wheat beer brand. We’re exploring new seasonal offerings and will have some small-batch brews exclusively for beer festivals this year.
What are some Shock Top ideas that have been officially abandoned?
Having the freedom to experiment means there have definitely been some ideas that have been better than others. Since quality ingredients drive us, most of our experimental beers have been pretty tasty.
If you could only drink one Shock Top variety (other than the Belgian White) for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Impossible to answer – it’s like asking who is your favorite kid!
Did you really think the world was going to end back in 2012 if I didn’t drink enough Shock Top End of the World Midnight Wheat?
Ha! You never know with Shock Top.
Thanks to Jill Vaughn, head brewmaster at Shock Top Brewing Co., for taking the time to answer a couple questions for Guyism. You’ll notice I didn’t ask anything about her being female. That’s because it’s irrelevant aside from its nature as an outlier. As Danny Trejo told Will Ferrell, “Ladies can do stuff now, and you’re going to learn how to deal with that.”