Several years ago Tamarack Brewing Co. co-owner Andra Townsley approached brewer Craig Koontz and said they had to brew a beer named “Old Stache.” Aside from being an awesome name in it’s own right, the name honors Andra’s dad and Canadian hockey legend Lanny McDonald. Lanny is practically as well known for his bushy red mustache as his hockey skills. With a name like “Old Stache,” Craig and Andra considered concocting a year round beer that would always be on tap, but settled on a special brew that would “get better with age” and be “well worth the wait.” The result is Old Stache, a barrel aged imperial porter that delivers on both fronts.
Making Old Stache and keeping it relatively consistent from year to year takes some impressive coordination. Old Stache starts out as a Tamarack beer you might recognize, Mo’vember Porter. Tamarack brews the toasted caramel-featured porter to celebrate Mo’vember, an international effort to raise awareness for prostate cancer and men’s health. Mo’vember porter is added to freshly drained Jim Beam Bourbon barrels and allowed to age for 100 days in cold storage. The barrels arrive each year directly from Jim Beam in time to start the aging process. While aging, the porter takes on bourbon from the soaked barrels along with earthy, charred vanilla and oak flavors.
For 2012, Tamarack brewed 400 gallons of Old Stache, the same as in 2011 and up from 300 gallons for 2010 and 2009. They release it each year on Lanny’s birthday, February 16. It pours a solid black color with a light tan head. Aromas are of light bourbon and vanilla. It is a big beer with lots of flavors that demand patience. Initial flavors are a surprisingly strong amount of caramel malt with a toasted edge and a hint of roasted chocolate. (Yes, I made up the phrase “roasted chocolate,” but see if you agree.) Bourbon and vanilla seem rather muted and there’s even a bit of bitterness in the finish.
As the beer warms, various layers appear and the flavors take on different characteristics. For one, bourbon makes a much stronger presence and the bitterness in the finish tends to disappear. The vanilla also becomes stronger and a touch of alcohol becomes noticeable – not surprising given the 8.9% abv (45 ibus). The bourbon never dominates and the level allows the other flavors to come through in a complimentary way. Ultimately, the beer becomes a complex, layered experience of bourbon, vanilla, toasted caramel and hints of charred oak that blend nicely into a beer well worth sipping over a long conversation about great craft beer.
With only 400 gallons of Old Stache, you’ll want to get in to Tamarack’s Lakeside or Missoula locations quickly. Once there, though, be sure and take the time to enjoy all Old Stache has to offer.