Barreling ahead: Rio Bravo Brewing, Hollow Spirits Distillery throwing ‘big party’ for collaborative release

Hollow Spirits Distillery has teamed up with Rio Bravo Brewing Co. to create Rio Chocolate Malt Whisky. (Courtesy of Alex Volek)

Rio Bravo Brewing Co. and Hollow Spirits Distillery are competitors when it comes to kickball but on the same team when creating a collaboration spirit and beer.

“They’re right down the road, and we try to work as much with community as possible,” Hollow Spirits owner Frank Holloway said of Rio Bravo. “And they’re really cool and fun people too. So this isn’t actually just the first thing we’ve done. We had a kickball game against them. They whooped us pretty good. … They’ve always supported us. They have a really good name, and we wanted to just do something with them. … They’re part of our community, and they’re in the Wells Park area.”

The collaboration releases will take place Sunday, May 30.

“We’re going to have a big party and release it at the same time,” Holloway said. “And then if somebody comes here, we’ll give them a coupon so they could get $1 off at Rio Bravo and, I believe, vice versa.”

Hollow Spirits and Rio Bravo began discussing a whiskey and beer collaboration in late 2019. The COVID pandemic put plans on hold, but it allowed the whiskey to age a little longer and the beer to age for an extended period in whiskey barrels.

“We we were going to release (the whiskey) in December 2020,” Holloway said. “But for obvious reasons, we just kept on letting it age. The cool thing about whiskey is if your time frame doesn’t work, you can just let it age longer. It kind of mellowed out the end. It took out a little bit of the bite. … It was great before, but it just needed a little bit of polishing, and I think the extra age gave it that. It definitely mellowed it out a lot and got a little bit more of the vanilla oaky flavors in there. So the one thing about aging, though, is sometimes you don’t want it to age too long, because you’ll almost overpower the liquor with just the oak. And luckily, I think we hit it perfect.”

The brewers at Rio Bravo had tossed around the idea of working on a whiskey collaboration.

“We’ve always wanted to do a whiskey as the team together,” Rio Bravo brewer Lindsey Baker said. “Me, (head brewer) Ty (Levis) and (director of brewing operations) Austin (Giorgetta) had all talked about it before we talked about it with Frank (Holloway). … And I think we just had always talked about doing a collab. … And it kind of stemmed from that.”

Rio Bravo used its Russian imperial-style beer, Grab ’em by the Putin, to create the collaboration beer and contribute to the whiskey.

“So we took one of our barrel-aged Putins that was in a Stranahan whiskey barrel, and we gave the empty barrel, after we extracted the Putin, to Hollow Spirits,” Baker said. “And then in exchange, they gave us a Four Roses (bourbon) whiskey barrel that had one of their prior whiskeys soaking in it. And then we put our Putin into that.”

The aged beer will be combined with another beer that has been aged in another barrel.

“We also have a separate Speyside bourbon whiskey barrel,” Baker said. “… And so we’ve put that (Putin) in the whiskey barrels in January, at the beginning of January, and now we’re going to blend both of those two Putins, those two beers, into one beer, and we’re going to be serving those on nitro.”

Serving the collaboration beer on nitro will give it a velvety body.

“And it’s a hint of chocolate malt,” Baker said of the beer’s flavor profile. “It has a light vanilla tone, dry oak. And it really comes through with the whiskey flavor. … It’s definitely going to be very whiskey-forward. You’ll be able to smell it. It will have, like, a strong whiskey nose on it.”

Hollow Spirits used the barrel, which previously held the barrel-aged Putin to create Rio Chocolate Malt Whisky.

“We did use a lot of a chocolate malt, so you do get a lot of chocolate flavors,” Holloway said of the malt whiskey. “I do get a little bit of vanilla, a little bit of caramel. But the chocolate really does come through. We did age it in a used oak barrel. … It’s not too dry, not too sweet. I think it hits a pretty good in-between on both of those. And I actually love the taste. It’s one of my favorite whiskies that we’ve made. It is non-filtered. So some of the bottles if people see them, they will be a little bit cloudy, but that was also the intent of it.”

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