Jake Gardner, the director of brewing operations for Colorado’s Westbound & Down Brewing, guests on this episode of the Drink Beer, Think Beer podcast. He talks about his brewery’s recent acquisition of two other Colorado breweries and how Westbound & Down approaches brewing different styles.

Among the brewery’s many talents and passions is creating barrel-aged stouts and barleywines of note. Host John Holl asked Gardner about the importance of freshly dumped whiskey barrels. Does the whisky that previously lived in the barrels matter?

“A lot and none both at the same time,” says Gardner.

Does the barrel matter?

“Bad whiskey is bad whiskey. If there is a lot of actual spirit in the barrels and we fill that with fresh beer, we have zero chance of it producing good product. We learned that the hard way. If we don’t enjoy drinking the bourbon itself, we don’t use that product,” he says.

“We’ve noticed that a lot of these high-age statement whiskies, which are certainly my favorite products to drink on their own, don’t often produce as good of a stout or barleywine coming out of them as a younger version of the same.

Weller barrels are fairly available. I think they’re phenomenal at making stout. The soft, sweet, rounded edges of that wheated bourbon, and the way that whiskey interacts with the wood really comes through in a lot of our stouts.

We’ve certainly had the Weller Antiques and the Weller 12 but in general, I’d take a Weller Green Label, just the standard barrel over a Weller 12. The logic is that there’s only so much oak to give out of a barrel and after 12 years it’s given most of it. So the Green Label just doesn’t age as long. But from our experience, the 12 has less complexity, even if it might have slightly better whiskey.”

Hear the whole conversation on the Drink Beer, Think Beer podcast. Download via Apple PodcastsSpotify, Overcast, or wherever you download shows. The above transcript was condensed and edited for clarity.

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