Out in the Wash

Craft beer and whiskey form a spirited symbiosis

All whiskey begins life as beer–or at least a beerlike liquid made from malted grain and water, which is then distilled and barrel-aged.

Classically, this "wash" is crude and elemental. But some American microdistilleries have begun making whiskey from washes worthy of a beer bottle, either by partnering with nearby craft brewers, developing their own superior beers or even distilling ready-to-drink pilsners. The result is a more complex whiskey with the soul of a well-crafted beer.

Look for these bottles at your local spirits shop, or search for a retailer at Vinquire.com. It's up to you whether to sip them from a rocks glass or a pint.

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey ($56) Each week, this Denver distillery partners with local Oskar Blues brewery to make 3,000 gallons of barley-based wash, which is then double-distilled and aged in American oak barrels to make a creamy, caramel-hinted whiskey (stranahans.com).

Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey ($45) This Portland, Oregon, brewery uses the same recipe as its famed Dead Guy Ale in the wash for this whiskey, which results in a spirit that's rich and gently sweet, with a peppery finish (rogue.com).

St. George Spirits Single Malt ($50) Bay Area-based distiller Jörg Rupf and former beer brewer Lance Winters begin by brewing a smoky, cocoa-scented brown ale. The distillate is aged in a mixture of French oak, ex-bourbon and port casks, creating beguilingly smooth single malt with robust fruity flavors (stgeorgespirits.com).

Charbay "Second Release" Whiskey ($350) In 1999, on a lark, Napa Valley distiller Marko Karakasevic sourced 20,000 gallons of bottle-ready pilsner, which he slowly distilled then aged for nine years in both stainless steel and oak barrels. The final product is a splurge-worthy, 110-proof knockout with a floral perfume and velvety finish cut with flavors of honey and butterscotch (charbay.com).