Kelly Taylor, owner and operator of KelSo Beer Co. — its name a portmanteau of his name and his wife, Sonia’s — has been steadily rising in the world of beer for the better part of his life. Twenty-four years after sneaking a few pounds of malt and some hops into his college dorm room, Taylor is now making beer history by aging his KelSo IPA in barrels that had previously held Jameson Irish Whiskey for six years. Not impressed? This is the first time that Jameson, a company steeped in tradition and slow to react to fads and trends, has ever allowed an American brewer to use their barrels for aging; the collaboration is a big moment in craft beer, a sign that barrel-aged beer is here to stay. We caught up with Taylor to find out how he broke through Jameson’s traditionalist guard, along with a few insights into college nicknames, barrel aging beer and grandfatherly advice.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
That you don’t know anything. You think you do, but you don’t.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Starting a business [KelSo Beer Co.] while running a business [Heartland Brewery] while raising my newborn daughter.
Q. What are you working on right now?
Well, I just finished a component of the Jameson project. Now I’m working on another barrel aging project. I’m bottling 750ml bottles of a brandy barrel-aged saison. This is my first bottling and the project is taking two years — one year in the brandy barrels.
I was brewing in my college dorm room. It was easier to make beer than smuggle it in.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
My family, honestly. Without my kids and wife I couldn’t work 12 hour days.
Q: Who or what influences you?
Well, we are all influenced by our peers, coworkers and competitors. My grandfather most inspires me. He ran his own business for 45 years, was part of the community, had a solid marriage and loved fishing, beer and wine.
Q. What are you reading right now?
I just finished The Craft Beer Revolution
by Steve Hindy, co-founder of the Brooklyn Brewery. Now I’m reading McCarthy’s Bar
by Pete McCarthy.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
]. I was nicknamed “Goat” in college because I’d eat damn near anything. I’ve since left that behind.
Q. Well you have to give an example.
I could eat a whole big bowl of jalapeños, no problem.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
Spicy carne asado from Rojelios Taco Shop in San Diego. Extra cheese, extra guac and the Nut Brown Lager that I make.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
Don’t do it! You idiot! [Laughs]
. There were a lot of things I did impulsively when I was 16 that were dangerous: donuts on a hill in the snow, trying to drive a Jeep through a flooded road.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
As a successful businessman and successful family man that was involved in the community. Basically, as my grandfather. Employ people. Make the world a better place. Kind of, um, a socialist business owner.
Q. What first drew you to brewing beer?
I was brewing in my college dorm room. It was easier to make beer than smuggle it in. Easier to sneak in malt and yeast and not worry about the RA. That’s when I got a taste for it. I couldn’t drink the cheap stuff at college parties. Then, I figured I could get paid to brew beer.
3 MINUTES WITH DAVE QUINN OF JAMESON
Dave Quinn is the Master of Whiskey Science at Jameson Irish Whiskey. This means he, in his own words, does “all the technical stuff, quality, research, new whiskey development, whiskey planning” for the largest Irish whiskey company in the world. He was in Brooklyn for the release of KelSo IPA, aged in Jameson barrels, so we caught up with him afterwards for his side of the KelSo & Jameson collaboration story. Keep an eye out for the other 27 minutes of his interview at a later date.
Q. You stated that brewers and distillers constantly request Jameson barrels for aging, but that Jameson had never before loaned any of their barrels. Why did Jameson decide to start loaning?
In fact we had given some Jameson barrels to a craft brewer local here in Cork (Franciscan Well Brewery) and they produced a wonderful stout at 7.8% ABV. We realized that it was important to work directly with the brewer and not supply barrels through a broker. This ensured a good partnership and a great quality beer. KelSo is the first such collaboration in the USA.
Q. What about the KelSo Beer Company in Brooklyn convinced you that Kelly Taylor would be the best brewer to experiment with Jameson barrel aging?
Once I met Kelly and tasted his beer it was an easy decision. It was always going to be Brooklyn because it was in Brooklyn that Jameson started on its journey in the USA. Kelly is a great guy and very passionate about his beer and his craft, so his values matched ours perfectly.
Q. Why is aging beer in barrels gaining popularity among craft brewers?
It lends a different degree of complexity that’s only available by aging. People have used sours, dry hopping and spices to get flavors to change. Barrel aging is a relatively easy next step and the flavors are complementary [to the beer]. You can also use different barrels to get different characteristics. I can put a single batch into five or six different barrels and get five or six different beers. Then you charge a premium.
Q. How does a brewer normally purchase barrels for brewing?
Normally a barrel broker. They source barrels and have a supply once or twice a year. They’ll call when they have barrels. You can also try to reach out to distillers or wineries, which is typically harder. Vintners don’t give out their barrels and distillers don’t even answer the phone.
Q. How did you get connected to Jameson? You were the first U.S. brewer to receive their coveted barrels for aging.
I reached out to a few distillers using contacts I had at large restaurants. One restaurant got back to me and said Jameson wanted to talk to me, that they’d been thinking about a project like that. They asked if Dave [Master of Whiskey Science from Jameson] could come check out the brewery. [Laughs
]. Of course! I thought they’d ship the barrels, but they wanted a project. And after talking to them, I see the degree to which they take every part of their business seriously. It’s a very tight model. For example, they built a new distillery up the hill from their old one. I saw the distillery when I visited and it had three brand new pot stills, but two of them were vertical and one was horizontal. I asked why and they said it was designed exactly as it was in the old distillery. They are very traditional.
Q. Why did you choose to barrel age an IPA rather than a more traditional stout or dark beer?
First, I was trying to get away from stouts — they are pretty played out. Second, the IPA has a symmetry with the barrel. When I sampled [the whiskey] it was light and bright and fruity and spicy and floral. It smelled like an IPA and had IPA flavors. I thought these flavors coming from the hops and the barrel would add a nice depth.
Q. You only produced a very limited supply of the limited-edition KelSo IPA, aged in Jameson barrels. How will this experience shape your brewing going forward?
The success was reaffirming. It showed a lot of complexity and nuance in aging. It can have more layers and the feedback was positive.
Q. Excluding the beer that you brew, what’s your favorite beer to drink after a long day?
Twenty-four years ago I wanted to emulate Sierra Nevada. I love their Pale Ale and their Porter. Those beers are still really interesting and enjoyable today, which is a remarkable feat over so much time.
Q. What’s your one, best piece of advice for aspiring home brewers?
]. Don’t do it! Leave it to the pros! We don’t need more competition. Get another hobby!
TASTING THE FIRST BEER AGED IN JAMESON BARRELS