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In recent years, whiskey lovers have been gifted with various new products. We are talking about the ones that claim to produce high-end liquor in just a fraction of the time usually required to age single malt spirits.
These distillers, instead of maturing the whiskey for a decade or more in used whiskey barrels, have a strong feeling that they can replicate the quality and taste in a matter of weeks.
The global whiskey consumption continues to rise. So the question is could these new aging techniques be the answer to preserving supply? Or are these claims just a claim and no more? And even if the taste measures up, does the taste still necessarily live up to the expectations of the crowd?
Recent innovators in this field expose their liquors to a patented combination of light and heat to speed up the aging process. Certain whiskey makers create whiskeys and bourbons in high-pressure stainless steel tanks. These tanks mix the spirit with new wood combinations and create unique flavors in days.
An Australian distillery claims to create a single malt spirit that has the “flavor identical to a 10-year-old whiskey”. But should we believe all these claims?
Let’s first have a look at the method of how brown liquors are made.
Here’s the basic chemistry of making spirits
Whiskeys come in different variants. You can find scotch whiskey, bourbon whiskey, rye, and so on. All these are essentially produced with just three simple ingredients: water, grain, and yeast.
- The most commonly used grains in whiskey production are barley, wheat, rye or corn.
- Some spirits are subject to regulations, such as Scotch whiskey. This must necessarily be produced from malted barley. Bourbon must also be made from at least 51% corn.
The first step in whiskey production is to germinate the grain in water.
- This results in the release of enzymes that break down starches in the grain into sugars.
- This process is halted by drying, and the “malt” is then collected before the sugars are redissolved in water.
- The next step involves the addition of yeast to convert the sugars to alcohol. This stage ends and the brew obtained contains about 8% alcohol.
The next step is the distillation process.
- In this process, different alcohols are separated, and the fraction that contains ethanol is obtained.
- This step is repeated until the fraction obtained contains upwards of 70% ethanol, some water, and a rich tapestry of chemicals that have been collected in the process.
The next step is the transfer of the distillate into charred used whiskey barrels for aging.
- Here flavors such as vanilla, coconut, and butterscotch are extracted into the whiskey.
- During warm weather, the alcohol moves through the charred wooden pores due to the increased pressure. All the chemicals in the wood get absorbed and the impurities get filtered out.
- During cool temperature, the spirit moves in the reverse direction repetitively. The liquor gets filtered slowly through the used whiskey barrels.
Here are the factors that help whiskey aging the most!
1) The used whiskey barrels play a massive role in the maturation process.
- The casks are usually charred on the inside.
- The charcoal that is left behind after charring absorbs many of the chemicals that are a by-product of distillation smoothing out the spirit.
- The oak contains natural elements in abundance.
- Tannins from the oak are also responsible for adding color to the whiskey.
- The natural chemicals present within the wood adds flavor.
- A law even states that bourbon must necessarily be poured only into virgin oaks casks.
- Scotch whiskey industries buy used whiskey barrels in abundance, hence the previously held spirit also imparts additional flavor to the scotch.
2) Another factor that affects the taste is the size of the barrel.
- The catalyst here is the surface area to the content ratio of the used whiskey barrels.
- Smaller casks have a smaller content to surface area ratio and therefore maturation occurs faster in small barrels.
Other reactions that occur during the maturation process are also responsible. The wood tends to expand and contract with seasons as it gets warmer and colder.
How to speed up the chemistry?
People might get confused and their lack of knowledge may bring them a conclusion that speeding up the aging process is simply a case of extracting the flavors more quickly from the used whiskey barrels. They may be right, but the chemistry is more complex than that.
New molecules are created during chemical reactions. Out of these, many of the molecules are credited with the properties of the longest aged whiskeys.
- These people can be considered as the greatest chemists by whiskey-lovers. These brave innovators are using science to try and speed up the process.
- The development of innovative aging vessels that are coupled with clever manipulations of light and temperature have been tested and found to achieve authentic results in expeditious time.
- Also, there are other innovative approaches. People are even using ultrasound to do this task.
It can be considered the most innovative approach currently as it is getting much-deserved attention.
- The underlying phenomenon that drives these reactions is called acoustic cavitation.
- Acoustic cavitation is the formation, growth, and collapse of microscopic bubbles under the influence of a sound field.
- Blasting spirits with ultrasound have proved that it speeds up the aging process of spirits and also accelerates the formation of certain esters that give spirits their unique taste.
However, there are certain regulations that we feel you should know. The spirits that have been aged this way cannot be sold with the names of familiar spirits. This is just because of the reason that these spirits did not undergo the regulated minimum aging process.
But how do they taste?
Now that you know the chemistry of fast liquor which seems effectively sound, but how does it taste?
In research at the Food Safety and Measurement Facility at the University of California, “chemical fingerprint” of 60 American whiskeys was mapped.
- This study identified 30 to 50 specific compounds responsible for differentiating the taste of one drop from another.
- Ester molecules are formed when chemicals such as isopropanol react with fatty acids. Ester molecules are responsible for imparting many of the classic whiskey flavors.
- Using ultrasonic waves can also help these ester-forming reactions to potentially yield unique flavors that are different from the conventionally aged spirits.
So now the question that arises is should fast liquors be given a chance?
Alcohol lovers take no offense when offered fast liquors to drink. After all, they are just alcohol and water with a handful of trace flavor molecules!
All the Brewers have to do is strike the special balance between dreamy whiskeys while hastening the aging process.
These technologies no doubt have helped humanity by helping us rethink and reinvent a whole new spectrum of flavors and experiences.
No matter what, barrels play an important role in the whiskey-making process. From Scotland to Brewers in the eastern part of the globe, you will always find a thankful attitude of people towards barrels. Barrels are being used by people to age their spirits and some have even started using them as decorative pieces in their homes and secret spots.
Did you enjoy learning about the oak barrel and their role in aging as well as fast aging?
Are you interested to buy an oak barrel for yourself? Rocky Mountain believes that barrels are not just for aging spirits. Besides aging, there are so many diverse ways in which wine barrels can be put to use in your home or business. To know all these and buy one barrel for yourself contact Rocky Mountain Barrel Company now!
A testimonial by Jeffrey Stuffings states:
“Rocky Mountain Barrel Company is an absolute joy to work with and their barrels are exceptional. They simply will not allow their customers to walk away feeling less than excellent about their experience.”