Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Whiskey Makers Buck Tradition

In the search for new flavors, distillers are experimenting with different wood barrels for aging:
Morris recently launched Woodford Reserve "Four Wood," the seventh release in Woodford Reserve's annual Master's Collection, which sees Morris alter one of the five sources of the whiskey's flavor—grain, water, fermentation, distillation or maturation. Focusing on the time the whiskey spends in the barrel for 2012, Morris put standard six- to seven-year-old Woodford Reserve in a maple wood barrel as well as former sweet wine casks to lend more chocolate, nutty and dark cherry flavors not usually found in bourbon. Much like the original Woodford Reserve mingled with the new charred American oak barrel, the "Four Wood" chemically reacted with its barrel wood to produce a particular set of flavors. The former fortified wine barrels had wine soaked into the wood and are larger than standard whiskey barrels, giving the Woodford Reserve a larger surface-to-whiskey ratio as well as the small-scale fruity flavors that remained from the barrel's former alcohol.
In an effort to create a spicier-finishing whiskey, Maker's Mark added toasted French white oak staves to its existing bourbon barrel for its 2010 Maker's 46. "French oak has a different flavor profile than American oak—it’s spicier," Boswell says. "The French oak wood is lighter, a less dense wood. The oxygen interacts with the spirit differently than the American oak barrel."
French white oak packs nine times more tannic acid than American oak, Boswell says. When the Maker's Mark hits the barrel and mingles with the French and American oak, the whiskey takes on both woods’ profile characteristics. With the French spice and American sweetness, Maker's 46 delivers a spicy, rich caramel whiskey that leaves its flavor on the tongue longer than traditional Maker's Mark.
Aging has even gone beyond stationary warehouses. For its Ocean-Aged Bourbon, Jefferson's Reserve placed several barrels on a 126-foot ship and let the casks cruise at sea for nearly four years. The increased oceanic air pressure (compared with its warehouse), along with the Panama Canal's extreme heat pushed the whiskey deeper inside the wood, causing the wood sugars to caramelize and add a rumlike black hue.
Luckily, with the exception of Laphroaig, I haven't been able to really taste much difference between whiskeys.  I don't think this is for me, but it is interesting.  It is pretty amazing how complex the organic chemicals that create flavors are.  I probably should have paid a little attention during that semester of Orgo I was present for.

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