From our Distiller...Custom-Aged Whiskeys and Private Labels
What was that? Do we do custom barrel-filling? Why yes, yes we do! In fact, we just bottled up some 1-year old 100% rye for the Penn State University Smeal College of Business MBA class of 2016.
Roll back the clock to winter 2014 when a group of MBA students stopped by and took a tour of the distillery. In talking with them, they asked if we would consider filling a barrel of whiskey specifically for them-- something they could bottle to commemorate their graduation the following year. We were happy to participate in the project and plans were made for the class to come by for a small party, the highlight of which was the filling of their barrel with rye whiskey. You might be thinking, “One year of aging for a full-sized barrel is not much time, especially for rye” and you’d be right. So we talked about adding some extra wood to assist in speeding up the aging process. We discussed a few possibilities, but opted to wait until 6 months of aging had occurred to decide a specific course of action. When a few of them stopped by the subsequent fall, we pulled a sample from the barrel to see how it was progressing. We were pretty pleased with the sample, but agreed that more time was needed. I then took a larger sample from the barrel and set up some experiments with a couple different kinds of wood, as well as some different treatments of the wood—toasting, water-soaking, etc. A few weeks later, the students came back and we tasted the samples that had had wood added to them. The specially-treated cherry wood was the consensus favorite.
And so, just a few weeks ago, we transferred the whiskey from the MBA class barrel to our blending tank and added the cherry wood to let it slowly stir and soak for the next several days. When we were happy with the flavor—which was seven days later-- we bottled it.
For us to legally sell the whiskey, a label must be created for each product which must then be submitted and approved. We worked with the students to come up with a label design which was then submitted and approved by the government. The MBA students had hoped to buy all of the bottles from the barrel (~350), but fell short, buying about 175 bottles. This means that you, too, can buy a bottle of the specially-labeled MBA Class of 2016 barrel-aged rye whiskey and taste what the cherry wood does for a rye whiskey.
We would be happy to do this with any other group that might be interested in doing something like this, and you can be involved in as much of the process as you want. The MBA students were pretty busy with classes and finals as it was the end of the semester, so they asked us to bottle their whiskey in advance of their bottle-release party. But your group might like to bottle your own private label whiskey and have a bottling party with your recipients, and we would be happy to have folks come in and bottle their own product. “Really—it’s lots of fun!”, to quote Tom Sawyer.
Is filling and bottling a whole a 53-gallon barrel a bit too much? That depends on your group and how high demand is for the product. We can do smaller barrels (which will mature whiskey faster and have slightly more aggressive wood notes from the barrel). We are also working on getting approval of generic labels for the whiskeys we make, which would allow us to insert a group’s logo into the space provided. This way if you have an event and you want just a few cases of a special-labeled product, we can do that.
If you or your group are interested in a private label spirit, all you need to do is contact Kevin Lloyd (kevin@BigSpringSpirits.com) to get the process started!