From our Distiller...Barrel Aging - NOT Just Whiskey
We are not just aging whiskey here! In fact, we have just bottled up some new batches of our barrel-aged rum and gin. This makes for a good time to highlight some of the differences in the way these two products were aged, and how that affects the final product.
The rum went into the barrel at 120 proof, and the gin went in at 94.6 proof and this changes what we get out of the barrel. Besides the differences in proof, the rum was aged for over a year, while the gin was aged for just 9 weeks. When comparing the two aged products, folks are surprised that the color of the two is pretty similar. The proof has little impact on the speed with which color is extracted – which is faster than most folks think! In fact, we find that the biggest factor in color development is the spirit that goes in the barrel (rye for some reason seems to darken the most).
While proof doesn’t impact color, it’s an important consideration as it does influence the character of the flavors extracted from the wood. Higher proofs favor extraction of more vanillin and smoky notes, while lower proofs favor more sugars and spicy notes. You will get all of these flavors over a range of proofs, it is just the relative proportions that change, so you will get some vanilla at 95 proof, but less than you would at 120 proof. This is demonstrated very nicely in these two recent bottlings. The rum has some nice vanilla notes with just a hint of smoke, and has some flavors often associated with bourbon (due to the use of new oak). The gin also went into new oak, but it didn’t pick up the vanilla like the rum did. What we did get out of the barrel was some nice spicy notes that complement the botanicals in the gin as well as some sugars which help to give the aged-gin a fuller/rounder mouthfeel compared to the un-aged version. The other thing that happened with the aged gin is some of the juniper flavors and aromas were trapped in the char of the barrel taming this element just a bit. Actually this is how we ultimately decided how long to age the gin for. The juniper was fairly prominent for the first 6 weeks, and then it started to fade and at 9 weeks we thought the balance between the juniper, the spice and the sweetness was just right.
Coming back to time. While time does not play a large role in color, it does dictate the intensity of the spirits. Part of the reason there is not much vanilla in the gin, is that it was only in the barrel for 9 weeks. We have saved back a special barrel of the aged-gin that is now over a year old and it has become more whiskey like. With the extra time it now has some of the classic vanilla notes typical of a bourbon. In fact, it is probably more bourbon-like than gin-like now. We are saving this for release at a later date. Stay tuned!