From the Distiller...And the Aging Goes On
Well, I’ve learned a lot about barrel-aging since I started working at Big Spring Spirits. When I took on the duties of the distiller, this was the area I knew least about, and it has been quite fun to learn more about it, and not just the sampling either! I’ve read all the scientific papers on aging that I can find but also learned that reading about it and having knowledge about it cannot replace tasting it. (well, I knew it already, but this drove the point home).
I wrote in October 2016, “We also have a mix of barrels made from American oak, as well as some made with French oak. This is the easiest difference to taste. The French oak’s effects on the whiskey inside is a little more subtle, while the American oak tends to provide loads of vanilla that one typically associates with a classic bourbon.” I will still defend this statement as true, but I realize now it needs to be amended. SOME of the flavors of French oak are more subtle. Now, having tasted them after more time in the barrel, new flavors have started to make their presence known. There are some really nice honey notes in the whiskeys we have in French oak barrels that we really like, and they are really smooth, sweet and luscious. However, if you give it a few seconds—POW!-- the tannins really present themselves with force!
So, while some of the flavors from French oak are more subtle, the tannins are definitely not! In order to allow the whiskey more time to age (which will also allow the tannins to soften), we have started to move some of the whiskey that was in French oak over to either used bourbon barrels (the first 10 went into ex-Wild Turkey barrels made of American oak) or into some of the American oak barrels that we’ve emptied. The three barrels we used for the first bottling of our American Whiskey were refilled with whiskey from French oak barrels. Soon, we will be emptying three more barrels for the next batch of American Whiskey and we will refill those with more of our whiskey in French oak. How much more time for the tannins to soften? That is something I have found very little information on. I feel pretty confident though, that once the tannins do fade we will have some exceptional and unique whiskey. I just don’t know when it will be ready. Six months? Two years? This will require more tasting…
Speaking of emptying barrels, we always get asked, “When will your rye be ready? Your wheat?” Maybe soon, maybe not. We need to do some serious testing shortly to see if we have some that is ready. These could very well likely be single barrel offerings at either 100% Rye, or 100% Wheat, both aged a little over two years. Perhaps we will put a little rye in the wheat, like we did with the American Whiskey to give it a little more spice, or maybe a little wheat in the rye to round out the texture. We should know in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned.