We recently had Nancy Fraley, a Master Blender and renowned whiskey expert, visit to help us evaluate how well our whiskeys are aging. Over the course of two days, we tasted and evaluated samples from over 100 barrels. It might sound like a rough job, especially as we were tasting at barrel strength (anywhere from 115 to 130 proof, or 55-65% alcohol by volume). For comparison, most commercially available whiskeys range from 80 to 100 proof (40-50% alcohol by volume. Don’t worry about us though, there was lots of spitting involved. One would not last too long if all of the samples were swallowed.
I am thrilled to say that for the most part she was very pleased with how our whiskeys are coming along. We did find a few of our barreled whiskeys had some issues, but at fortunately the problems seemed to be associated with those particular barrels, and not with what we put in it. Just like with cars, you occasionally get a lemon (we did taste a whiskey that had some hints of lemon, which I actually thought was kind of nice). Fortunately, it won’t be spoiled whiskey. With Nancy’s help, we were able to identify ways on how we can correct those few barrels.
Nancy had visited us about 16 months ago and had made some recommendations about how to change our process, part of which included changing our source of barrels. Nancy was able to connect us up with a premier cooperage – Independent Stave Company and we started putting our whiskey in those barrels last year. We were very excited to see how the whiskey in these new barrels were aging. I am pleased to say that all three of our whiskeys (corn, rye and wheat) are aging very nicely in these superior barrels. We likely will start putting some rye into a char 4 barrel, instead of the char 3 we have been using as the boldness of our rye can hold up to a heavier char. Nancy was particularly pleased with how the wheat whiskey was progressing. She even asked if she could take some of the samples from one particular batch to add to her collection. She thought some of these, at just one year old, were better than some of the 2-year old stuff in barrels from a different cooperage. Needless to say, this thrilled me as the wheat is my personal favorite.
We also evaluated a few of my experiments. I’m going to hold off on giving all the details, but one experiment involves ingredients, and another how I distill and those both got the thumbs up as well. It is still a bit too early to say how they will ultimately turn out, but they are headed in a very good direction. The other “experiment” we evaluated was our rye that we have been finishing in port wine barrels. Six months ago, we put 3 different ryes into three different barrels that had been used to age port. One rye had first been in American oak for 3 years, one had been in French oak for 3 years, and one had been in French oak for 2 years and then transferred to an ex-bourbon barrel for six months. As it turns out, this last one was Nancy’s favorite whiskey that she tasted over the two days. She saved this sample to drink later when we were finished for the day. We hope to release that rye in September, if it’s ready. The other two barrels still need a little more time, so those will be released later.
All in all, it was a great visit with Nancy, whose expertise will surely help us as we as we strive to make our whiskeys even better!