When it comes to aging...it’s what’s on the inside that really counts.
We’re still talking about whiskey barrels, of course. There’s not much time to contemplate that “other” kind of aging–we’re working and playing too hard to notice (more on that another time)! For now, back to the barrels. They are the star of this show and exemplify why our Batch No. 1 and No. 2 are great examples of how whiskey’s flavor is an expression of the nature of the barrel from which it was born.
How the Barrel Burns...The Cask Connection
This is where the barley meets the road. How whiskey tastes certainly comes from the mash recipe, but it also depends on the process used to make the barrel it ages in. Like most whiskeys made in America, our barrels are made of American white oak. The seasoning, toasting and char of that wood determines the whiskey’s flavor profile.
Here’s a quick tutorial on seasoning, toasting and charring:
After the wood is harvested, it must be dried or seasoned. Kilning-drying the wood in a heated chamber is the fastest and easiest way, but truncates the natural processes that lend more personality to the aging process. When the wood ages outdoors, exposure to the elements transforms the wood and frees up tannins and other compounds that enhance flavors.
Charring and Toasting
Much like roasting marshmallows, how much a barrel is burned is the distiller’s choice, ranging from fully charred: barrels are burned to a crisp, much like the remains of a campfire, to the less common toasted: barrels are heated much more gently, resulting in a dark brown toast rather than a blackened char Where a barrel falls on the scale determines the degree of spicy or sweet, smooth or hot.
Charring Before a barrel can hold whiskey, it must be charred. How long the barrel burns, from just a few seconds to a minute or more, determines char depth.
Toasting Toasting usually is a secondary effect from charring, a layer BEHIND the char that burns the sugar in the wood. Expanding this deeper toasted layer is limited during charring process, as the structural integrity of the barrel is compromised with too long of a burning process. A more costly, less common approach, is to toast barrels more deeply BEFORE charring. Doing a pre-char toasting releases more sugars that can be extracted during the aging process.
So, overall, variations in toast time and temperature, as well as in char level, create different flavor profiles.
Sticking to our adventurous spirit, we wanted to choose barrels that reflect our values; even though the journey is longer, what comes out the other side is always worth it in the end.
First, we selected barrels that were air-dried, casks from Independent Stave Company– made from American white oak and aged in the open air for at least 2 years.
Then, our founder Phil wanted to use casks that were heavy toast, light char (good things come to those who wait...most bourbons are aged in barrels with a light toast, heavy char). Phil’s hope was that this cask profile would give our whiskey a spiciness and richness that a heavy char/light toast would not. Toasted barrels generally give a sharper tasting spirit and change a whiskey’s composition, incorporating fewer vanillins, and creating a toffee-sweet type taste. Usually, a heavy char barrel is used to enhance sweetness. Phil believed that the malt recipe would deliver just the right amount of sweetness combined with a high-toast barrel, creating a unique sweet and spicy depth.
For Batch No.1, the heavy toast, light char was the only barrel used. We started Batch No. 2 with those same high toast barrels, then transferred to ex-rum and bourbon barrels (which have a high char) to experiment with what those flavors would do to the profile.
The results: two distinct flavor profiles, both with lots of stories to tell.