Barrel aging whiskey was an innovative process that was discovered by accident several centuries ago. In the 18th century distillers would have considered barrel aging to be new technology that all the distillers started adopting. Thankfully they did embrace it because it truly makes our spirits taste better. If a new technology makes the spirits you drink taste better without any negative impacts, we would be foolish to ignore it. O’Kenny Spirits will embrace barrel aging as well as new natural processes that we are certain will improve our spirits taste.
Explanation: Humans have been distilling spirits for 4 thousand years, so any change within 2 or 3 hundred years could still be considered a new innovation. In the 18th century liquids were put into barrels for only one reason; transportation. Liquor was shipped by sailing vessel in barrels to other markets. On occasion the alcohol would stay in the barrel longer than intended and when it was opened it had a brownish tinge to it. This was not desirable but some people would drink it anyways. People eventually realized that they enjoyed the smoother richer taste of the brown liquor and barrel aging became a popular taste enhancing process. True barrel aging was done on ships that swayed and rocked in the water which kept the spirit constantly moving around the barrel. Regulatory barrel aging was first instituted by Canada in 1890. Our country set a formal requirement that required 2 full years of barrel aging before a spirit could be called “Canadian Whisky”. Other countries such as Ireland and Scotland followed our standard, but not until 25 years later.
Further study of barrel aging has explained in detail how it works. The process that occurs when a white whisky sits in an oar barrel is known as esterification. Esters are essentially the flavours of a spirit. Esterification occurs when the wood absorb the alcohol liquid deeply into its fibers because the spirit is a solvent and the esters are changed or transformed. Esters are exchanged between the spirit and the wood. The result is that the esters in the spirit are changed and combined with the esters in the wood. New combinations of esters are created. As much as 90 percent of the flavours in a dark spirit result from esterification. Barrel aging is a wonderful process that makes your spirits taste better however almost all distilleries age their whiskeys to simply meet regulations. They build huge warehouses where the spirits will sit without moving for their entire aging period. This is the most inefficient method to esterificate spirits. The only surface area of the wood that is exposed to the spirit is the inside portion of the barrel staves and a large portion of the barrel at the top is never in contact with the spirit. Only a thin layer of spirits will be exposed to the barrel staves. The vast majority of the liquid in the barrel will not be esterificated. The vast majority of whisky is aged this way. I call this regulatory barrel aging. You can call this traditional only if you consider government interference to be a tradition. True barrel aging was discovered when spirit barrels in transport on ships spent longer than intended on route to their destination. The barrels would be in constant movement as the ship rolled and heaved on the water. The constant mixing would bring new spirit against the wood to get absorbed. These ships were far from climate controlled and the changes in temperature and pressure aided esterification.
Known technology to improve the conditions for esterification:
Increase surface area: Introduce staves inside the barrel to increase surface area of wood contacting the spirits.
Roll the barrels slightly to expose a little more wood to the liquid.
Roll the barrels significantly to stir up the liquid to bring new liquid in contact with the wood.
Allow fluctuations in temperature to occur. As the temperature rises the wood will open up to absorb more liquid and when the temperature decreases the wood compresses to push the liquid out.
O’Kenny will Employ True Barrel Aging
Our barrels will be on display to our patrons and they will be encouraged to assist our efforts to promote esterification. Our rack houses will be small steel containers with large glass windows facing south to allow the sun to heat up the barrels during the day and when night arrives the hot steel rackhouses will be vented to cool off quickly. Our visitors will be allowed and even encouraged to roll the barrels; the more movement the better.
Large speakers will be placed strategically to vibrate the rackhouses to encourage etherification.
Future Traditional Plans: Hiring a tall sailing ship to transport our aging whisky around the world may raise the cost per bottle a couple hundred dollars but the next best thing is to build a barge to float on the mighty Mustrat River. The constant movement will have the same effect as the more expensive option.
Future Innovative Plans: Large lexane columns (16 feet tall x 4 feet diameter) will contain spirits. Large racks of barrel staves will be submerged in the column like a giant tea bag. The rack will be lowered to the bottom during the heat of the day and raised just below the surface at night. The change in pressure from 16 feet deep to 3 feet is considerable. The wood will absorb the spirits at the bottom of the column in the heat of the day and release the spirits at the top at night. Our patrons can observe this process while driving by on the road, The large columns will be erected on the front lawn of our distillery grounds to absorb the heat of the sun. Large speakers placed at the base will vibrate the spirits with our favorite songs. (if our neighbours aren’t bothered) We will take requests.