“We try to get the base pretty close first, then we try to get the seasoning components dialed in,” he says. The major base components go into tanks of up to 30,000 gallons, while the smaller components can be fractions of a percent. “We go from the very small to the very large. We literally will go as small as two or three barrels blended together (for some components),” Coyle tells. Campfire, a whiskey that incorporates rye, bourbon and peated single-malt, was an extremely complex blend to formulate the first time around. “You’re dealing with a lot of different flavors and components. We wanted to have a very rounded product with three distinct parts to it,” says Coyle. “We were actually tweaking that peated part of the blend by one-quarter of a percent by the end, and it was making all the difference.” Much of his blending, at least on the large components, is based on data. Because of the size of their lots, the variance in quality from barrel to barrel averages out, and they get a more homogenous product. However, variations will inevitably exist and have to be adjusted for. “Last year’s six-year-old might have been more or less spiritous or have more or less maturation character. There can be variations in the grain,” Coyle says. “It’s really mathematically driven. You have your inventory, flavor components, projections.” They’ll do triangle tests to tweak components up or down, tasting alongside the current blend and product from the first year or two, to keep things consistent over a longer timeline. “That’s something
we’re really conscious about, flavor drift.” Coyle says that some blends take as little as two to four weeks to complete, while others have taken almost six months. The big components will generally sit for months and homogenize, while small ones might get added in just days before bottling. “The hardest part is those small components,” he says. “My goal is to start putting (the final spirit) together at the beginning of the year, and slowly sip out of it over 12 to 18 months.” At times, he’ll also blend to highlight certain characteristics of their spirit, like the young rye character in their Double Rye. They are able to highlight a fresh rye character while using a small percentage of much older, sourced rye to add some more barrel and aged notes. Coyle said he spends 10-15 percent of his time in the lab, thinking about releases two to three years out. He makes sure to have barrels with a variety of character available—sweet, smokey, grainy, tannic—and an extensive library of samples. “I really strive to have a lot of different things in our inventory,” says Coyle. “You have more versatility.” Distilling may get the lion's share of the consumer and industry attention, but it's blending that holds the keys to opening up a whole new world of potential flavors and products.
Gabe Toth is the head brewer at Twisted Pine Brewing Co. An experienced craft brewer and distiller, his passion for fermentation also extends to pickling, cheesemaking and meat curing. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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