AGING CELLAR BEST PRACTICES WR ITTEN BY LUIS AYAL A
ging, the wonderful transformation of a spirit inside a wooden cask, is one of the most critical and expensive links in a distillery’s operation, yet it is often disregarded as something that “just happens” regardless of how we allow it to happen. Having an elegantly aged spirit, produced within the time allowed, on-budget and with the profile one desires, is not an easy task, but it is one that can be made easier by following this advice. First of all, you must start with the end in mind.
What is the congener level of the desired final product? Knowing the answer to this question allows the distiller to produce a distillate with the right composition of congeners from the heads and tails.
Aside from esters that may have been left in the distillate going into the barrel, how many other esters need to be formed during the aging? The answer to this question will help shape the decision of how long to age and in what part of the warehouse to do so.
Wood extractives and tannic intensity: When aging bourbon or
whiskey, which require the use of new barrels, the only options are size, oak type and level of toast or char. If aging other spirits, which allow new or used barrels, then the answer helps determine the barrel purchase and replacement practice for the
cellar master. It is important to think of barrels as tea bags, realizing that with each use the quantity of the wood extractives contributed to the spirit inside decreases, and even longer “steeping times” do not match the intensity of the first or second use. This means that, in order to achieve consistency, some of the barrels in the final blended product must always be newer than the others, which of course requires a constant capital expenditure.
If the target proof is 80, for example, and the desired aging time is three years, filling the barrels with a distillate at 80 proof will result in disappointment and headaches at the end of the three years. The reason for this is simple: As the alcohol inside the barrel reacts with the oxygen, some of that alcohol is transformed into aldehydes. The exposure of aldehydes to oxygen continues transforming them into acids and, finally,
when the acids are formed, some of them react with the remaining alcohol to produce molecules of esters and water. What this means, in simpler terms, is that the proof of the alcohol inside the barrel gradually decreases over time, so the proof of the distillate going inside the barrel must be higher than the desired bottle proof. But how much higher should it be? If it is too high, the alcohol will evaporate much faster, but the number of barrels needed to store it will be lower. If it is very low, the number of barrels needed will be higher. Another consideration is that aging at very high proofs means that one will need to add a lot more water prior to bottling, meaning the flavors will be diluted more than if we age slightly above bottle proof and only add a small amount of water prior to bottling.
Age statement on the label (if any): If the aged spirit must have an age
statement, then the question of how long to age is already answered. The challenge under this scenario is then to ensure that the product consistency can be maintained. Filling all the barrels at the same time means that we can only have one production per year on the anniversary of the filling, which may or may not be practical. Filling a WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
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