Having an elegantly aged spirit, produced within the time allowed, on-budget and with the profile one desires, is a task that can be made easier. small percentage of the barrels each month means that every month, after the aging goal is achieved, we can empty and refill barrels and set finished product aside.
Expected final retail price:
Nothing will kill a new brand faster than being priced over competitor’s products while also under-delivering quality. A failure to start with the end in mind is almost a guaranteed invitation for this to happen. When we know how many barrels we need, how much we will lose to evaporation, and how long we need to keep the distillate in the barrels before bottling, we can then take those expenses into account, add them to the packaging cost and the operational overhead and have a realistic production cost. Adding the distributor markup and the retailer markup then gives us the final retail price. This cost analysis MUST be done before investing in aging to make sure that the numbers will be sustainable. Look at the environmental conditions inside and outside the cellar:
Temperature range (lowest and highest), hot spots: The sun provides
heat during the day, this is a given. The key is knowing how much it provides at different times and identifying “hot spots” in the warehouse where the barrels will be warmer than those in different areas. These hotter barrels will evaporate alcohol faster,
resulting in more losses, but also in higher levels of wood extractives and esterification. Understanding this allows the cellar master to select product from different barrels, knowing how to make these samples representative of the entire lot.
Relative humidity inside the cellar: Another factor affecting how
much volume will evaporate from inside the barrels is the relative humidity of the air in the warehouse. The lower the relative humidity, the more the volumetric loss in spirits. This can be remedied by increasing the humidity level through different means. In the past two and a half decades of consulting for the industry I have seen everything from soaker hoses, water fountains and misting systems. What to implement depends greatly on the budget, risk factors (flooding, electric shock) and food-grade compliance.
Location of doors, windows, air currents: Just like temperature
and relative humidity, air currents can play an important role in the amount of evaporation, oxygenation and esterification of barrels. Typically, barrels near doors will evaporate more than those farthest away, and the same is true with those close to windows or other sources of fresh air.
Clearly identify each barrel and track its progress: Aging is only “by the book” if it has traceability. As such,
cellar masters must be able to prove that the spirits in their barrels have met the aging requirements for each of the products that leave their facilities. Clearly labeled and identified barrels are essential to this task as they allow for controlling fill and empty dates, as well as providing historical account of uses, repairs, refinishes, etc. The identification of barrels can be as simple as numbers/codes painted on the faces or sides, as long as the paint is food grade and safe in contact with alcohol. There are other, more modern ways to identify barrels, such as barcodes and other fixed assets tags. The key is good record keeping and good discipline every time a barrel is touched or manipulated.
Develop a methodology that encourages blending success:
Everyone can put something in a barrel and take it out after some time to offer that product for retail. It takes a great deal of planning and execution to be able to offer consistency in that product despite changes in fermentation, distillation, barrels and climate. The more control exerted during all the aforementioned phases, the higher the likelihood of success. Cheers!
Luis Ayala is an international rum consultant and broker of specialty aged rums. He is founder of The Rum University, Rum Central and Got Rum? magazine. Visit www.gotrum.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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