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from inside the barrel, the more oxygen will enter it and the faster the acidification and esterification will be completed. Here is where Solera structures have a significant advantage over the vertical stacks, because Soleras allow for uniform air circulation around all the barrels, not just the ones on the outermost edges of the stacks. It helps to think in terms of baking cookies in an oven: if you overlap some cookies, you will be able to get a nice, brown and crispy edge on some of the cookies, while those cookies that are touching or are being covered by others will not be baked at all. The baking, in the case of barrels, is the exposure to the hot ambient air of the warehouse, which dries out the outer surface of the barrels, promoting additional “sweating” or evaporation. This evaporation, in turn, is responsible for an equal volume of oxygen finding its way into the barrel, where it helps with the acidification and esterification. Also, if the Solera is built with spacers between the barrels, as depicted in the picture above, the master blender can easily remove the bungs by hand and can have access to the barrels’ contents, without needing to move the barrels. The disadvantage of Soleras, however, is that they represent a very inefficient use of warehouse space. Depending on the thickness of the staves employed in the construction of the barrels, Soleras usually can reach only 5 to 6 levels high, before the weight of the structure becomes too much for the lowest-most level to support. Stacking pallets with barrels, however, represents the most efficient use of warehouse space, because the downward pressure is exerted along the barrels’ strongest axis. Using vertical stacks of pallets, warehouse managers can have a barrel density that is usually 4 to 5 times higher than when using Soleras, which is significant. The vertical stacks, however, present the challenge of reduced acidification and esterification, plus the need for forklifts and labor every time the master blender needs to retrieve samples from the barrels.

So what should you do about Soleras? If you are a consumer and one of the products that interests you is labeled as a Solera, you should reach out to the technical (not marketing) people behind the brand and ask very specific questions, such as “is this product aged in actual Soleras and following the sherry blending method?” If you are a producer and are considering branding one of your products with the word “Solera”, consider first if any of the following apply to you:

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You are experiencing quality variations from year to year and are looking for a way to mitigate them

You are willing to start setting up a Solera now and accept that you will not be able to withdraw true Solera aged spirits from the barrels until several years from now Do your local regulations (usually fiscal or tax in nature) allow you to re-fill barrels in your bonded warehouse? Are you just interested in an exotic-sounding moniker even though it could be interpreted as being misleading

Or perhaps you are a producer and don’t really care about using the name “Solera” on your product’s label, but you could use a Solera structure if:

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You want easy access to all your barrels, without needing a forklift to move them You want to maximize the benefits of maturation (acidification and esterification) and You are not limited by space in your aging warehouse

Soleras have a reason for existing and a very specific implementation methodology designed to make them work. When used in this context, they can be the source of much pride by the producers and the topic of many educational discussions with visitors and distributors alike. But using the term on a product when the company behind it has no knowledge of its meaning, no resemblance of its implementation and no interest in its benefits, can draw a lot of negative attention toward the brand and can also lead consumers and the industry to question other aspects of the operation.

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 luis@gotrum.com for more information.

March 5-6, 2018 | Pittsburgh | www.americancraftspirits.org WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM  

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Artisan Spirit: Winter 2017  
Artisan Spirit: Winter 2017  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.