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Cliff Notes Dept: A brief review of wood aging

 
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Capn Jimbo
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Joined: 11 Dec 2006
Posts: 3426
Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2014 4:43 am    Post subject: Cliff Notes Dept: A brief review of wood aging Reply with quote

Wood cannot be underestimated...


Trust me - this is the SHORT version...



All the components of spirits making are important, and must be well integrated. But there's a tendency to overvalue some of them. Just like it's the lead guitarist that tends to get laid, most of us lionize the distillers the The Man. Still, most true experts maintain that it's the woodies that must be blown, lol.

Wood is VERY important, to wit:


Three basic processes...

We all know - or should - the three basic processes that only real time in real casks can achieve.

Additive

Which add elements such as vanillan (a wood component, is not "vanilla" the bean), coconut and bourbon qualities (oak lactones), the lovely wood created color (not caramel color), and some subtle wood sugars (from toasting, not added table sugar).

Subtractive

Sulfur is inherent in the production of molasses. Good copper removes much of it, and good wood works to reduce the rest. New spirit can be edgy and harsh, and wood smooths these rough edges. Charring (beyond toasting) works just like a charcoal filter.

Interactive

Early wood dumps a lot of mouth puckering tannins into the spirit. More time in the barrel converts these to acetals (sour), to acetic acid, and finally to lovely fruity esters.



Different wood for different effects

There's a huge difference between common and economical American oak (purchased from the bourbon makers) and European oak (ten times the expense) in terms of what each has to offer. BTW, the term "European" is used loosely as these include French Limosin, et al. Let's take a quick look...

American Oak (Quercus Alba): fast growth, coarser grain, emphasis on vanillan, coconut and woody tones. The most commonly used cask, due to availability and low cost.

Quercus Petraea, “Sessile Oak” (Europe): mostly used for wine, slow growth, fine grains, finer tannins, less vanillan than American but more than other Euro oak.

Quercus Robur, “Pedunculate Oak” (Europe): aka Limosin Oak, used for sherry and cognac, and quite expensive as it is mostly known for its raisin, prune and dark fruit tones. Fast growth = more tannins (which helps oxidize and "age" a spirit). Lowest of all oaks in vanillan tones.

There are more, but these are the biggies.


A few, just a few more factors

1. Slow growth wood is more expensive but has more of the goodies to offer. Used these barrels command ten times the price of fast growth, inexpensive ex-bourbon American oak casks.

2. The way the wood is cut, in what direction and how it is dried is very important in terms of vanillan and reduced astringency. Here again, quality costs. Most wood is cheaply and quickly kiln dried for a few weeks, where good air dried wood takes months, in some cases up to two years. Very expensive, but worthwhile for those who care.


Last, preparation differs

American oak - used almost exclusively for bourbon - are charred to varying levels, mostly for about 1 minute, but occasionally up to 3 or 4 minutes. Charring leads to "toastiness", creates and releases wood sugars, lactones (coconut, woody tones), spice and initially puckery tannins. Charring creates a layer of carbon which works especially well for smoothing young bourbon.

Limosin or Euro Oak - used for wine, sherry and cognac. These are NOT charred, but rather toasted, and again to varying levels. Toasting has many of the same effects (sans charcoal filtering) as charring, but with the fuller body and deep fruity tones unique to ex-sherry barrels (and NOT from the sherry).

In conclusion these once-used casks are then purchased and used for aging of rum, Scotch, et al. Although they may then be used ("filled") four more times, generally three or even two "fills" is more like it, as by then the wood has little to offer. These tired barrels are sometimes shaved down to new (and allegedly unused) wood and retoasted/charred for further use. This practice is questionable as earlier aging may have penetrated into the so-called "new, exposed oak".




*******
Credits to:
http://www.whiskeywise.com/whiskey-barrels.html
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Cap'n


Joined: 04 Nov 2011
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Location: Marvelous Madera Ranchos, CA

PostPosted: Thu Oct 16, 2014 10:34 pm    Post subject: Cap'n, please don't read this standing up Reply with quote

have a seat first, maybe enjoy a draw or two on a pipe with your choice of tobacco or a good cigar, THEN read this Kickstarter campaign that promises "Whisky your way" via oak sticks that are laser cut to allow more surface area for spirit to interact with.



The claim is "Top shelf taste in 24 hours". Shades of Lost Spirits or Balcones distilleries it would seem, yes?

I could say that due to the folks behind this fundraising being from Portland, OR and the weather (read: Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sunshine) points to the dumbing down of society in general, and pointing towards a possible future that was hinted at in Mike Judge's Idiocracy or even Demolition Man from 1993, but that is a straw-man that I don't need to put up in the first place.

"Whisky Elements" has a video on YouTube which explains their claims, and how the question of "What's the difference between top-shelf and well whisky?" started their own research and led to their flavor sticks.

There is some interesting information they present as to the differences, two being that well whiskies "...contained high levels of Methoxy-phenyl-Oxime (commonly found in pig and mouse feces) and Acetaldehyde (responsible for hangovers), while the aged top-shelf whiskeys contained almost none of either."

Surprising that more isn't made of the Methoxy-phenyl-Oxime and just HOW it came into the well whisky that was tested. But that would be beyond the scope of the initial question, I'm sure one would agree.

Even MORE interesting to me is that there are 1216 pledges for the amounts of $5-$20, and 1405 pledges for $24-$25 amounts, while the 1%ers, to borrow a phrase, that have pledged to fund $1500-$2500 (and thereby purchase a weekend stay at the McMenamin's Edgefield location in Troutdale, OR (yours truly has been there and has enjoyed a meal with family and sampled some of the whisky distilled there), and also be guests in a commercial, presumably to be filmed there, is seven.
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Capn Jimbo
Rum Evangelisti and Compleat Idiot


Joined: 11 Dec 2006
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Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Fri Oct 17, 2014 3:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here we go again...


Thanks for the pics and post. This company was first noted by Dai, here for more detail:
http://rumproject.com/rumforum//viewtopic.php?t=1489

I have already contacted these promoters and requested a sample of these "flavor sticks". My email made clear that it was no surprise that their claims are more than controversial (and explained why), but added that in the spirit of fairness, honesty and openmindedness, that the Project would promise them an honest and complete test and review, which would examine their claim of "Top Shelf Whiskey in 24 hours". They have failed to respond, no surprise.

The usual technique in these snake oil products is to trumpet a scientific breakthrough, citing a known scientific principle like gravity or the wheel (or in their case, capillary action), toss in a couple of obscure or little understood chemical compounds (in their case "aldehydes" and "methoxy-phenyl-oxime). Their payoff? "Top shelf whisky in 24 hours". Their claims are full of methoxy-phenyl-oxime, aka the the mouse shit to which they oddly refer. Honestly, this product is of the late night television type - you know, the kind that promise super-fast weight loss without exercise or a change in diet. A few notes:

1. I don't know what "top shelf" whiskies they tested, but aldehydes are present in most of them:

Quote:
"Charlie Maclean, writing "The Language of Whisky Tasting" at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society offers ..
...we were delighted to be able to help Colin Brown, a Manufacturing Scientist undertaking an Investigation by Analytical Chemistry of Compounds Affecting Flavour in Single Malt Whiskies, for Napier University, Edinburgh, with the support of United Distillers.

He writes: "Single malt whiskies are chemically complex and are known to contain several hundreds of individual components (congeners) including a variety of alcohols, aldehydes, acids, esters and phenols, as well as carbonyl-, sulphur- and nitrogen-containing compounds. Many of these contribute to the flavour of a whisky and the relative concentrations of each are dependent upon variations in raw materials and production methods. Consequently, each single malt whisky is discernable from any other, including those produced at a neighbouring distillery."


2. They claim to achieve different flavors via different levels of toasting/charring - which is nothing at all new, but that are somehow imparted in 24 hours due to what they creatively name "Accelerated transpiration through capillary action." In other words, they cut slots in the sticks to expose the grain. BFD. How this is different from the toasted wood chips used by many home distillers is beyond me, but well there's one difference. No home distiller will claim that the chips work in 24 hours, nor do they claim that the result is anything like an honestly aged whisky.

3. The "methoxy-phenyl-oxime" is particularly bizarre, particularly their reference to mouse turds. Search all you want but you will be hard put to find it tied to mouse feces, nor to the contents of spirits. The real tip off is that the first five or so returns will be from their well-placed marketing blurbs.

All of you will remember Lost Spirits "fast aging, fast seasoning, and magic aging lights" or Cleveland Whiskey's "6 years in 6 days" claim. But this one takes the cake, leaving only crumbs for the mice...
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TimberCreekDistillery
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Joined: 27 Feb 2016
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 4:08 am    Post subject: Oak aging bio-reactor Reply with quote

Hi Folks,

New distiller speaking again. We have experimented with many of the techniques and woods available for aging and found some interesting facts.

1. There are many "oak alternatives" as they are called....including sawdust (added to some wines), oak chips, sticks, staves, spirals, honeycombs, etc. All designed to maximize surface area of the wood to maximize flavor extraction. These are great if you really just want to add some oakiness to something.

2. I am no chemist, but from my research there appear to be 3 major things that happen in a barrel while aging....

A. Wood flavor extraction - as noted in the above section, the toasted and charred woods have some carmelized sugars that can be extracted....and depending on where the barrel came from and the level of toast or char, those flavors can change. lighter chars give different flavors than heavier chars. Typical bourbon barrels use a #3 char. Some folks go for a #4 char to get some extra smokiness and some heave coffee flavors imparted.

B. Oxygenation - new spirits in the presence of oxygen will break down certain compounds and will dissipate some bad stuff. It was also mentioned earlier that sulfer breaks down in barrels....that is primarily due to oxygenation and can be done before barreling by bubbling air through the spirits....or just letting it sit for a time. This process happens with or without barrels. The barrels actually breath a bit to allow this to happen as compared to spirits in sealed containers...which will have sharper notes and some off flavors if they are bottled too soon.

C. Esterification - here is where the magic happens. This is something that appears to only happen over time and only in the presence of wood.

I mention these 3 items separately because there are ways to rapidly extract oak flavorings....in days rather than years. There are ways to oxygenate spirits to smooth out the spirit and remove sulfer....but there is really no way to accelerate the Esterification process.

There is a company out in Monterey, CA that claims to have developed a bioreactor that can duplicate the chemical process of aging whiskey in a matter of days. They have performed spectral analysis on the compounds found in 20 year old bourbon and have run new whiskey through their reactor and in about a week, they can show an almost identical spectral density of the same compounds as a 20 year aged bourbon.

There are lots of folks looking into how to artificially age stuff....one guy in Cleveland does it by pressurizing tanks with wood in the tank hundreds of times a day to force the liquid into and out of the wood.....from the folks I talked to who tasted his product....he really only gets the oak flavor extraction from this. Others use music to provide vibrations, some use pure oxygen to speed up the oxygenation, some are using ultrasonic waves.....but so far, no one has been able to reproduce the magic that happens with wood and time.
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