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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

My Final Barrel Experiment, Part II: The Maturation, The Numbers, The Result

(Monday, Part 1, link)

Part 2 of 4

I had the best greedy intentions.  By wrapping the barrel tightly, I wasn't gradually spilling my whisky into the air.  But I really didn't know how this would affect the actual maturation of the whisky inside.  Since there was less being lost, I hoped that would mean the aging process would be more gradual.  Small barrels, especially very small barrels, age whisky differently than large ones.  They can often result in a product that is somehow both much too young and much too oaky, a problem experienced by some American craft whiskey makers and even some Scotch producers who are trying to speed up the maturation process.  If I wrapped mine, then maybe things would go a little slower with less spirit-oak-oxygen interaction.

I really didn't know what would happen.

On Day 0, I estimated the blend to be 47% malt, peating level around 6ppm, and with a 44.6% ABV.

Measurement only.  Success!  0.96% lost to the angels (0.0343%/day).  An 89.5% reduction in the rate of volume lost to evaporation when compared to The Eagle Morning.  90.2% reduction in loss compared to Rye Storm.

Measurement: 2.24% lost to the angels (0.0401%/day).  That's a 89.3% reduction of the rate lost compared to Eagle Morning, 87.7% compared to Rye Storm.  I was actually going to keep my whisky!  But...

It tasted exactly the same as it had 8 weeks earlier.  None of the blended elements had integrated.  They were all floating around as separate parts.  On the bright side, there was very little oak present.  Though I had originally estimated 8 weeks as being my bottling point, this biscuit had barely begun baking.

Measurement only.  2.99% of liquid lost (0.0356%/day).  When I had re-wrapped it after the second checkpoint I likely sealed it more thoroughly, as evaporation had slowed further in the four weeks since.

Before unwrapping, I decided that this might need to be the cutoff point for maturation.  I had no idea how long was too long.  Then I cut off the wrapping and found the following:

The metal was being corroded and oxidized.  The whisky, unable to escape into the heavens, had been eating the barrel.  Yeah, it was time to empty it.

Measurement: 3.846% lost to the angels (back to 0.0343% per day).
In its final days, The Eagle Morning was losing 0.5% of its volume each day; Rye Storm was losing over 0.7% daily at its end.  Comparatively, this new blend was losing 0.028% per day during the last four weeks.  The angels drank The Rye Storm 25 times faster than this new blend.

Then, the tasting notes:
Color -- Medium gold
Nose -- Very nice and malty. A light dusting of cinnamon and peat smoke. Some gooey sugary stuff and talcum powder.
Palate -- Instantly astringent. Wood resins, green and bitter like chewing on a new branch.  A box of pencils: wood, lead, cardboard, yellow paint, and all.  Maybe a flat plastic shopping bag laying on the side of the road?  Difficult to find the whisky part.
Finish -- Sugar coated pencils. Very bitter.

So, statistically, this was a runaway success.

But it tasted poorly......which broke my whisky heart, because the blend actually smelled very good with the rum, oak, and whiskies pleasantly intermingling.  But whisky is for drinking and my whisky was not for drinking.

At some point in the maturation, without interaction with the air, the whisky dug deeper and deeper into the oak, past the charred surface, soaking up the bitter resinous plant material beneath, leeching the xylem and phloem.  And it couldn't breathe, so those compounds carried back into the barrel.

Something had been lost by wrapping up the barrel.  As mentioned above, at the 8-week point nothing had yet occurred in the palate and nose.  It smelled and tasted like all of the separate parts were still separate, as if it had just been sitting in a bottle for a couple days.  While it's true that char may have been largely exhausted by this point, I can't help but think that the angels' share exists for a reason.  They take but they also give.  Oxidation had been suffocated, maturation had been corrupted.

So now I was left with tainted goods.  Disappointed, I considered dumping it all down the sink.

But then an idea took root.  All was not lost.

Tomorrow, The Firebird and The Heron...