PDA

View Full Version : Age and Wood Taste (?)



CoMobourbon
07-15-2012, 15:04
What follows is a stupid-simple question, but I think it could clear up a lot for relative newcomers to the bourbon scene like me.

What, generally, is the relationship between the intensity of distinctive woody flavors in a whiskey and the time that whiskey has spent in a barrel? I have always assumed that it was a simple direct relationship (more age = more wood taste), but is it possible that it is more complicated than that?

When I say 'distinctive woody flavors', I mean flavors like vanilla oak or green bark astringency. I understand that most whiskey taste comes from the interaction between distillate and oak, but I am talking specifically about those flavors that evoke the wood itself. So not the fruitiness or sugary sweetness or other tastes which may have something to do with the barrel but do not taste particularly like wood.

This question, for the record, stems from my recent experience with a bottle of EC 12, which has been my oldest bourbon to date. Expecting strong oaky strains - and bracing myself for possible bitter astringency - I found that a rich, fat, mildly hot, and somewhat fruity (apple/pear?) sweetness predominated. The wood presented itself only in a softly oaky vanilla warmth that supported the general sweetness. My EWB (4ish years?), on the other hand, shows much more woodiness - astringency, in its case. The EC 12 was good, in short, but it totally defied my expectations about its woodiness.

This experience, in turn, seems to parallel my experiences with Basil Hayden 8 year and OGD 114 (again, 4ish years?) . I like both, especially the latter, but I could not help but notice a more distinct/intense woody aspect to the Old Grand Dad. Again, this experience totally belied my common sense expectations about age and wood.

What is going on here? Is it possible - and this is my new assumption in the works - that woody flavors peak at a certain stage in the aging of any given whiskey and then become more moderate? I mean, I have heard of over-aging as causing intensely woody (sometimes bitterly astringent) flavor profiles, but my limited experience to date seems to suggest otherwise.

*(All of this takes all other factors like mashbill and toasting and what-have-you as constant, by the way. I could see, for example, how WT's aggressive toasting could produce the flavor profile that it does.)

StraightNoChaser
07-15-2012, 15:08
Sooooo many factors to consider...

Grain tightness
Assemblage of staves
Length of yard aging
Terroir of the wood itself
Barrel entry proof
Char and toast levels
Barrel location in the warehouse (and to another degree, location of that warehouse)

And a handful more that I can't come up with off the top of my head

CoMobourbon
07-15-2012, 15:13
Sooooo many factors to consider...

Grain tightness
Assemblage of staves
Length of yard aging
Terroir of the wood itself
Barrel entry proof
Char and toast levels
Barrel location in the warehouse (and to another degree, location of that warehouse)

And a handful more that I can't come up with off the top of my head

Sorry - didn't get in my edit in time.

My question would take all of those other factors as constant (as if that were ever possible, right?). I realize that the experiences listed above involve only a really small sample size subjected to lots and lots of variables, so I am asking whether or not those experiences can be generalized in any way. Or if they cannot be generalized in any way. Or if there is a pattern to woody taste and age that these experiences are not showing at all. Whatever you got.

StraightNoChaser
07-15-2012, 15:34
Well... if all the supposed factors were constant, and every barrel was exactly the same in wood, construction, char profile, BEP, location, etc.... it's reasonable to say you'd have only minimal variation in the contents.

But in reality that's hardly the case, hence why whiskey flavors can develop so differently in each separate barrel. That's just the nature of... nature.

darylld911
07-15-2012, 15:41
I think StraightNoChaser hit a lot of the differences. You can have ten different bourbons aged 6 years and have different levels of woody flavors. I think you can also have a bourbon that is older with less of those flavors than a younger bourbon. Keep in mind that unless it is a single barrel, the age statement is that of the youngest whiskey in the bottle (so it may say 6 years, but contain some older whiskey if necessary to match their desired flavor profile).

Even the same brand (for example, EC12 vs EC18) may come from different areas of the rick house. I guess in theory if you put two barrels of EC next to one another and let one age for 12 years (then bottle it) and another age longer, you could compare the two and might reasonably except the older one to have more of those woody flavors. But in terms of judging age statements on bottles to determine the flavor, I think you're better off finding a taste somewhere to decide for yourself. Just my two cents :)

CoMobourbon
07-15-2012, 17:55
Well... if all the supposed factors were constant, and every barrel was exactly the same in wood, construction, char profile, BEP, location, etc.... it's reasonable to say you'd have only minimal variation in the contents.

If I am reading this correctly, you are saying that there is little-to-no relationship at all between time in barrel and the presence of woody flavors? That, all other things being equal (all other factors made constant and therefore neutralized), time in barrel does not cause woodiness in any predictable pattern (up-and-up, up-then-down-a-little, up-then-down-a-lot, etc.)?


I think StraightNoChaser hit a lot of the differences. You can have ten different bourbons aged 6 years and have different levels of woody flavors.

Of course, of course, with so many variables at play in a 'natural' setting, you would need a huge sample size - thousands of different bourbon samples - to see a firm pattern emerge - way more than ten different bottlings, and maybe way more bottlings than any one person could possibly ever drink. And I am totally on the same page about how general patterns may not be reliable predictors of personal taste, the best way to find what you like is to try things, and all those other SB orthodoxies about taste.

I guess I just wonder if a whole community of enthusiast consumers has had enough (thousands of?) different bourbon bottlings that it could collectively notice a general pattern, even in a real-life field of samples in which all the factors are present. If the sample size is large enough, then a one-to-one relationship between two variables will show up, all of the other variables be damned.

But SNC might really be right (if I am reading him correctly); there might not be any such relationship. His bourbon sample size has got to be way bigger than mine, anyway.

StraightNoChaser
07-15-2012, 18:18
If I am reading this correctly, you are saying that there is little-to-no relationship at all between time in barrel and the presence of woody flavors? That, all other things being equal (all other factors made constant and therefore neutralized), time in barrel does not cause woodiness in any predictable pattern (up-and-up, up-then-down-a-little, up-then-down-a-lot, etc.)?
I definitely think there is a relationship between age and wood influence. However, there are too many other factors at play for you to base it solely on time spent in wood.

Steve99
07-15-2012, 18:22
Comobourbon
I share your questions, and my experience is the same from what I interpret of your post.

I do not tend to like the young bourbons. I tend to like the older ones. I find the younger to have an overly oaky taste. I'm confused just as you as it would seem that the older would have more of that astringent wood taste. My only explanation (to myself) is that the older ones have been selected by the distillers/masters as those that have picked up more of the positive complexities from the wood. The younger are more plentiful, and therefor cheaper. One wild card in my generalizations, I love EC12, but don't care for EC18, but haven't found anything better than Stagg. Go figure.

I am just trying to focus on learning what I like best while trying to learn in general as I go along. I'm no expert, but just sharing my own experiences for what it's worth. One thing I know: I love bourbon, at it's best it's got a lot of complexity and offers a lot of enjoyment and complexity for me to continue to learn about for a long time!

Cheers!

Bourbon Boiler
07-15-2012, 19:01
I'm not an expert, but I think the problem in understanding comes in a very vague description of "oaky" flavors. You mentioned you aren't looking for the cinnamon or sugar flavors, but many flavors, good or bad can be considered "oaky"

If you want to do an experiment, age some white dogs in white oak char. It's sold at BT and Barton, and probably elsewhere. In about 36 hours, you will have a dark color and the heat of the white dog will be subdued. In a week, it will tast like a bad, young bourbon. In a month, it will have a green tint to it and will be incredibly bitter. The longer it ages, the more bitter it will become.

If you want a better flavor, it needs to have more wood contact that just the char. If you look at a used barrel stave, you'll note that there is a visible red line which shows how far the juice went into the wood. The longer the aging, the deeper the line. In almost all cases, it is well beyond the char line.

Thus in your younger whiskies, although the bourbon had less time in contact with wood, it had a much higher percentage of it wood contact with the charred portion. An older whisey will have more contact with wood, but a much higher percentage of that contact with uncharred oak. I think the basis of your question is that you're only considering the flavor from the char attributable to the barrel.

CoMobourbon
07-15-2012, 20:29
I'm not an expert, but I think the problem in understanding comes in a very vague description of "oaky" flavors. You mentioned you aren't looking for the cinnamon or sugar flavors, but many flavors, good or bad can be considered "oaky"

The defining of terms was deliberately vague so as to fit an intuitive question. In fact, any specific flavors I listed only serve as examples to these broad categories: flavors that evoke the wood distinctively, and flavors that don't. I realize that this is a little like dividing all of the people in the world into people who smell like peaches and people who don't; what exactly is meant by 'smells like peaches', and what have we really accomplished by making this distinction? So, if you want to think about this in terms of specific and individual wood flavors, be my guest.


Thus in your younger whiskies, although the bourbon had less time in contact with wood, it had a much higher percentage of it wood contact with the charred portion. An older whisey will have more contact with wood, but a much higher percentage of that contact with uncharred oak. I think the basis of your question is that you're only considering the flavor from the char attributable to the barrel.

This makes a whole lot of sense - thanks a lot for pointing this out.

So, if we had to generalize and take all other variables as constant, the line on the age-wood flavor graph would start low, go up, peak, and then come down to some moderate level higher than the start but much lower than the peak. (Maybe.)

Bmac
07-16-2012, 05:05
My two cents is that for many, many of these brands the production habits have a major influence. For entry-level and premium-level brands here are some of the corners that they take:

They do not age the barrels before charring them. (This reduces the vanilla and caramel flavors)
They introduce the whiskey at the highest possible proof (under bourbon law). (This will yield more bottles per barrel and thus a higher profit margin.)
They place these barrels in the highest possible locations that have the most extreme heat transfers. (this ages the whiskey faster because the new make enters the wood FARTHER and faster over time. This technique is best used for whiskeys that are NAS. They can simply taste and see if it has enough of the flavor-profile to dump and bottle.)

Not every label does this, but some most definitely do. Does that mean that every barrel that follows the above procedure taste like crap and all woody? Nope, some will come out tasting amazing believe it or not. However, these honey barrels are dumped in with the less-than-standard barrels and then watered down to 90 or 80 and wa-la. Now in the case of EC12 it's supposed to be small batch. So the number of barrels dumped is smaller than normal. So you have a higher chance of getting mostly "honey barrel" in the mix....but you also get a chance of mostly "funk barrel." My EC12 was mostly funk. I need to get another but there is so much more yumminess out there for me to get that I am tapped out financially at the end of each month.

My research into whiskey production taught me that to make the best whiskey you need a few elements:

Barrel aging. Leaving the barrels to age for 8 months to a year before firing allows the development of more wood sugars as the wood basically ferments.
Low entry proof. Wild Turkey, Four Roses, Stitzell-Weller (pappy) and a handful of others I cannot remember. Less alcohol means less penetrative action. So the layers it penetrates is only the char and toast for the first half of it's aging. It also tames the burn.
Low-level storage for aging. Keeping the barrel at the cooler or colder parts of the warehouse means less extreme temperature variations. Slow maturing. Again, the new make doesn't penetrate as hard and stays in the wood longer.

This is just my two cents and I'm sure I'll get smacked around for it. :)

p_elliott
07-16-2012, 08:09
They do not let barrels age before firing them. They fire them the same day they make them, it's an assembly line. They age the wood before the barrel is made. Almost all the distilleries use #4 char MM uses #3.5 char. I'm not sure your definition of a woody bourbon and mine are the same. A woody bourbon to me taste like a rickhouse smells, like old oak. Just my 2 cents on the subject.

Bmac
07-16-2012, 19:48
They do not let barrels age before firing them. They fire them the same day they make them, it's an assembly line. They age the wood before the barrel is made. Almost all the distilleries use #4 char MM uses #3.5 char. I'm not sure your definition of a woody bourbon and mine are the same. A woody bourbon to me taste like a rickhouse smells, like old oak. Just my 2 cents on the subject.
I am 100% certain an interview was done with a distillery where they showed an outdoor rick where barrels were completed and left.to age. But...........i have killed many a brain cell wih bourbon of late....i could be mistaken (wouldnt be the first, definitely wont be the last)

darylld911
07-17-2012, 04:01
I am 100% certain an interview was done with a distillery where they showed an outdoor rick where barrels were completed and left.to age. But...........i have killed many a brain cell wih bourbon of late....i could be mistaken (wouldnt be the first, definitely wont be the last)

Perhaps a Scotch distillery or someone who is re-using barrels? My understanding is as Paul described that bourbon distillers buy the charred barrels and fill them fairly promptly, and that the wood is aged as planks prior to being cut/made into barrels.

T Comp
07-17-2012, 04:40
The two major cooperages for the major distilleries are Brown-Forman and Independent Stave. There are photos and videos on the internet showing the process. Here is a good one on Brown-Forman from another web site http://www.drinkspirits.com/whiskey/jack-daniels-barrel-making/ . The planks are air seasoned and then kiln dried before being cut into staves and head shapes. They are then toasted and charred. The bigger question some of us were discussing in another thread here recently is what are the current practices on length of air seasoning versus kiln drying and when did toasting became a practice and has that also contributed to change in taste.

p_elliott
07-17-2012, 09:51
Also as posted else where on here BF is building another cooperage to supply their operation, mainly JD.