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View Full Version : How long does it take to make good bourbon?



loki993
04-05-2013, 10:27
Ok there are a few smaller craft distilleries in Michigan and even more coming soon. Most if not all of them either have or are planning on making some kind of Whisky or Bourbon. Here's the deal though how much time should people give it before they actually have good stuff? I figured it needs time in the barrel and things like that and how long does it need to be called straight bourbon? 2 years? Add to the fact that most of these are on at the higher price range due to their small batch mature and I hesitate to take a shot on them unless I know what I'm getting. How long does it really take to make good bourbon, I would imagine time in the barrel has to be a big factor right? I guess though thats where going to tastings come into play.

PaulO
04-05-2013, 13:36
If there is no age statement, straight bourbon has to be at least four years old. There are a small portion of bourbons that have age statements above twelve years. So, I would say four to twelve years, with much more being sold on the younger end. Also, we have to consider differences in climate. A cooler climate like MI may take more time.

cowdery
04-05-2013, 15:43
This is a subject of much discussion, a lot of which is bullshit. Most micro-distillers are faced with a dilemma. They rarely have enough capital, or patience, to put their product away for four years or more, so they try to come up with ways to make it drinkable at a younger age. At this, some have been more successful than others, but no product has been completely satisfying. The wisdom of the families and companies who have been doing this for a long time--several centuries in some cases--is that in a climate similar to Kentucky, it takes four years in new charred wood to make something you would like to drink. That, in itself, is a short cut compared to the minimum ten to twelve years it takes in chilly Scotland or Ireland. The short cut Americans came up with is new, charred oak. That made a different style of whiskey, of course, as did our use of corn and rye instead of barley malt. Looked at in that context, you can say today's micro-distillers are working on their own new style of whiskey, but it's a work in progress. Some are also trying to do it the old-fashioned way, although few have anything on the market that's more than two years old. Eventually, though, they will.

In Kentucky and Tennessee, the consensus is that four years is the minimum, five to six is better, eight to ten is optimum, and beyond ten you're again getting into a different, wood-heavy style, which is risky but can be superb.

TheNovaMan
04-05-2013, 17:07
Round Barn, down in Baroda, MI, has a bourbon they call Divine, and the most recent release was three years old. I haven't had any of that. The upcoming release will be six years old, and I want to try some.

Go here if you want little or no info: http://www.roundbarnwinery.com/distillery.php
The current MI liquor list has it as 90 proof, and 200mL is $5.58

Edit: the mashbill is 70% corn for sure, and I think 15% rye and 15% malted barley.

VT Mike
04-05-2013, 20:08
Barrel size plays an important factor as well. With smaller barrels there is more surface area (of the wood) relative to the volume of liquid inside, so the whiskey ages faster. I think some of the micro-distillers have taken this too far with unimpressive results, using 5 to 10 gallon barrels, maybe even smaller (the standard size is 53 gallons) and aging for very short time periods, I've heard some are down in the 3 month range.

TheNovaMan
04-05-2013, 20:27
That sounds like trying to break in a corncob pipe with a blowtorch.

JB64
04-05-2013, 22:36
That sounds like trying to break in a corncob pipe with a blowtorch.

You made me laugh Pete. I have not tried all available micros but all of the ones I have sampled not a one has been able to compare to the quality of the big boys. The micros I have tried have used various barrel sizes in an attempt to hasten the aging process. My opinion is that at least 4 years in a 53 gallon barrel is required to make a drinkable bourbon.

TheNovaMan
04-05-2013, 23:00
:) I think you're probably right, or very close to right. I mean, there's gotta be a little wiggle room, like 3.5 years in a 49 gallon barrel or something like that, but trying to do in three months what normally takes more than three years is more than an order of magnitude off.

Brisko
04-05-2013, 23:20
I have had bourbon that was "fully aged for thirty-six months" that was drinkable. Good would be a stretch. Realistically "decent" would be for years and "good" would be more like six to ten years old.

OutlawSW
04-06-2013, 01:46
Too long......................

callmeox
04-06-2013, 05:47
Barrel size plays an important factor as well. With smaller barrels there is more surface area (of the wood) relative to the volume of liquid inside, so the whiskey ages faster. I think some of the micro-distillers have taken this too far with unimpressive results, using 5 to 10 gallon barrels, maybe even smaller (the standard size is 53 gallons) and aging for very short time periods, I've heard some are down in the 3 month range.


This may sound like I'm picking nits, but small barrels don't age bourbon faster, they impart wood character faster. Interaction between the spirit and the barrel is just one factor in aging bourbon.

In other threads here it's been said that the new make can be tuned to properly age more quickly in smaller barrels, but I've yet to taste an impatient micro with a traditional bourbon profile.

CoMobourbon
04-06-2013, 06:57
I have had bourbon that was "fully aged for thirty-six months" that was drinkable. Good would be a stretch. Realistically "decent" would be for years and "good" would be more like six to ten years old.

I agree - exceptions notwithstanding. Like EWBIB, for example: I would claim that as "good" at around 4ish years.

PaulO
04-06-2013, 10:00
I enjoyed Early Times 354 Bourbon aged 36 months. As for micros, I have never read a single post with positive comments about anything that came out of a small barrel. If it was such a great short cut, everybody would do it.

macdeffe
04-06-2013, 10:33
I reckon its also a matter of number of casks

Having 1 million casks maturing gives you more to work with than having 50 or 100 casks

We all know the random cask can happen to be wonderful at an age you wouldn't expect it to be

From my tasting experience its hard to make a great whisky from a small cask,

There is many microdistilleries out there, but their amount of casks total is not a lot. I reckon we will see some great bourbons in the future, but by statistics it will not be a lot and it might be something not gatting on the radar as few people will actually taste it

I have part in a cask at las Vegas Distillery and I sampled that at 1yo. That was very very good and if it develops to something better its going to be real good at a relative low number of years

Steffen

p_elliott
04-06-2013, 10:53
These small barrels don't work you have to age it 4 years in a 53 gallon barrel at the least.

squire
04-06-2013, 11:04
Whisky can be made in less than four years but will be better at 6-8 years and there is no shortcut to the process.

cowdery
04-06-2013, 11:17
Barrel size plays an important factor as well. With smaller barrels there is more surface area (of the wood) relative to the volume of liquid inside, so the whiskey ages faster. I think some of the micro-distillers have taken this too far with unimpressive results, using 5 to 10 gallon barrels, maybe even smaller (the standard size is 53 gallons) and aging for very short time periods, I've heard some are down in the 3 month range.

This is a myth. Smaller barrels do not 'age faster.' The whiskey gains more color in a certain amount of time, and some of the flavor substances come into the spirit sooner, but the blanket statement that "the whiskey ages faster" is false. This is not to say, as someone did, that small barrels make lousy whiskey, necessarily. Small barrels can be a vehicle for creating this new style. However, a small barrel does not give you a balanced bourbon character in a shorter period of time, no matter how many times the small barrel apologists say it does.

Anything smaller than 10 gallons is a joke. Garrison Brothers gets good results from 15 gallon barrels. Thirty gallon barrels seem to function pretty close to the way 53 gallon barrels do. The problem with small barrels is that the whiskey is about as good as it's going to get in 2-3 years, at which time it might have some very good qualities but still won't taste like most people expect bourbon to taste. Then it starts to get overwooded while still having some white-dog taste in the background.

Parkersback
04-06-2013, 11:35
The Old Forester BIB I've had that was made at DSP 414 is some of the best bourbon I've ever had and the bottle said that the whiskey "at least five years old." It could be that this was glut whiskey and so quite a bit older, but it reminds me to temper my own inclination to think that whiskey has to be 6 or 8 or even 10 years old to be worthwhile.

VT Mike
04-06-2013, 20:25
This may sound like I'm picking nits, but small barrels don't age bourbon faster, they impart wood character faster. Interaction between the spirit and the barrel is just one factor in aging bourbon.

In other threads here it's been said that the new make can be tuned to properly age more quickly in smaller barrels, but I've yet to taste an impatient micro with a traditional bourbon profile.


This is a myth. Smaller barrels do not 'age faster.' The whiskey gains more color in a certain amount of time, and some of the flavor substances come into the spirit sooner, but the blanket statement that "the whiskey ages faster" is false. This is not to say, as someone did, that small barrels make lousy whiskey, necessarily. Small barrels can be a vehicle for creating this new style. However, a small barrel does not give you a balanced bourbon character in a shorter period of time, no matter how many times the small barrel apologists say it does.

I guess I oversimplified a bit, but that's essentially what I was getting at - the process can be sped up to a certain extent with smaller barrels, but the results just aren't the same.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask is aged in first-fill bourbon barrels for about 10 years, then re-racked into ex-bourbon barrels that have been re-coopered down to 13 gallons. IMHO it's the best offering in Laphroaig's standard lineup. Maybe some of the American micro-distillers will try going this route, something along the lines of 3-4 years in standard size barrels followed by a few months in smaller barrels.

SmoothAmbler
04-07-2013, 05:17
I will tell you that we started in small barrels but haven't put away one in over a year. I prefer the taste of 53 gallon barrels. I do believe there are a few guys that do small barrel aging very well.

tmckenzie
04-07-2013, 05:31
we have been good with 10's, but the whiskey has to be made to suit them Most micros distill to much flavor out. That being said, we are putting 99 percent of what we make in 53's.

PaulO
04-07-2013, 08:16
... small barrel apologists ...
I think that is a great new phrase. :slappin:

squire
04-07-2013, 08:58
Yeah, since when did mine is smaller mean a good thing.

loki993
04-08-2013, 06:11
Round Barn, down in Baroda, MI, has a bourbon they call Divine, and the most recent release was three years old. I haven't had any of that. The upcoming release will be six years old, and I want to try some.

Go here if you want little or no info: http://www.roundbarnwinery.com/distillery.php
The current MI liquor list has it as 90 proof, and 200mL is $5.58

Edit: the mashbill is 70% corn for sure, and I think 15% rye and 15% malted barley.

The 6 year sounds like it could be interesting.



It is an interesting dilemma, you all basically said what I figured though. You have something that takes time, usually a lot of time, to make and they don't usually have the money and definitely not the time to have stuff sitting in barrels for years. A lot of them don't start with whisky though either. Vodka seems the be the thing, and we have some good vodkas here I hear. I guess I just thought maybe they start with something like vodka, then drop the whisky/bourbon let it age and release it later. Still that's probably a fair bit of juice and money to sit on for that long.

I've just heard of a few, Traverse city I've heard people say is good. Grand Traverse is making one now and Valentine is also making one now too, but its just in the tasting room right now. Seems like stuff you may want to try at the tasting room or get a pour of but probably not spend the money on a whole bottle.

cowdery
04-08-2013, 12:05
I will tell you that we started in small barrels but haven't put away one in over a year. I prefer the taste of 53 gallon barrels. I do believe there are a few guys that do small barrel aging very well.

That's exactly where I have arrived on this subject.

Most of all, though, my complaint is not so much with what people do as it is with what they say about it. Small barrels don't really speed up anything. They age whiskey differently. Describe those differences honestly and you'll have no quarrel with me.

TheNovaMan
04-08-2013, 15:28
Does anyone have the measurements of these small barrels? If they're just scaled-down versions of 53 gallon barrels, the surface area to volume ratio will be the same.

cowdery
04-08-2013, 16:02
Does anyone have the measurements of these small barrels? If they're just scaled-down versions of 53 gallon barrels, the surface area to volume ratio will be the same.

They're just scaled-down versions of 53-gallon barrels.

Please don't disturb the small barrel people by giving them facts.

TheNovaMan
04-08-2013, 16:12
I literally laughed out loud at that!!! :slappin:

CoMobourbon
04-08-2013, 19:56
Does anyone have the measurements of these small barrels? If they're just scaled-down versions of 53 gallon barrels, the surface area to volume ratio will be the same.

Hmmm. I'm not sure, but I don't think so. Middle school math was a long time ago...but...I'm pretty sure that if area is length squared and volume is length cubed, (lets say we are dealing with cubes), than volume will decrease faster than surface area, making for a higher surface area : volume ratio.

*Example (let me try this):

If you have Barrel A, 64 cubic foot oak cube full of whiskey, say, then you have a cube of 4ft x 4ft x 4ft, right? The surface area of Barrel A is 96 square feet (4x4x6); the surface area to volume ratio is 3:2.

Then, let's say Barrel B is an 8 cubic feet of whiskey in a 2ft x 2ft x 2ft oak cube. The surface area of Barrel B is 24 square feet (2x2x6), so the surface area to volume ratio is 3:1.

SA : V of Barrel A (64 cubic feet) is 3:2, whereas SA : V of Barrel B (8 cubic feet) is 3:1. Right?

TheNovaMan
04-08-2013, 22:22
Well I'll be hornswaggled, you're right. The surface area goes by the square, and the volume goes by the cube, so the larger container of the same shape will always have less surface area per volume. I was somewhat hesitant to post my SA/V post, and I should have run more calculations.

p_elliott
04-10-2013, 09:42
Problem is this is all just bad math, bourbon just doesn't get it's flavor from the char on the surface. It gets the majority of it's flavor from the inter layers of the wood that have been caramelized. Small barrels the staves are too thin to get much of any caramelized wood flavors out.

bigtoys
04-10-2013, 12:12
found a site selling bourbon barrels to collect rain.
diameter in middle bigger (24") than top and bottom (21"). I made it a 22" cylinder to simplify.
for surface area, I included to top and bottom (of course).
my cylinder came out to 59 gal--close enough to not start over.
SA : V ratio was 0.23736

in the middle, if you make an 18" tall barrel (half height, half volume), then the SA : V ratio was 0.29--not as much of a difference as with cubes

if you make it 9" tall (about 15 gal; don't know if a barrel can be made like that, just theory), then SA : V ratio is 0.4

arbitrarily, if you make to top/bottom diameter 16" (radius 8"), then the height would be 17" to also give a 15 gal cylinder.
the SA : V ratio of this is 0.37

I wonder what the dimensions of those mini barrels they sell with white dog to age at home are; it would be interesting (fascinating?) to calculate the SA : V ratio of that for kicks, too.

at this point, I grow frustrated and tired.
but, you're welcome for these calculations.:skep:

http://i230.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/bigtoys335/etoh/IMG_20130410_134536_964-1_zps9c4ef220.jpg
http://i230.photobucket.com/albums/ee132/bigtoys335/etoh/730cf8c9-4978-408e-9602-b4f6eac9e9de_zps43a716b3.jpg

sounds like a graph solution, but there should be dimensions of a smaller barrel that would give the same SA to V ratio.....I think.

I need a drink now, but I have to go to work at 4 pm....off tomorrow.

Ken

cowdery
04-10-2013, 13:06
I have no objection to the thread drift but I want to remind people what the original question was: "How long does it take to make good bourbon." The operative word here is "bourbon."

dohidied
04-10-2013, 14:12
4 years and a day. If the bottle doesn't say "straight" it doesn't taste right.

squire
04-10-2013, 14:16
At that age it could also be called Jack or Jim.

CoMobourbon
04-10-2013, 16:38
Problem is this is all just bad math, bourbon just doesn't get it's flavor from the char on the surface. It gets the majority of it's flavor from the inter layers of the wood that have been caramelized. Small barrels the staves are too thin to get much of any caramelized wood flavors out.

Pretty sure the math is good. But I completely agree with the core point; just because the surface area ratio is higher doesn't mean the small barrels are a viable substitute for large barrels. So, I will stick with 4 years+ like the rest of us.

loki993
04-11-2013, 12:14
I have no objection to the thread drift but I want to remind people what the original question was: "How long does it take to make good bourbon." The operative word here is "bourbon."

Eh, It's fine when I said bourbon its because the site is bourbon centric. Whiskey in general is ok.

squire
04-11-2013, 12:20
Well, yes, Bourbon is what we're about but I think the inquiry applies equally well to other whiskys.