View Full Version : How do you make a bourbon that will age well?

11-21-2006, 13:29
Over the years I have heard the opinion expressed that some aged bourbons are not as good as they could be because they weren't made to age well, and of course, the vice versa.

E.g. recently I heard someone say that Prohibition-era bourbons are often not that good because when released they were much older than was intended by the makers (often 15-17 years old).

In thinking about this, I am wondering though, how does one make a bourbon intended for long - or short - aging?

Is there something in the mashbill that would be different? We have today older wheat-recipe and rye-recipe bourbons. We have lots of old ryes. So I don't think there is anything there that impacts on this question.

I can understand up to a point the issue of warehouse location. You might intend a quicker-aged product if you put the barrels in the part of the warehouse that matured them most quickly (often at the top), and again the vice versa.

But can that explain why so much Prohibition whiskey tastes woody, because it was placed on the upper portions and intended for sale, say, in 1922 (if made say in 1918) but was only finally sold years later? Considering that the aging whiskey was moved around (a lot of it) and probably vatted with other whiskeys, I am not sure that makes sense either.

Any thoughts on this?


11-21-2006, 14:13
How 'bout we take at look at what current whiskies we have that we know age well. #1) S-W wheat recipe ages very well, #2) WT does quite well up to the ages we can get it at, #3) BT#1 (OC, Stagg, ER) also ages extremely well.

What are the common threads?
A) 1&3 both have little or no rye
B) 1&2 both are entered into the barrel at lower proofs

What we don't know (or I don't) is what the mashbill of WT is, but I'm guessing it's not a rye heavy product.

So my guess is go light on the rye and low on the entry proof.

This is basically reverse engineering my "design your bourbon" argument about making a mashbill to age quick because I'm impatient...though I think then I wanted to enter it at a low proof

11-21-2006, 14:18
I think it was Ken Weber at Buffalo Trace (my appologies if I remember incorrectly) who told me that when they distill a batch of bourbon, they do not know exactly what product it will end up as. Obviously a wheat recipe can't end up as Stagg, but his point was that many of their brands start by the same recipe and process, and then warehouse location and age cause different flavor profiles to emerge. Hence they toss a lot of barrels out in the warehouses and then by periodic tasting determine what label it will actually end up as.

I think the concept is (within reason) "we have no idea what this particular batch/barrel will end up tasting like, or how long it will take, we'll just let nature run its course and bottle it up when it can be married into one of our standard profiles".

On the prohibition question, my naive first answer is there was a normal amount of bourbon in barrels at the beginning of prohibition, then the amount allowed to be sold was greatly restricted, so it piled up and ended up aging much longer than intended. I find that 1960's vintage bourbon peaks by 10 years in wood at most, anything more is too woody for me. I have never tried some of these much older prohibition era bottles, but they scare me.

11-21-2006, 16:15
The main reason so much of the Prohibition-era whiskey is so bad is because it wasn't tended. Whiskey is ready when it's ready. To determine if it's ready or not, you have to taste it. If it's maturing faster or more slowly than you want, you have to move it. If it's had all the age it can take and you aren't ready to sell it, you have to tank it.

Instead of TLC, the aging whiskey during Prohibition received pretty rough handling. I doubt it was even legal to care for it properly, and it certainly wasn't profitable. All the Prohibition experience proves is that what the Scots call "wood management" is important.

But that doesn't really answer your question. Will some distiallates age better than others? I certainly don't know of anyone making a special we're-gonna-age-this-a-long-time recipe so on that basis, I have to say probably not.

I think it's like anything else. Make the best product you know how to make at every stage in the process and good things will happen.

11-21-2006, 18:37
Good thoughts (not to preclude others), thanks.


11-21-2006, 18:43
I would doubt that the mashbill has a whole lot to do with it, as there are extra-aged ryes out there (like VWFRR 13 and Saz 18) that are quite good.

Hedmans Brorsa
11-22-2006, 08:29
Could different levels of barrel toasting play a part in this?