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Dr. François
04-03-2008, 20:51
As I posted on another thread, I recently purchased a bottle of Jim Beam Rye. To save you the trouble of having to read my other posts, I will reiterate here that I was less than impressed. I was, for the first time since starting whiskey, very deeply disappointed. Beam Rye is a great whiskey to mess up on: it is only 15 bucks here in Michigan. I learned my lesson…don’t take advice on American whiskey from exclusive scotch drinkers.

ACDetroit and I had been discussing the possibility of re-barreling widely available, low proof, immature whiskeys to produce a more refined and more complex spirit. ACDetroit was thinking about buying a new oak barrel for the experiment. Having visited several wineries, I was aware of a technique wherein the winemaker uses oak chips instead of expensive oak barrels to quickly mature wine. The technique relies on the fact that barrels produce relatively little surface to mass ratios. Wood chunks, with over double the exposed surface area compared to barrels, cause rapid maturation. Winemakers can, therefore, “oak up” a mid-range chardonnay or cabernet faster and cheaper than 18 months in a new oak barrel. I was not enamored with the idea of waiting three to five years for a well-aged rye whiskey. I wondered if I could decrease the cost and speed up the results for this experiment.

So, I found myself with the opportunity to turn mild misfortune into an experiment. First, I had to collect my materials. When was the last time your love of whiskey and hardware stores converged?

I determined that I needed the following:
2 one-pint mason jars
1 piece of oak (I used red, since white is difficult to find)
1 hacksaw
1 culinary torch (for crème brûlée)



First, I cut one-inch chunks from the piece of oak. I figured I would use one chunk per mason jar. Regardless of how small a piece I used, the surface/mass ratio would be greater in a 16 oz jar than in a 31 gallon barrel. I settled on chunks that were approximately 1.5X1X0.5 inches each.

Second, I had to put some char on the wood. I used my trusty culinary torch, though any extreme heat source would work. I went beyond simply burning the exterior and charred the wood until it glowed orange inside. It takes a lot of heat to char the oak to the center; a cross section of heavily charred wood still revealed an un-charred center.

Third, I measured the whiskey into the mason jars and added the oak chunks. I had to wait for the oak chunks to cool…even 80 proof whiskey is flammable.

In under a week the color had deepened and the nose had improved. It has been about a month now, and the color as deepened significantly and the nose has become much more char-heavy.

For anyone interested, I will bring the resulting spirit to the Sampler in a few weeks. I am not sure if the result will be good, but at least it will be unique and interesting!

Cornman
04-04-2008, 00:14
Nice work!

This is another source:

http://morewinemaking.com/search/103252

or try your local wine making store.

I haven't used them that much, but my conclusion so far is that this treatment may improve bad bourbon a little, but is unlikely to help much with stuff you actually like.

I am very interested in what you find. Keep us posted.

Stu
04-04-2008, 09:24
Sounds like a neat and ingenious experiment. Look forward to tasting the results at the Sampler. Did you save a little of the untreated rye for comparison?

Stu

CorvallisCracker
04-04-2008, 10:16
If you were to go with a barrel for this or some future project, you could equip it with one of these:

http://www.infusionspiral.com/

jinenjo
04-04-2008, 18:04
Jeremy,

I had very similar thoughts about an improvement on the taste of Beam rye. You might want to check out my rebarreling experiment here:
http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6732

(I'm not sure how to do hyperlinks if the above didn't work. Just look for "Beam Rye Rebarreling under the Rye topic threads.)

OscarV
04-04-2008, 18:11
Hey Doc.
Bring some over tomorrow. Just a little.

Sijan
04-04-2008, 23:07
Cool experiment!

"even 80 proof whiskey is flammable."

Is it? I guess I'm not sure on the precise definition of "flammable" but I would assume it means that it catches fire when exposed to an open flame. I just now put some 80 proof whiskey in a pyrex container and tried to light it with a grilling lighter. I was unsuccessful after several sustained attempts. 86 proof didn't light up either. 90 and 100 proof did. Quite a pleasant smell :grin:

I had thought the reason 86 proof was a common proof for whiskey (at least scotch whiskey) was the flammability factor.

spun_cookie
04-04-2008, 23:50
Cool experiment!

"even 80 proof whiskey is flammable."

If you heat it yes, because you are baking off the volitiles.

In general, 100 proof is what will burn at room temp.. it is actually where proof comes from.

100% proof you have a certain level of alcohol is that it will burn...

Sijan
04-05-2008, 00:26
If you heat it yes, because you are baking off the volitiles....

Well, that's true of Sherry too and it's hard for me to say that Sherry is really flammable. I'm talking about flammability under normal circumstances.


In general, 100 proof is what will burn at room temp.. it is actually where proof comes from.


Yes, I've heard that too, but it had to do with somehow mixing rum with gunpowder and seeing if it would ignite. I don't think the 100 proof figure is really very precise. As I mentioned, I can light 90 proof whiskey at room temperature. But not 86 proof whiskey. So I think room temperature flammability must really be somewhere between 86-90 proof.

spun_cookie
04-05-2008, 00:58
You can get 80 proof to burn if you allow it to breath long enough. That is the minimum I beleive you can go down to. Ideally yo uwant 100 for easy burn...

I think you can even burn 100 proof down completly leaving nothing left... below that I think you burn the alcohol off and leave liquid....

At least that is what I remember.

Dr. François
04-06-2008, 16:15
An update:

We are currently on week 7 of my Beam Rye experiment. Thank you for your helpful suggestions. I should have noted in my first post that I had a "MacGyver" clause in my original idea: all materials must be readily available and self-fashioned to suit their final purposes.

I took a small sample of the re-aged rye over to OscarV's house on Saturday. The results were mixed. The new whiskey was certainly "an improvement," according to OscarV, but is not yet in the same class as a mid-shelf rye. The whiskey has started to lose some of the offensive raw grain character that I disliked so much. ACDetroit commented on the "pepperminty" nose on the new rye, which is certainly a new development. OscarV also commented that the standard Beam Rye has an "oily texture" that causes it to be unappealing. Apparently the experiment has improved the texture of the whiskey as well.

The whiskey as picked up a healthy amount of char, mostly due to the close contact with lots of charred oak. I think continued exposure to the charred oak would push the whiskey past the point of "interesting" char into the range of "offensive." So, today I made some changes. I am looking to boost the soft vanilla quality, so I am moving away from char and into toasted oak.

In order to take the sample of the whiskey to OscarV's house, I filtered it through a paper coffee filter and put it into a clean bottle. This morning I cut two more 1X1.5 inch pieces of oak and put them in the oven at 400 degrees until I got the color I wanted. See the pictures below to get an idea how toasty I got the oak. I put the toasted pieces next to the lumber from which they were cut. I added one toasty chunk of oak to each of two "aging tanks" (i.e. mason jars) and distributed the whiskey evenly back into the two containers.

I also forgot to mention in my first post that I am cycling the jars into different climate zones in my house. I have a summer station (inside an 88 degree box in the kitchen); a spring station (on the counter near the stove, appx. 74 degrees); a fall station (on the counter near the back door, appx. 65 degrees); and a winter station (in the basement, appx. 60 degrees). Right now the jars are in summer to help soak some juice into the wood. Then we'll go through a full "year" of aging in the few weeks before the sampler.

Finally, I am including some images to help you compare how much deeper the color has gotten on the rye in 7 weeks. I much prefer the new amber hue (the two jars with identical contents) to the old straw-colored grain water (the original Beam rye on the far left of the other picture).

Dr. François
04-08-2008, 17:39
A quick update: the new toasty wood has sucked up a lot of whiskey!

I shifted the aging tanks into the wine fridge for a little autumn rest. I'm hoping to reclaim some of the juice by dropping the temperature, thus squeezing some of the whiskey out of the wood.

Dr. François
04-12-2008, 08:18
No real updates at this point, but I wanted to share that I have named this rye experiment: Dingo Rye. The whiskey is named after my dog Kori, part dingo part lab. My next experiment will involve Ancient Age 80 proof, tentatively named after my other dog, Miles, a border collie mix.

Below is the label I'm having printed and a comparative photo of the dog.

OscarV
04-12-2008, 11:48
thus squeezing some of the whiskey out of the wood.

Hey Doc, this quote of yours reminded me of dougdog's squeezing a barrel thread.
Hit the link below and see how he squeezed some rye from a used barrel, good pics to.

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7440

Cornman
04-14-2008, 22:19
Great update on an ingenious project! And I admire your MacGyvering ways. Do you know if your oak was white or red or ?

Dr. François
04-15-2008, 08:12
Great update on an ingenious project! And I admire your MacGyvering ways. Do you know if your oak was white or red or ?


This question was addressed in one of the earliest American distilling texts, by Samuel M'Harry in about 1809...M'Harry advised red oak as next best to white, but his clear preference is for American white oak.


I used red oak for the first experiment. I looked everywhere in my local hardware store for white oak, but it was not to be found. This lack of availablity is ironic, as most of my home is made of white oak.

I did find some white oak for my next experiment. Johnson's Workbench in Charlotte, MI, has about every kind of wood you can imagine, from red oak dowels to 15 pound blocks of gabon ebony. American white oak is the second most boring wood Johnson's has on hand, so it was cheap. I got enough wood for under two dollars to do 4-5 more experiments, same price as the red oak.

I have to say, this experiment has been a lot of fun with a very small investment. The entire process is easier than cultivating your own sourdough bread starter (which, in turn, is slightly easier than having a goldfish).

OldJack
05-12-2008, 14:23
This is truly fascinating. Keep us posted.

OscarV
05-12-2008, 14:39
Hey Doc, is that white oak treated?

Dr. François
05-13-2008, 11:42
Hey Doc, is that white oak treated?
I bought the oak from an exotic lumberyard, so I believe it is untreated.

OldJack
06-07-2008, 09:13
Doc,

Based on your experiment, I picked up some oak chips from the homebrew store and placed some in a bottle of Sailer's Silver Rum and some in the remnants of the Ten High I bought for the BOTM thread.

Using ths tosted chips, the change in color in just 12 hours is unreal. The once-clear rum is now darker than the Old Charter 12 I just picked up last night. The aroma is amazing, but I holding off on tasting.

I plan to let the chips set for a week in the rum and a month in the bourbon and see where I'm at.

Thanks for the idea!

mozilla
06-07-2008, 09:33
Doc,

Based on your experiment, I picked up some oak chips from the homebrew store and placed some in a bottle of Sailer's Silver Rum and some in the remnants of the Ten High I bought for the BOTM thread.

Using ths tosted chips, the change in color in just 12 hours is unreal. The once-clear rum is now darker than the Old Charter 12 I just picked up last night. The aroma is amazing, but I holding off on tasting.

I plan to let the chips set for a week in the rum and a month in the bourbon and see where I'm at.

Thanks for the idea!


OJ,

don't forget to taste your product often, as it ages....that way your taste buds get the same type of experience that your bourbon is getting. You can also tell the best time to arrest the process. Over aging is an issue to be delt with....there is an off note to too much wood, like the Doc has pointed out.

Adjusting the proof can also help to realize different flavors and attributes when your samples are taken. IIRC, Four Roses cuts all their samples to 40-50 proof when tasting.

Very interesting experiments, good luck!

OldJack
06-18-2008, 08:05
The Ten High got a week and a half w/ the wood chips. The resulting product is much darker, slightly sweeter, and has more vanilla and cherry notes. No one would mistake it for a $40 bottle of well-aged bourbon, but it is an improvement over how it came. That said, you are right about over-doing it. I suspect that a whole month with the wood chips would have killed this stuff. For long term aging, Doc's big chunks of wood in mason jars seems like a much better idea- that's a more favorable surface-to-mass ratio for months of storage.

The rum is like a whole other animal after 6 days. It is now very similar to a Haitian rum we have which claims to have had a year in the barrel. It is now sweet, spicy, and yet retains that pleasant rum bite. It is an awesome mixer for a mean Cuba Libre, though the color is too dark for mojitos.

Dramiel McHinson
10-12-2008, 21:18
Dr. F.

I have tried this for the same reasons. I didn't dare use red oak as it contains an irritant known to give carpenters and furniture makers a real case of the itchey&scratchey. To expedite maturing put the spirit in the refridgerator for five days then in a warm area for five days and repeat. If you used enough oak to cause it to expand and contract with the heat cold cycles then you will get greatly expedited maturing. I also add some 190 proof neutral grain spirit to raise the ABV to about 60 - 80 % ABV. This helps dissolve the sugars in the oak and takes on a wonderful whiskey color and taste after a few months. My best batch was after six months. Oh yeah..I use the heart of white oak, toast it in the oven first then char it to 1/4 inch depth. I use 2 quart size jars and an oak plank (harvested and air dried) about 1 inch by 2.5 inch by 3 inch. You will find you can leave the mundane commercial brands far behind. Please let us know how your batch turns out.

Dramiel McHinson
10-12-2008, 21:30
If you leave your rum in contact with the wood for too long will it become whiskey? I read in Imbibe magazine that you could spice your rum with allspice or nutmeg so I tried it. Don't do it. It leaves a substance similar to snot in the rum and it reappeared after I tried to filter it through a water purifier so I gave up and used it to kill mold in the drain.