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  1. #1
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    Aging...Back to the Future

    Hello - New to the board and new to the love of fine spirit's - A little help please.
    My grandfather had the forethought to place a couple of bottles of bourbon, whisky, and scotch in storage for his son to enjoy - Well, my dad never took to alcohol - In fact he only had one drink in his life - My JACKPOT - I have several bottles each of inexpensive as well as fine spirits left to me from the early 50's - They are Exquisite!! Even the cheaper brands (Ancient Age ect.), are smooth and full-bodied
    My Question is… what is the proper way for me to start aging some of the bottles I buy today? The bottles my grandfather bought all had cork to seal them like wine. But even the finer bottles today are sealed with plastic tops with cork inserts. I'm hooked on these older aged spirits, they're so smooth - I want to start putting some back for myself and my grandchildren in years to come - Even the 21,23, & 25 year vintages that I've sampled recently have a distinct "bite", which is absent in my stock - I've purchaced them anyway hoping they can mellow with a few more years under their belt - But I've read that once bottled, if it can not breath, such as wine, no aging will occur - Makes sense - Is this true? And any Suggestions?!?



  2. #2
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    Re: Aging...Back to the Future

    Even a bottle with a cork can allow oxidation and evaporation over time, although the potential for this is greater with a screwcap. There are many fine bourbons on the shelf that now come with a cork, as opposed to a screwcap with a liner, you need to get out more...;^)

    WRT to archiving, the prevailing notion seems to be that irrespective of whether you have a screwcap or a corked bottle, the best way to slow down the loss is to dip the entire neck of the bottle in parrafin or sealing wax like the Maker's Mark bottles you see in the store. I have also heard of people using that vinyl dip that's made for the handles of pliers too. I would also think you could use a shrink-tubing of appropriate diameter too. The idea is to completely seal off the openings either on the metal or plastic band of the screw cap, or the neck capsule of a corked bottle. Some corked bottles are sealed with wax from the distillery, but come with a zip strip that may allow air to enter over time. Another layer of wax which completely covers this coating should do the trick (probably overkill). Also, any of these alterations will probably decrease the collector's value at an auction, but will delight your progeny from a consumption perspective.

    The reason the older 21, 23, 25yr spirits may have "bite" is because they have spent that many years in wood as opposed to glass. Once bottled, the whiskey will not "age". A 40 year old bottle of 3yr spirit is still a 3yr old whiskey. The whiskey *will* change over time if the bottle is opened, due to the effects of oxidation and evaporation. Sometimes this will improve the spirit, sometimes it is deleterious. It all depends on the whiskey and the storage conditions. I've found with many whisk(e)ys, they need to "breathe" to fully develop and reveal all their character, just like wines. I've also found that the storage conditions for whisk(e)y should be like those for wines. Cool and dark with no exposure to direct sunlight. IMHO, it's better to open the bottle fewer times and remove more volume each time that it is to peck away a shot or two at a time. Unless, of course, you peck it away pretty fast.

    Hope you find this useful,
    Bushido


  3. #3
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    Re: Aging...Thank You!

    YHO means a lot to this virgin - The corks I referred too are not the liner type, but even today's best cork stop are not the tight sealing "wine" type of yesteryear - Another couple of questions, if I may impose - Will more "headspace" in a bottle effect the speed the spirit "ages"?

    AND do any of the current distillers make a smaller cask for retail purchase? By smaller I mean 10-20 gallon/liter sizes.



  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Aging...Thank You!

    This is in reply both to this and to your original post. First, no, you cannot buy whiskey in the cask for further aging at home. Whiskey--at least in the USA--can only be sold in bottles, by law. Why? It mostly has to do with control, and most of that has to do with collecting taxes, but as a practical matter the answer is, no, you can't have whiskey delivered to you in the barrel unless you happen to own a licensed whiskey warehouse.

    As for your original question about "aging" bottles of whiskey for future use, you have to understand that fermented beverages (wine/beer) and distilled beverages (whiskey and other spirits) are completely different in this regard. The "aging" processes are so completely different, in fact, that we really should use different terms, but we don't and hence the common confusion.

    Most wines and some beers continue to age after bottling because they are still biologically active. The biological activity that continues after bottling is why certain wines improve with bottle age, though only up to a point. Some beers bottle age, or "condition," in this same way, due to continuing biological activity. Spirits do not. The nature of the distillation process terminates all biological activity. The "aging" that occurs in the barrels is strictly the infusion of sugars and other substances from the wood into the spirit. That is a time-related activity--the longer the whiskey is in wood, the more of those substances it absorbs--but it is not active biologically. Most wines and some beer are barrel aged as well, for the qualities provided by the oak, though typically not for the years that whiskies are aged. The other difference with bourbon is that it is aged exclusively in new barrels that have been deeply charred on the inside.

    The basic rule is that whiskey does not change in the bottle, period, assuming that the bottle is well sealed. Everything Bushido said is correct, though in general if whiskey does change in the bottle, through oxidation typically, it isn't for the better. To get to the point, there is no reason to "lay down" bottles of whiskey for future use unless there is a particular brand or type that is becoming unavailable and you want to stock up on it. In that case, precautions like Bushido suggested might be appropriate to prevent evaporation and oxidation. What you are doing, however, is making sure the whiskey stays exactly the as it is. You are not improving it.

    So why does the whiskey your grandfather put down for you taste so good? Partially because you expected it would, but it is also very possible that the whiskey was made better at that time, that longer aged whiskey was being used even for standard brands, etc. That is a very real possibility. I have tasted 100 year old bourbon, i.e., whiskey that was in the bottle for 100 years, and it tasted a little different than modern brands, not because it changed in the bottle, but because there were some differences in the way it was made that made it taste different.

    I hope this information is helpful and not too disappointing.

    --Chuck Cowdery

  5. #5
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    Great Information...

    Thank you Chuck - Excellent 101 on the craft

    I have done a tasting of one of the older bottles vs. it's newer vintage - "Ancient Age" - Even as a novice, I tasted a much smoother, milder 'heat' and more caramel flavor in the older stock - This may be, as you say, due to the blending of that time - As a result of this recent "inheritance", I'm planning a road trip this summer to visit some of the distillers of West Virginia - I'd like to learn more about what I'm sure will be a lifetime love. (My wife is less than enthused)

    I am disappointed that smaller casks are not available - I've read some of the other post's on this board; and also talking to some of my friends, it seems that this is a growing wish of many consumers - Too Bad - This, if marketed correctly, would be a great boon to the industry and to those who enjoy fine spirits - Is there any hope of this on the horizon, or would it take an armed uprising and act of congress to change the tax laws??

    On a side note - KUDO'S to the wonderful people here willing to share their knowledge with the unenlightened - This is an Excellent board - The internet is supposed to be about learning and the exchange of ideas, this board exemplifies that forgotten dream



  6. #6
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Great Information...

    If you are going to look for distilleries in West Virginia you may get your wish about buying whiskey to age. There are no legal distilleries in West Virginia, but plenty of moonshiners. They will be glad to sell you anything you want, although I can't vouch for the quality.

    If you want to visit distilleries, you pretty much have to go to Kentucky or Tennessee.

    Actually, back on the subject of "home aging" whiskey in barrels, if one wanted to try one's hand at barrel aging, one could buy or build a small barrel, char it, fill it with cheap, young bourbon, and monitor the changes as it ages. There would be nothing illegal about such an experiment and the effect would be pretty much the same as what you were hoping to find for purchase.

    --Chuck Cowdery

  7. #7
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    Re: Great Information...

    Anybody need any slightly used barrels. I've got plenty. $35.00 each.
    Chuck, sounds like a good idea. You could put the barrel in your attic for a few years, then "rotate" it to your basement for a few, then bottle it up for the family.
    Julian


  8. #8
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    Re: Great Information...

    Speaking of home aging, here's something I've been pondering:

    It seems to me that you could get more "aging" if the bourbon/wood surface area is increased. Why don't people drop in a few extra boards into barrels? I've heard mention of throwing in wood chips, but only among moonshiners. The only thing wrong with this that I can think of is that perhaps the wood needs air on the other side to age the bourbon properly.

    If wood chips would work, then home aging would be much easier, as it wouldn't require an entire barrel. It could be done in small containers with varying amounts of different types of chips.

    Tim




  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Great Information...

    In the whiskey industry, the ways to accelerate aging are barrel rotation and warehouse temperature control. When you think about it, the Tennessee practice of running the spirit through 10 feet of charcoal is a little like your wood chips idea. I know at least one person personally who swears by the practice for his home made hooch and I have heard that mooshiners use it as well. In fact, they use it instead of barrel aging, aging the spirit in glass or steel containers with wood chips thrown in to simulate barrel aging. You can also imagine a barrel with perforated wooden inserts that would provide more wood contact.

    As a practical matter, for commercial distilleries at least, the old fashioned way works just fine. For one thing, it is not so much the contact with the surface of the wood as it is the expansion of the spirit into the wood when temperature is warm, followed by the contraction of the spirit when the temperature is cool, which brings the goodies out of the wood into the spirit, hence the idea of manipulating the warehouse temperature. The "goodies" (wood sugars and other substances) are in a layer just below the char. The spirit passing through the char is also supposed to remove some of the bad cogeners in the spirit.

    Part of the reason there is not much incentive to change is that no one really knows exactly why the process gets the results it does, it just does.

    --Chuck Cowdery

  10. #10
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    Re: Great Information...

    > Part of the reason there is not much incentive to change is that no one really knows exactly why the process gets the results it does, it just does.

    Chuck, with due respect to all the fine chemical engineers and scientists, from Dr. Crow himself all the way up to the latest new-hire in the Buffalo Trace labs, what you've said in that sentence is the very essence of all bourbon-making. Always has been, always will be. And that's the reason why I love it so much. Pappy "No Chemists Allowed" Van Winkle would have agreed wholeheartedly.

    -John Lipman-
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

 

 

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