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 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!