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Bnrhodes3

Given the Chance, Would You Make Your Own Bourbon?

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Bnrhodes3

Given the Chance, would you make your own Bourbon, and if so, how would you approach it?

 

A small local distillery has a program where, for $1400, you can go through the process of making your own 5g barrel with them. I think it is something I would like to split with my brother at some point, but not sure how I would approach yet. I feel like some of you may have given this some thought already though on how you would want to make your 'perfect' bourbon.

 

You get to pick your style/mashbill and go through the milling and make the wort. Monitor the fermentation, participate in distillation, proof to cask strength, and then barrel it. Over time, you get to monitor the maturation as it ages in their facility, proof for bottling, and then get your own private label bottles at the end of whatever is left in the barrel after aging (they state it is typically 25-30 bottles). It looks like they will age it for 2 years, but they may offer a longer time if desired (idk how much evaporation will take on a 5g barrel in that time).

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The Black Tot

Not unless I thought I could do it better than the great distilleries are already doing it.

 

I don't think that.

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VAGentleman

Every craft whiskey I've had aged in 5 gallon barrels has been absolutely terrible.  2 years also sounds too long for that small of barrels.  Anyway for me at least that would be a lot of money and bottles of most likely sub par whiskey.  That being said if you wanted to do it for the experience that could be a different reason entirely

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mosugoji64

Not to mention, a 5g barrel is NOT going to give you great bourbon. It'll give you matchstick juice that you may be able to blend away, but not something you'll enjoy drinking. You may even come to hate it given the money you'll spend. I don't mean to rain on your parade as the experience does sound really cool and might alone be worth the dough, but please temper your expectations for the final product. As Paul said, the majors have been doing this for decades and have figured out how to do it right. One of the things they DON'T do is use 5g barrels.

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mosugoji64
Just now, VAGentleman said:

Every craft whiskey I've had aged in 5 gallon barrels has been absolutely terrible.  2 years also sounds too long for that small of barrels.  Anyway for me at least that would be a lot of money and bottles of most likely sub par whiskey.  That being said if you wanted to do it for the experience that could be a different reason entirely

 Sounds like we were on the same wavelength at about the same time ;)

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DCFan

About 25 years ago I did this with beer when making your own was all the rage.  There were stores in the area that sold all the gadgets and ingredients. I used to go to TW and get cases of empties for the $2 return costs.  Big bins to soak them in bleach and then scour them afterwards.  If you liked working in a kitchen it was a great way to satisfy that itch and be rewarded with a cold refreshing beverage as well weeks later.  At least for beer I could taste my work in a short period of time whereas you'd be waiting 2 years. Yikes! And after going thru all that I never found any one recipe that I could say "that's my beer!".  They all tasted good but none stood out as the one.

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RWBadley

For $1400 I don't think I would take them up on the project.

Two years of aging in a 5 gallon barrel I don't think will give the best product. 

I think I would much rather spend that money going to Kentucky and having a great vacation combined with distillery tours of established places like Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace etc. 

And still have some cash left over for a few bottles of good stuff :D

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Flyfish
2 hours ago, The Black Tot said:

Not unless I thought I could do it better than the great distilleries are already doing it.

 

I don't think that.

Yes to what Blackie  and Badley said. For $1400 you could buy a bottle or two or really exceptional bourbon. Home brewed beer, on the other hand, can produce better than commercial results for less money.

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BigRich
Not unless I thought I could do it better than the great distilleries are already doing it.
 
I don't think that.

This. Exactly this. I have a few meager talents and this is not anywhere near being on that list.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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petrel800

I have to agree with the others, I think you'll wind up with crappy bourbon for $1400.  You'd be better off saving a few more bucks or finding a few extra people and going to pick out your own barrel from one of the major distilleries.

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DCFan
6 hours ago, Bnrhodes3 said:

Given the Chance, would you make your own Bourbon, and if so, how would you approach it?

To echo what the last poster said about buying your own barrel there is a forum for that here. In the upper left corner select the home tab and then go down to the “Group Barrel Purchase” forum.

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Mako254

I can see where it might be fun for a bride and groom to do for a wedding. Distill and barrel after engagement and have the bottles for the wedding party as a memento. 

 

That said, $1,400 buys an awful lot of really really good bourbon if you were to spend that cash visiting distilleries on the trail. 

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BottledInBond

As others have mentioned most small barrel whiskey is terrible. Plus depending on the angel's share you might only end up with like 15 bottles. There is literally no way I would do this. For $1,400 you could partner with a local store to go do a barrel pick of Four Roses or something and get a portion of that barrel, maybe even get your name as part of the label since they customize those. That would be cool as well and 99% more likely to be better whiskey. And you'd still get more bottles

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EarthQuake

I've considered making my own whiskey, and by that I mean making my own mash, building a still, getting a full size barrel and everything. But every time I give it thought I remember it takes 5-10 years to make a decent whiskey, and I would probably be dead by the time I perfected a recipe. I'll have to content myself with making bitters and vatting various blends for fun.

 

As others have said, I wouldn't pay $1,400 for a 5 gallon barrel of 2 year old craft whiskey. Even if they let you pick the mash bill or whatever, it's not likely to be any good. I've yet to have a craft bourbon that is better or even as good as a $13 bottle of Ancient Age. All the craft whiskeys that I've had which have been aged in small barrels have a very distinct (not good) flavor.

 

The suggestion to contact a local LS and work with them to do a single barrel store pick is a great idea.

 

If you really interested in home brewing, beer, cider, or wine is a lot easier to get into.

 

Even easier, you could experiment with creating your own barrel finished whiskey, this way you can make something that is good, a unique creation of your own, but won't cost a fortune and leave you with 30 bottles of junk whiskey. Buy a small charred oak barrel on Amazon, I usually use 1L barrels but you can get larger, fill it with something like port or sherry for a few weeks to season it, and then plop down a bourbon or a rye (or your own special blend). I did a blend of High West Rendezvous, Russell's Reserve Rye Single Barrel, and a bit of Bookers in a Madeira seasoned barrel that was excellent. I did another one with a Port barrel and a blend that was mostly WhistlePig 10 year rye.

Edited by EarthQuake

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Harry in WashDC
9 hours ago, Bnrhodes3 said:

Given the Chance, would you make your own Bourbon, and if so, how would you approach it?

 

Pretty much agree with the other posters.  In addition to my attention span being much shorter than two years, I found, like DCFan, that my brewing results never approached commercial products, let alone microbrew products.  Going to the store is a lot less messy and takes a lot less thought, too.

 

HOWEVER, to learn how complex the distilling and aging process are, hands-on is so much better than book descriptions.  How would I approach making bourbon?  Read bunches of books.  Visit some distilleries.  Copy down recipes from the Vatting threads on SB.  Vat.  Taste. 

 

I did this.  I found that, with very few exceptions (mostly the vattings that  SBers generally tout), I still can't beat opening a product from the Big 12 (or 13 or so) and drinking.  Less messy and takes a lot less thought, too, and there is no waiting.

 

Um, take the money, travel to Kentucky, do some tours, visit the gift shops, buy some bourbon, fly home.  Be sure to take pictures and post them here.

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Kpiz

As everyone else said, you're unlikely to create a product that is objectively better than anything on the shelf. So if your goal is to create a great whiskey, this is likely to be a disappointing experience. As David Perkins once said, after telling us about how much better HW had become at making their own whiskey over the years, "making good whiskey is very hard".

 

BUT if you accept the above likelihood, and your goals are more oriented towards learning, having a fun and unique bonding experience with your brother, and creating something of your own, then this could be a great and rewarding experience. Harry mentions above how much better hands-on experiences are than learning second-hand through reading or watching, and I wholeheartedly believe that's true. How many people have been able to really make their own whiskey on good equipment, experienced making cuts from the still based on taste/smell, and were allowed to taste their own barrel over time and make a determination of when to bottle it? It's a pricey endeavor, and one that comes with potential trade-offs (e.g. trip to KY, picking your own barrel from a major distillery) depending on your level of disposable income, but it could absolutely be worth it depending on what you want to get out of it.

 

I should caveat the above by stating that I'm a DIYer and have stubbornly spent more money making tables, drinking glasses, beer, cider, rum, and countless other things than it would have cost to simply buy them. To me, the extra output of energy and money on the creation process is worth the knowledge gained and feeling of reward in having done it myself. YMMV.

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Bnrhodes3

Well that is a fairly easy consensus then! I haven't sampled anything in small barrels or small batch before, so I really have no baseline to even consider. I know that maturation happens a bit quicker than a large barrel due to surface area, but that's as far as my "knowledge" goes on that.

 

My main interest was on the experience more than it would be in looking to create an exceptional finished product - I have zero illusions that it could be done better than the big distilleries who have been doing it for decades/centuries. $1400 is a lot for a little, and a trip to big distilleries may be a better way to spend it just to see how it is done on that scale. This is a forum more oriented toward the appreciation and consumption of the final product of the hard work, not a forum for jumping in to the work itself (which, in most cases, is illegal anyway lol), so I can see why the idea does come off as a waste. 

 

As Harry and Kpiz mentioned, I am big in to DIY, so that is why it appealed to me personally. I love hands-on learning and tinkering - I started my business around the idea of making things myself and for fun to name a few, I work with wood/build some of my own furniture, learned to make cheese, recently started making pasta (simple, but fun), and am in the early stages of reading to start home brewing beer - so this seemed like a potential 'natural evolution' for me to consider make something unique some day ($1400 is still a lot of money). I just started a business collaboration with a guy that sells the smaller charred oak barrels as a home novelty, so I might play with that for kicks to start. I still want to do it I think, but if I do anything big for now, a trip to Kentucky would be my first step, and if I still have the itch, I'll reconsider the experience again at a later point. 

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flahute
5 hours ago, Bnrhodes3 said:

 I know that maturation happens a bit quicker than a large barrel due to surface area, but that's as far as my "knowledge" goes on that.

 

"Maturation" is the wrong word to describe it. In the small barrel, it does take on color and flavor much quicker. They aren't good flavors though and the result is not what most of us would call "mature" because the white dog whiskey has not been through enough cycles through the char layer to remove the objectionable flavors and to acquire to good flavors from the wood.

It's a semantic point to be sure. I'm just mentioning it to help you understand the difference in what happens.

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GaryT

I've done a mingle of bourbons and ryes in a 5 liter barrel that I really liked, and was surprised by that fact.  It was "aged" for exactly 138 days.  I think small barrels can be fun, and maybe aging cocktails or aging mingles are a great use.  But taking new make and throwing it in . . . add my voice to the chorus of "No, it isn't good".  Flahute nailed it - while it make take on color and "some" flavors quickly, there is something magical that takes time (I think about 20+ yr old Scotch being aged in barrels that are their 2nd or 3rd fills and are still magnificent; the barrel absolutely plays a part, but you can't discount what time adds to the equation).

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Bnrhodes3
3 hours ago, flahute said:

"Maturation" is the wrong word to describe it. In the small barrel, it does take on color and flavor much quicker. They aren't good flavors though and the result is not what most of us would call "mature" because the white dog whiskey has not been through enough cycles through the char layer to remove the objectionable flavors and to acquire to good flavors from the wood.

It's a semantic point to be sure. I'm just mentioning it to help you understand the difference in what happens.

That is something I have wondered and to be honest, haven't dug deep enough in to it to be able to understand it properly. Semantics are important, and a lot of my questions/thoughts will show my lack of knowledge in the entire process to be sure. To get a better understanding, with the cycles through the char layer, is that a function of the slight expansion and contraction of the barrels from heat/humidity changes, or what is the process behind that occurring? Also, are there any books or resources you could recommend on the process (I would like to understand more of the finer points of what is actually happening in the process)?

 

2 hours ago, GaryT said:

I've done a mingle of bourbons and ryes in a 5 liter barrel that I really liked, and was surprised by that fact.  It was "aged" for exactly 138 days.  I think small barrels can be fun, and maybe aging cocktails or aging mingles are a great use.  But taking new make and throwing it in . . . add my voice to the chorus of "No, it isn't good".  Flahute nailed it - while it make take on color and "some" flavors quickly, there is something magical that takes time (I think about 20+ yr old Scotch being aged in barrels that are their 2nd or 3rd fills and are still magnificent; the barrel absolutely plays a part, but you can't discount what time adds to the equation).

The time is the part I'm still trying to understand. I try to look at things from a 'scientific' perspective when I can, so I don't know what is going on specifically over time (what conditions or catalysts might speed up the reactions that create the complex flavors, or what conditions may slow the process down). It's all very interesting to me, especially since I have such limited knowledge on the process. 

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EarthQuake

I've mostly played around with the 1L barrels because they're cheap and I don't have to devote (and potentially ruin) much whiskey to them. General thoughts:

 

1. Extra aging in small barrels doesn't make bad whiskey good, I've throw in some terrible craft whiskey and the result was that it was more palatable, but still bad

2. Throwing mature, decent whiskey into an unseasoned barrel probably won't improve it much, and it's very easy to leave it in too long and make it worse, thats about the 1 week point for a 1L barrel in my experience

3. Seasoning the barrel beforehand is a great way to impart complexity and depth to already good whiskey, these have been my most successful experiments

4. The higher the wood to whiskey surface ratio the quicker the whiskey absorbs flavors, but this doesn't mean more surface = better flavor. I've done some test with charred oak wood chips in mason jars where the wood to liquid surface area is very high, this imparts flavor very rapidly (in a matter of hours) but generally not the good sort of flavor as flahute aptly notes.

 

I would say the minimum for new make to turn into a decent whiskey you could make a mixed drink with is probably a few years in a 20 gallon barrel. If I remember correctly, this is what Few Spirits uses for their bourbon and rye, it's generally 2-4 years old and aged in 20 or 25 gallon barrels if I'm remembering what the girl at the tour told me. 

 

I would also encourage spending $1400 on a trip to kentucky and do some distillery tours. I think doing the "make your own" whiskey thing makes a degree of sense if the experience is what matters to you and that seems a fair price, and especially if you're not expecting the resulting whiskey to be, well, good.

Edited by EarthQuake

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EarthQuake
32 minutes ago, Bnrhodes3 said:

That is something I have wondered and to be honest, haven't dug deep enough in to it to be able to understand it properly. Semantics are important, and a lot of my questions/thoughts will show my lack of knowledge in the entire process to be sure. To get a better understanding, with the cycles through the char layer, is that a function of the slight expansion and contraction of the barrels from heat/humidity changes, or what is the process behind that occurring? Also, are there any books or resources you could recommend on the process (I would like to understand more of the finer points of what is actually happening in the process)?

 

The time is the part I'm still trying to understand. I try to look at things from a 'scientific' perspective when I can, so I don't know what is going on specifically over time (what conditions or catalysts might speed up the reactions that create the complex flavors, or what conditions may slow the process down). It's all very interesting to me, especially since I have such limited knowledge on the process. 

I am far from an expert but based on various things I've read:

 

The expansion and contraction of the wood is very important, as it forces the whiskey in and out of the wood, and penetrating deeper into the wood has some sort of effect which I do not fully understand. The more extreme the climate, the more effect this has. So something like a Scotch or Canadian whiskey aged 16 years might be somewhat equivalent to something more like 8 years in Kentucky, and a Mezcal or Rum aged further south could get quite a lot of interaction with wood in a couple years or even a matter of months. There is atleast one distiller (Cleveland) who has experimented with rapid aging bourbon by using pressure to force the liquid into the wood. By all accounts this results in terrible whiskey, but the fact that it's "aged" in about a day rather than many years is quite interesting.

 

Scotch is somewhat of a difficult comparison, because it's often aged in ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks, where a lot of the raw charred oak flavor has already been zapped by the first fill. This is another reason (to my understanding) why you can have a Scotch aged in the 30, 40, even 50 year range without it being an over-oaked mess. When I was in France recently I picked up a few bottles of Armagnac (like Cognac but from a different region), the oldest of which is 40 years old, and while the oak is quite clear and present, it doesn't overpower. I think Armagnac is commonly aged in much larger barrels (200 gallons?), and reusing barrels is common, so again we're dealing with different surface ratios and not necessarily first fill casks.

Edited by EarthQuake

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Gorzo
15 hours ago, Flyfish said:

Yes to what Blackie  and Badley said. For $1400 you could buy a bottle or two or really exceptional bourbon. Home brewed beer, on the other hand, can produce better than commercial results for less money.

Less money? I was into my case of home brewed beer for about $200 on a positive note it tasted like horse s##t. I say positive because I learned real quick that I am a lot better at drinking than I am at making. So Mark me down as a big NO

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flahute
58 minutes ago, Bnrhodes3 said:

That is something I have wondered and to be honest, haven't dug deep enough in to it to be able to understand it properly. Semantics are important, and a lot of my questions/thoughts will show my lack of knowledge in the entire process to be sure. To get a better understanding, with the cycles through the char layer, is that a function of the slight expansion and contraction of the barrels from heat/humidity changes, or what is the process behind that occurring? Also, are there any books or resources you could recommend on the process (I would like to understand more of the finer points of what is actually happening in the process)?

 

The time is the part I'm still trying to understand. I try to look at things from a 'scientific' perspective when I can, so I don't know what is going on specifically over time (what conditions or catalysts might speed up the reactions that create the complex flavors, or what conditions may slow the process down). It's all very interesting to me, especially since I have such limited knowledge on the process. 

EarthQuake has already spoken to this a bit so I'll expand.

Yes, it is all about expansion and contraction. One of the reasons why Kentucky is an ideal region for bourbon production is the climate. Hot and humid summers followed by cold winter. The liquid expands on the hot days and months, passes through the char layer and into the wood. It then contracts back out. This happens seasonally as well as daily to a lesser degree. Passing through the char layer filters out fusel oils and other components that contribute to undesirable flavors as well as the grainy flavors present in white dog whiskey. Soaking deep into the wood past the char layer is where the flavors come from. If you taste vanilla in your bourbon it's because the oak contains vanillin (the same chemical compound that gives vanilla it's flavor) and the liquid pulls that out of the wood. Other flavor compounds and sugars are present as well. The more cycles, the more bad stuff gets stripped out and the more flavors from the wood get absorbed. If you leave it in the barrel for too long, all the flavors and sugars get used up and you then start to pull out tannins. This is what people refer to as "woody" or "too much oak". This is why bourbon does not age as long as scotch as referenced by EarthQuake.

If you want to get into next level complexity you start to talk about where in the rick house the barrel is aging. (Except for Four Roses whose single story warehouses don't lend themselves to what I'm about to say). A barrel on the top floor of a typical 7 story warehouse is going to experience extreme temperatures in the summer and more evaporation. This whiskey will be ready sooner than the barrel on the first floor in the middle. That barrel will age very slowly due to lower temperatures. It will also go down in proof because it absorbs condensation. I tasted straight from such a barrel back in June and at 16 years old it did not have a hint of "woodiness". That same barrel on the top floor might be completely evaporated at 16 years. 

 

Relating this back to craft whiskey in small barrels: the small barrels result in flavors and woodiness so quickly that the undesirable stuff doesn't have time to get stripped out and in that short a time, it doesn't develop the complexity you get from proper time in a 53 gallon barrel.

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Bnrhodes3
57 minutes ago, EarthQuake said:

I am far from an expert but based on various things I've read:

 

The expansion and contraction of the wood is very important, as it forces the whiskey in and out of the wood, and penetrating deeper into the wood has some sort of effect which I do not fully understand. The more extreme the climate, the more effect this has. So something like a Scotch or Canadian whiskey aged 16 years might be somewhat equivalent to something more like 8 years in Kentucky, and a Mezcal or Rum aged further south could get quite a lot of interaction with wood in a couple years or even a matter of months. There is atleast one distiller (Cleveland) who has experimented with rapid aging bourbon by using pressure to force the liquid into the wood. By all accounts this results in terrible whiskey, but the fact that it's "aged" in about a day rather than many years is quite interesting.

 

Scotch is somewhat of a difficult comparison, because it's often aged in ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks, where a lot of the raw charred oak flavor has already been zapped by the first fill. This is another reason (to my understanding) why you can have a Scotch aged in the 30, 40, even 50 year range without it being an over-oaked mess. When I was in France recently I picked up a few bottles of Armagnac (like Cognac but from a different region), the oldest of which is 40 years old, and while the oak is quite clear and present, it doesn't overpower. I think Armagnac is commonly aged in much larger barrels (200 gallons?), and reusing barrels is common, so again we're dealing with different surface ratios and not necessarily first fill casks.

 

7 minutes ago, flahute said:

EarthQuake has already spoken to this a bit so I'll expand.

Yes, it is all about expansion and contraction. One of the reasons why Kentucky is an ideal region for bourbon production is the climate. Hot and humid summers followed by cold winter. The liquid expands on the hot days and months, passes through the char layer and into the wood. It then contracts back out. This happens seasonally as well as daily to a lesser degree. Passing through the char layer filters out fusel oils and other components that contribute to undesirable flavors as well as the grainy flavors present in white dog whiskey. Soaking deep into the wood past the char layer is where the flavors come from. If you taste vanilla in your bourbon it's because the oak contains vanillin (the same chemical compound that gives vanilla it's flavor) and the liquid pulls that out of the wood. Other flavor compounds and sugars are present as well. The more cycles, the more bad stuff gets stripped out and the more flavors from the wood get absorbed. If you leave it in the barrel for too long, all the flavors and sugars get used up and you then start to pull out tannins. This is what people refer to as "woody" or "too much oak". This is why bourbon does not age as long as scotch as referenced by EarthQuake.

If you want to get into next level complexity you start to talk about where in the rick house the barrel is aging. (Except for Four Roses whose single story warehouses don't lend themselves to what I'm about to say). A barrel on the top floor of a typical 7 story warehouse is going to experience extreme temperatures in the summer and more evaporation. This whiskey will be ready sooner than the barrel on the first floor in the middle. That barrel will age very slowly due to lower temperatures. It will also go down in proof because it absorbs condensation. I tasted straight from such a barrel back in June and at 16 years old it did not have a hint of "woodiness". That same barrel on the top floor might be completely evaporated at 16 years. 

 

Relating this back to craft whiskey in small barrels: the small barrels result in flavors and woodiness so quickly that the undesirable stuff doesn't have time to get stripped out and in that short a time, it doesn't develop the complexity you get from proper time in a 53 gallon barrel.

Okay, so that makes a lot more sense now then.
To go to the real far end hypothetically on the large barrel end - if the barrel were put in to an artificial environment where the temperature and humidity were manually controlled and cycled (instead of depending on weather), and the cycles were pushed in a more rapid rate (say 1-2 months per cycle vs 1 year per cycle), do you think it would it be feasible to taste something that appears to be 6-12 years old even though it has only been aged for a year in the controlled conditions? I'm assuming there is something else going on with the time aspect that I'm missing though? 

I raise this questions because of a comment I saw about somewhere that used pressure to move the liquid in and out of a barrel and had it finished in a day via that method, but it wasn't good (in that case, I'm assuming there just isn't enough exposure time for the liquid to react properly with the compounds in wood). From chemistry, I came to understand that time isn't the real factor as it is typically only a measured byproduct to track a reaction - the reactants and rate of the reactions are what typically draw interest (more reactants, more catalysts, etc can change the time factor), which is why I feel I'm missing pieces of what is actually happening in the aging puzzle.

Being that I only understand the aging process on a macro level, I'm sure there are a lot of finer points that aren't even on my periphery yet, so this might be a bit deep for me at this point (and way far beyond the scope of my original question lol).

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