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GaryT

Still Austin and 'Slow Water Reduction'

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GaryT

I was recently sent an advanced sample of a soon to be released Texas Straight Bourbon (2 yrs old) from Still Austin to provide thoughts/feedback.  Once they announce it, I'll be happy to post some tasting notes here - but wanted to see what folks thought of their process (and also was hoping that @WhiskeyBlender might weigh in as the fact sheet they provided named her).

 

Some of the stuff is pretty straight forward (mash bill is 70% White Corn 25% Rye 5% Malted Barely; grains all grown in TX, etc); Independent Stave char #3 barrels, etc), but a few points caught my attention - and I'm pasting them below directly from their fact sheet to ensure I don't misinterpret in paraphrasing:

 

·         All barrels put through élevage, a six-month slow water reduction process in the barrel themselves. Barreled at 118, and proofed down month by month incrementally to 104. This develops a level of complexity and finesse that cannot be achieved without it. Different flavors are pulled from the barrel and different proofs

·         From John: “At 125-118 proof you are extracting the alcohol-soluble sugars and letting the tannins do their job as you get lower in the proofing process and just doing it very slowly in barrel two proof points per month you will eventually get down to the water-soluble sugar range which is 114 and below that's where the vanilla, caramel, toffee, brown sugar, cherry, honey, etc., really pops and while you are doing this you're avoiding a fast proof down that can cause a distinct flat soda taste or even a soapy water taste. Whether it's in the barrel or in the tank, we will always do Slow Water Reduction."

·         All coupes have been blending barrel by barrel into nine barrel batches by Master Blender Nancy Fraley

 

As barrel-entry proof is a topic many of us have discussed in great length, this whole concept of reducing proof I thought was pretty interesting (although labor intensive as @#$%).  Has anyone else heard of someone else doing this?  I get what they're saying, and believe that you do get different flavors with different proofs - but wouldn't you get a similar affect from simply barrels at the various proof points, and blending them at the end (which would be a helluva lot less work)?

 

And I honestly don't know what they mean by the last bullet above ('coupes' brings to mind cars or cocktail glasses?)  But I was encouraged by their mentioning Nancy - and hoped she might shed some light where she can :) 

 

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flahute

Nancy has talked about doing this sort of thing with Armagnac so not surprised to see her trying it with bourbon. 

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kcgumbohead

I share your interest GT and look forward to reading what Nancy has to say. Thanks for sharing this, seems a nice meaty topic we can all nerd out on for awhile!!

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VAGentleman

This seems interesting to me.  First as was said this would be incredibly labor intensive.  Each month you'd have to get the barrel, check the proof, weigh it (need to know the angel share loss and determine how much water to add), then mix it well, and proof it again. 

 

All according to how they store barrels its possible the proof goes down on its own so would this be needed in that case?

 

On top of that it would only be in the 118-115 proof range for 2 months.  Would that have much of an affect?  And thats assuming they're correct on the different flavors and the proofs.  I've had many bourbons from distilleries with a 125 proof entry proof that are big on vanillas, cherries and caramels.

 

Last thought - since you're adding water over time is it technically/legally still 2 years old or would it be 1.5 years old since you're adding liquid after its been barreled?  Not sure

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Conquistador

I heard that Greg Metze (former MGPI Master Distiller) is doing something similar at Old Elk out of Colorado. Except I think Metze calls his process "Slow Cut Proofing", IIRC. Same concept, though; intermittent addition of water over a long period of time (several weeks, if not months) in order to draw out a different profile than if you were to proof down all at once. I've never tried any Old Elk whiskey, so I can't say if the Slow Cut Proofing made much of a difference. Maybe someone on SB with experience tasting Old Elk can provide their thoughts.

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VAGentleman
Posted (edited)
42 minutes ago, Conquistador said:

I heard that Greg Metze (former MGPI Master Distiller) is doing something similar at Old Elk out of Colorado. Except I think Metze calls his process "Slow Cut Proofing", IIRC. Same concept, though; intermittent addition of water over a long period of time (several weeks, if not months) in order to draw out a different profile than if you were to proof down all at once. I've never tried any Old Elk whiskey, so I can't say if the Slow Cut Proofing made much of a difference. Maybe someone on SB with experience tasting Old Elk can provide their thoughts.

Not sure how the big boys do it but most craft distilleries proof down slowly over a week or two to prevent saponification (soapy taste).  But this is usually before and after barreling, not while in the barrel

Edited by VAGentleman

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WhiskeyBlender
Posted (edited)
On 6/24/2020 at 1:53 AM, GaryT said:

I was recently sent an advanced sample of a soon to be released Texas Straight Bourbon (2 yrs old) from Still Austin to provide thoughts/feedback.  Once they announce it, I'll be happy to post some tasting notes here - but wanted to see what folks thought of their process (and also was hoping that @WhiskeyBlender might weigh in as the fact sheet they provided named her).

 

Some of the stuff is pretty straight forward (mash bill is 70% White Corn 25% Rye 5% Malted Barely; grains all grown in TX, etc); Independent Stave char #3 barrels, etc), but a few points caught my attention - and I'm pasting them below directly from their fact sheet to ensure I don't misinterpret in paraphrasing:

 

·         All barrels put through élevage, a six-month slow water reduction process in the barrel themselves. Barreled at 118, and proofed down month by month incrementally to 104. This develops a level of complexity and finesse that cannot be achieved without it. Different flavors are pulled from the barrel and different proofs

·         From John: “At 125-118 proof you are extracting the alcohol-soluble sugars and letting the tannins do their job as you get lower in the proofing process and just doing it very slowly in barrel two proof points per month you will eventually get down to the water-soluble sugar range which is 114 and below that's where the vanilla, caramel, toffee, brown sugar, cherry, honey, etc., really pops and while you are doing this you're avoiding a fast proof down that can cause a distinct flat soda taste or even a soapy water taste. Whether it's in the barrel or in the tank, we will always do Slow Water Reduction."

·         All coupes have been blending barrel by barrel into nine barrel batches by Master Blender Nancy Fraley

 

As barrel-entry proof is a topic many of us have discussed in great length, this whole concept of reducing proof I thought was pretty interesting (although labor intensive as @#$%).  Has anyone else heard of someone else doing this?  I get what they're saying, and believe that you do get different flavors with different proofs - but wouldn't you get a similar affect from simply barrels at the various proof points, and blending them at the end (which would be a helluva lot less work)?

 

And I honestly don't know what they mean by the last bullet above ('coupes' brings to mind cars or cocktail glasses?)  But I was encouraged by their mentioning Nancy - and hoped she might shed some light where she can :) 

 

Hey Gary et al:

 

Sorry I'm just now seeing this. I had to make an emergency trip out to Wyoming Whiskey last Monday, driving 18+ hours or so in order to get to the distillery ASAP. I'll be in WY through Wednesday , July 1st, and my internet access is fairly spotty here in the boonies, so I might not get a chance to respond back until I'm home. Because I was on the road traveling out to WY, Still Austin had the Head of Production, John Schrepel, try to explain the process, but I'm not sure if it makes sense the way he did so. 

 

At any rate, to answer the question about the Slow Reduction process (which Still Austin incorrectly calls "Elévage." But more about that term later...), it ain't nothin' but just an old artisanal Cognac and brandy production technique, pure and simple. Of course, for high end Cognacs and other high end brandies, the slow reduction process from cask to bottling strength can start 5 years or even much longer before bottling. I won't go into all that here, except to say that since my original production training was at the Germain-Robin brandy distillery in Northern California, I tend to use a LOT of these centuries-old production techniques with all the distilleries that I blend for, but I don't use this particular technique with all those distilleries.  

 

And yes, adding a small amount of water to all the barrels every month is extremely labor intensive! Again, this is something that at least in the Cognac and brandy world, would usually be done once a year, not once a month. This is only PART of the process that is referred to as "elévage." Elevage is a term found mainly in the brandy and wine worlds, and it means "to raise," as in raising the barrels and the spirit inside from infancy to adulthood or maturity. So while Still Austin uses it in the sense of only referring to the Slow Water Reduction technique, it encompasses much more than this. It is really the Art of Maturation and Cellarwork. I'll talk about this more in another post at some poing.

 

To @VAGentleman's question, yes, it is a perfectly legal technique, and does nothing to change the age of the bourbon. If the liquid from the barrel was being dumped into a stainless tank, then slightly watered down, and then put back into the barrel, the clock would stop, but since it never leaves the barrel, the clock never stops on the age. 

 

So to answer the 10 million dollar question that's on everyone's mind as to why this slow proofing process is done in the barrel, instead of waiting until all the whiskey is dumped first? Or why not just dump barrels of different proofs together to achieve something similar, as I believe someone asked? Well, as I've probably discussed at one time or another on here, alcohol pulls out very different notes than water does out of the barrel. At higher strengths, more of the alcohol-soluble notes such as terpenes, with their resin/pine type of aromas and aromatic aldehydes (think of vanillin from the lignin structure) are pulled from the oak, whereas at lower proofs, more of the water-soluble notes are pulled from the cask. These are typically the caramelized wood sugars (i.e., zylose, rhamnose, arabinose, etc.) that come about through the charring and/or toasting process. 

 

Thus, when you add water slowly to the barrel over time, you get ALL of these desirable elements, both alcohol and water soluble, from each barrel into the whiskey. And in the meantime, with the Slow Reduction process in the cask, you are also creating more roundness and finesse on the palate. In a very hot and humid climate like where the Still Austin warehouses are (about an hour or so outside of Austin, in a very rural area), things tend to progress much more quickly than they do in the traditional Kentucky or Indiana, so even though the Bourbon spends a few months at certain proofs (i.e., between 118 and 115, etc.), it is really amazing how just that small amount of time can make a HUGE difference in the barrel. 

 

@GaryT, as to you're question of what is a "coupe," it is too bad that wasn't explained in the Still Austin post. A "coupe mere" ("coupe" for short) is an old French spirits production technique that translates to "mother blend." A coupe can be thought of as a proto-blend, or a blend-in-progress, before the blend/batch/lot is finalized. Again, I'll go into this at another time, because it can be more complicated than I can give space to here. 

 

@Conquistador, wow, I don't want to walk into a can of worms here and get in trouble over this, but here it goes: I'm not sure where Greg Metze from Old Elk (and formerly of MGP) got this, but I'm about 99.9% positive that the Slow Reduction technique was never used at MGP. I used to consult for MGP about 9 years ago, and no one had ever heard of this technique. In fact, if I might be so bold, no one in the traditional Bourbon world has ever used this technique, much less heard of it, unless they specifically had French Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados or other brandy production training. In fact, I know for a fact that the former Master Distiller at MPG/LDI, Larry Ebersold, with whom I've shared some of the same distillery clients over the years, never used this technique, and never heard of it before me. 

 

I have my suspicions that Old Elk's Head Distiller, Kate Douglas, who took a Maturation, Blending, and Warehousing class with me some years ago, took this French brandy technique back with her to her distillery. I must say that it really urks me that Old Elk distillery is trying to trademark the term "Slow Cut" Proofing for marketing purposes as something that is exclusive to them. Although it hasn't been used traditionally in the Bourbon world, it is really not a trademarkable term, and again, it has been used for centuries in France. In fact, over there, they would think it is ridiculous to trademark such a common practice which everyone does! 

 

At any rate, excuse my rant on this last point. I'm really tired and I still have several hundred barrels to analyze this week, so I'm not sure I'm very articulate right now. 

 

I hope this long explanation helps in the meantime. I'm not sure that I addressed everyone's questions, but I'll try to check back in later in the week if there are any more questions about the process. 

 

Cheers!

Nancy

 

 

 

 

Edited by WhiskeyBlender
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GaryT

Safe travels Nancy, and thanks for the incredibly detailed post!

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fishnbowljoe

Great info as always Nancy. Thanks. As Gary said, safe travels. Give a wave to the buffalo in Thermopolis for me on your way home. ^_^

 

Biba! Joe

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WhiskeyBlender

Thanks Fellas!

 

It's early morning and I'm getting ready to leave for the distillery in order to slog through hundred or so more barrels today. 

 

@fishnbowljoe, I'll definitely wave to a buffalo for you here in ole Thermop! 

 

If anyone has more questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I might not get back immediately since I'm on the road, but I promise that I will get back to it just as soon as I'm able.....

 

Cheers,

Nancy

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B.B. Babington

Yes, water is more polar than ethanol but ethanol still very polar.  Water H-OH and ethanol C2H5-OH note they both are hydroxy OH group.  Yes they do pull out different things preferentially, alcohol will better grab organic compounds and water can better pull very polar compounds like salt; sugar is organic but has many polar hydroxy groups on the molecule so water does a great job.  Both will do a good job on a wide variety of compounds, especially since many of this compounds are in trace amounts.  But what I posit, for extraction from wood, the proof difference is negligible. For barrels, 50% alcohol will pull the same as 60%.

 

I think the main difference is not solvent solution percentage, but is surface area.  If one adds some water, the volume in the barrel goes up and more wood surface is exposed to liquid.

 

I think in the long run this will fail.  There's been zillions of attempts to mimic age and there's not a good substitute for years in the barrel with the congeners reacting and bonding with one another.  

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WhiskeyBlender
Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, B.B. Babington said:

 

I think the main difference is not solvent solution percentage, but is surface area.  If one adds some water, the volume in the barrel goes up and more wood surface is exposed to liquid.

 

I think in the long run this will fail.  There's been zillions of attempts to mimic age and there's not a good substitute for years in the barrel with the congeners reacting and bonding with one another.  

Hi @B.B. Babington,

 

Well, the purpose of this technique is NOT meant to mimic age in the barrel, and is not nor was ever intended as an accelerated aging technique. While I'm not a chemist by any stretch, it is common knowledge among those of us who work directly with the production of brown distilled spirits that different proofs in a barrel will pull out different compounds. I see this almost every day in my own work. 

 

And as I mentioned previously, the technique of very slowly reducing the proof of the spirit in the barrel over time has been used by the French Cognac, Calvados, and Armagnac industries for centuries, at least for the highest end products, and thus it has done anything but fail. For example, for a very high quality XO Cognac, the slow reduction process usually begins at least 5 years before the anticipated release of the production, and often it is done many, many more years beforehand, as in 10, 15, or 20 or more years. And this method would be done for brandies that are already 15, 20, or even 30 years old, so there is plenty of time in the barrel. When I worked at the Germain-Robin brandy distillery, we used these centuries-old methods for our XO and other higher-end brandies. The methodology is tried and true. 

 

Of course, the traditional reason to use this slow reduction technique is that it helps to prevent the possibility of saponification of the brandy as the alcohol by volume gets closer and closer to 46%, which, depending upon whether or not it was distilled on the lees, is the danger point for saponification. But it does have the added benefit of helping to create a softer, rounder palate, with more wood sugars and richness. 

 

As such, in the case of what I'm doing at Still Austin distillery, it is really just taking this old, time-tested production technique and applying it to Bourbon. There's nothing new or gimmicky about it.

 

Finally, to everyone else who is part of this group discussion, I should also note that I use Slow Reduction techniques with ALL of the distilleries I have worked with over the years, not just Still Austin. Not everyone does the more labor intensive adding-water-to-the-barrel technique, but they all use a version of it for all their products that are not meant to be barrel strength and unreduced. This would include Smooth Ambler, Iron Root Republic, J. Henry & Sons, Joseph Magnus, Virginia Distillery Company, Wyoming Whiskey, and a whole host of other distilleries. 

 

Cheers,

Nancy

Edited by WhiskeyBlender
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Old Hippie

Curious as to how much head space is used up in this process, and its effect on oxidation.

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B.B. Babington

Sorry if it sounds like I'm attacking.  Just pointing out some things.  Perhaps, you want to hire me?  I know how to mimic age but tooling would be expensive if done safely.

 

I agree that different proofs can pull differently, especially when talking 10% vs 80%.  At 50% vs 60%, things like humidity, temperature, wraps, agitation, IMO make much more difference than proof.

 

Saponification?  I assume you're talking about congeners and not alcohol itself?  If you're talking about the alcohol, years ago I had years long problem with polymerization between alcohol and acetates in presence of base.

 

I see this reduction method as just being a more sophisticated version of Devil's Cut to try to get more wood into solution.  Much easier just to do like 46 and add staves to barrel, which is cheaper than using smaller barrels.

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B.B. Babington

I'm curious about "saponification" and thinking maybe you're talking about one of a few different types of emulsion phenomena.  When adding water to distillate, a gradient forms and cloudy mixture might be observed as components come out of solution or more likely form emulsions.  One can stir or heat the solution (without losing much ethanol) and often cloud goes away.  Violent stir may break emulsion.  I'm sure you're familiar with the "Ouzo Effect" which occurs in wide variety of drinks: ouzo, sambuca, absinthe, tsipouro, 

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GeeTen

You know, when you guys start talking all nerdy like this, I get goosebumps up and down mah arms.   🤣

 

 

 

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B.B. Babington
16 minutes ago, GeeTen said:

You know, when you guys start talking all nerdy like this, I get goosebumps up and down mah arms.   🤣

 

 

 

I think Nancy might agree.  If one uses only science, product meh.  If one uses only art, product meh.  Combine science and art, product is, well, art.

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WhiskeyBlender
Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, B.B. Babington said:

Sorry if it sounds like I'm attacking.  Just pointing out some things.  Perhaps, you want to hire me?  I know how to mimic age but tooling would be expensive if done safely.

 

I agree that different proofs can pull differently, especially when talking 10% vs 80%.  At 50% vs 60%, things like humidity, temperature, wraps, agitation, IMO make much more difference than proof.

 

Saponification?  I assume you're talking about congeners and not alcohol itself?  If you're talking about the alcohol, years ago I had years long problem with polymerization between alcohol and acetates in presence of base.

 

I see this reduction method as just being a more sophisticated version of Devil's Cut to try to get more wood into solution.  Much easier just to do like 46 and add staves to barrel, which is cheaper than using smaller barrels.

Hi @B.B. Babington

 

I'm not offended in the least! I just happen to disagree with you, because I work with this stuff on a daily basis. I readily admit that I don't have a chemistry background, but as a Master Blender, I have worked with this stuff for years and seen the results, I've taught it to distillers and blenders internationally and seen their results, and I've studied with people who have 30, 40, or even 50+ years of experience with it, and whose families have been doing this for 200, 300 or 400 or more years. I feel like I'm in 1st grade next to some of these people. 

 

Certainly ABV's as far apart as 10% to 80% will pull differently from the barrel, but I respectfully disagree in that there cannot be big differences in what is pulled from the barrel between 50 to 60% alcohol (or even between 50 and 40%, etc.). Of course, this will be affected by things like humidity, temperature, ventilation and evaporative loss, etc. In fact, I've found that in certain maturation environments, even small differences in proof can make a significant difference, such as between 110 and 114, or 118 and 122, etc. 

 

Regarding the mimic-ing of age, Slow Reduction is not the tool to do that, nor is it meant to be, as that is used to prevent saponification, enhance roundness and finesse, and help with the overall spirit & water integration. But there is a very sophisticated, and very old, traditional tool to do that. It is called "boisé." This French blending technique is essentially an oak tea that is fortified to between 15 to 30% ABV, which is then aged for 20, 30, 60, even 100 years or more. A very small amount is used in a coupe mere, perhaps no more than .05 to .5%, in order to help give a bit more semblance of matured oak notes. Although this technique isn't permissible in the Bourbon world, I personally find it to be a much more sophisticated method of achieving that "more matured" goal than doing something like Maker's 46 with the staves added (much less using small barrels!). To my palate, all that does is to create a lot of angularity in the spirit, with a lot of too obvious oak and angular tannins. 

 

Also, you note that you believe this reduction method is just a more sophisticated version of Devil's Cut to try to get more wood into the solution. In actuality, the slow reduction methodology done in the barrel over time is the absolute antithesis of trying to get more wood into the solution. Again, since I originally come from the artisanal and ancient French blending tradition, the goal for creating a well-balanced spirit is to be rather SHY on the oak, and to have a balance between oak, alcohol, and congener content. Thus, this methodology actually helps a spirit, whether it be a brandy, Bourbon, rum, or other brown spirit, to have less obvious oak notes and creates less angularity and promotes more roundness and finesse. 

 

The Devil's Cut methodology is a little closer to the methodology of petite eau/vieilles fables (i.e., "small water" or "old weak") than it is to slow reduction. Petite Eau is essentially water that is fortified between 15 to 30% ABV and is aged for many, many years. It is sometimes used instead of water in the barrel to bottle reduction process in order to give more caramelized wood sugars, roundness, and richness to a blend. 

 

Ah, saponification! So, at least in the brandy world, when wine is distilled on the lees, it can have a good deal of fatty acids to it. Even more than the fat that grapes naturally have. If a brandy is reduced from barrel to bottling strength quickly, it will essentially turn to soap. A brandy that is destined to be at least XO quality is usually put into its first barrel at about 70% (VS or VSOP levels are often reduced from 70 to 55% ABV very quickly, which affects quality). If it is destined to be that kind of XO brandy that will be very high end and mature for many years, if it is allowed to reduce in the cask naturally over time, it will usually be put into a humid chai (pronounced "shay," i.e., cellar) so that it can naturally fall in proof. This process usually takes about 45 years, assuming that you have the right maturation conditions.

 

But if you have a drier shay and the necessary humidity for this process is not available, then the brandy will have to be reduced with either water or petite eaux/vieille faibles over the course of many, many years. Thus, slow reduction is used to help prevent the brandy from becoming soapy. The closer the ABV gets to 46%, depending upon the amount of fatty acids and lees, the more of a danger this possibility will become. As an example, let's say we have a coupe that is about 15 years old, and I want to bottle it in 10 years. If the ABV has stayed around 70% in the barrels during the first 15 years, I would do a very small reduction once a year, and when I got close to 46% ABV, I would then go even slower in reducing between 46 to 43%, then even slower from 43% to 42%, and between 42% and 41.5%, this is where any final additions of boisé, sirop, or petite eau would be made. My final production should show much finesse, richness, roundness, good structure and complexity, being shy on the oak with good balance. 

 

At any rate, I'm not sure how articulate I am right now, as I've been working in the Wyoming Whiskey warehouses a good deal of the day and then started my long drive back home to California. I suppose the message that I'm trying to get across to you, but that I don't seem to be succeeding at, is that slow reduction is not a tool to accelerate maturation or to get more wood in a spirit, and that it has an entirely different purpose. There are other traditional blending tools that do that job if that is the outcome desired. 

 

With that, Sláinte to you and everyone else! 

 

P.S. to @GaryT, I don't know if you plan on releasing your Still Austin tasting notes to the group or as a PM, but I'm very excited to hear what you think!

 

Nancy

 

 

Edited by WhiskeyBlender
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Richnimrod
8 hours ago, WhiskeyBlender said:

Hi @B.B. Babington

 

I'm not offended in the least! I just happen to disagree with you, because I work with this stuff on a daily basis. I readily admit that I don't have a chemistry background, but as a Master Blender, I have worked with this stuff for years and seen the results, I've taught it to distillers and blenders internationally and seen their results, and I've studied with people who have 30, 40, or even 50+ years of experience with it, and whose families have been doing this for 200, 300 or 400 or more years. I feel like I'm in 1st grade next to some of these people. 

 

Certainly ABV's as far apart as 10% to 80% will pull differently from the barrel, but I respectfully disagree in that there cannot be big differences in what is pulled from the barrel between 50 to 60% alcohol (or even between 50 and 40%, etc.). Of course, this will be affected by things like humidity, temperature, ventilation and evaporative loss, etc. In fact, I've found that in certain maturation environments, even small differences in proof can make a significant difference, such as between 110 and 114, or 118 and 122, etc. 

 

Regarding the mimic-ing of age, Slow Reduction is not the tool to do that, nor is it meant to be, as that is used to prevent saponification, enhance roundness and finesse, and help with the overall spirit & water integration. But there is a very sophisticated, and very old, traditional tool to do that. It is called "boisé." This French blending technique is essentially an oak tea that is fortified to between 15 to 30% ABV, which is then aged for 20, 30, 60, even 100 years or more. A very small amount is used in a coupe mere, perhaps no more than .05 to .5%, in order to help give a bit more semblance of matured oak notes. Although this technique isn't permissible in the Bourbon world, I personally find it to be a much more sophisticated method of achieving that "more matured" goal than doing something like Maker's 46 with the staves added (much less using small barrels!). To my palate, all that does is to create a lot of angularity in the spirit, with a lot of too obvious oak and angular tannins. 

 

Also, you note that you believe this reduction method is just a more sophisticated version of Devil's Cut to try to get more wood into the solution. In actuality, the slow reduction methodology done in the barrel over time is the absolute antithesis of trying to get more wood into the solution. Again, since I originally come from the artisanal and ancient French blending tradition, the goal for creating a well-balanced spirit is to be rather SHY on the oak, and to have a balance between oak, alcohol, and congener content. Thus, this methodology actually helps a spirit, whether it be a brandy, Bourbon, rum, or other brown spirit, to have less obvious oak notes and creates less angularity and promotes more roundness and finesse. 

 

The Devil's Cut methodology is a little closer to the methodology of petite eau/vieilles fables (i.e., "small water" or "old weak") than it is to slow reduction. Petite Eau is essentially water that is fortified between 15 to 30% ABV and is aged for many, many years. It is sometimes used instead of water in the barrel to bottle reduction process in order to give more caramelized wood sugars, roundness, and richness to a blend. 

 

Ah, saponification! So, at least in the brandy world, when wine is distilled on the lees, it can have a good deal of fatty acids to it. Even more than the fat that grapes naturally have. If a brandy is reduced from barrel to bottling strength quickly, it will essentially turn to soap. A brandy that is destined to be at least XO quality is usually put into its first barrel at about 70% (VS or VSOP levels are often reduced from 70 to 55% ABV very quickly, which affects quality). If it is destined to be that kind of XO brandy that will be very high end and mature for many years, if it is allowed to reduce in the cask naturally over time, it will usually be put into a humid chai (pronounced "shay," i.e., cellar) so that it can naturally fall in proof. This process usually takes about 45 years, assuming that you have the right maturation conditions.

 

But if you have a drier shay and the necessary humidity for this process is not available, then the brandy will have to be reduced with either water or petite eaux/vieille faibles over the course of many, many years. Thus, slow reduction is used to help prevent the brandy from becoming soapy. The closer the ABV gets to 46%, depending upon the amount of fatty acids and lees, the more of a danger this possibility will become. As an example, let's say we have a coupe that is about 15 years old, and I want to bottle it in 10 years. If the ABV has stayed around 70% in the barrels during the first 15 years, I would do a very small reduction once a year, and when I got close to 46% ABV, I would then go even slower in reducing between 46 to 43%, then even slower from 43% to 42%, and between 42% and 41.5%, this is where any final additions of boisé, sirop, or petite eau would be made. My final production should show much finesse, richness, roundness, good structure and complexity, being shy on the oak with good balance. 

 

At any rate, I'm not sure how articulate I am right now, as I've been working in the Wyoming Whiskey warehouses a good deal of the day and then started my long drive back home to California. I suppose the message that I'm trying to get across to you, but that I don't seem to be succeeding at, is that slow reduction is not a tool to accelerate maturation or to get more wood in a spirit, and that it has an entirely different purpose. There are other traditional blending tools that do that job if that is the outcome desired. 

 

With that, Sláinte to you and everyone else! 

 

P.S. to @GaryT, I don't know if you plan on releasing your Still Austin tasting notes to the group or as a PM, but I'm very excited to hear what you think!

 

Nancy

 

 

A quick question, which I hesitate to even ask, as I imagine many here will already know the answer, and I abhor burdening you with foolishness.....

When you say; "distilled on the lees"... What does it mean?

Drive safely, be careful about that damned virus and hopefully arrive in good condition.   Otherwise, I'd never forgive myself for asking you to respond to my ignorance.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Richnimrod said:

A quick question, which I hesitate to even ask, as I imagine many here will already know the answer, and I abhor burdening you with foolishness.....

When you say; "distilled on the lees"... What does it mean?

Drive safely, be careful about that damned virus and hopefully arrive in good condition.   Otherwise, I'd never forgive myself for asking you to respond to my ignorance.

@Richnimrod, that's not a dumb question at all! I was just typing away and not even thinking about the need to explain things like that. 

 

First things first: "lees" are essentially the dead, residual yeast cells left over after a wine fermentation that precipitate to the bottom of a tank. In the beer brewing world, this is known as "trub." 

 

So if you ever hear the term for a white wine having been aged "Sur Lies," it means "on the lees." For the fabrication of brandy, using a wine that has light lees in it can add a lot of complexity and body, and can be a good choice to use if you intend to lay that brandy down for a long time (i.e., 20, 30, 40, 50, even 60 years, depending upon the maturation potential of the brandy). After the course of about 15 to 20 years of maturation, the brandy might begin to develop an elusive but very prized aroma known as "rancio," which is essentially a nutty, almond, hazelnut type of note that comes from the oxidized esters of fatty acids from the lees.

 

For brandies that have been distilled "sur lie," it is absolutely CRUCIAL to use a slow reduction process , since the possibility of saponification is amplified. In fact, for some VS or VSOP level Cognacs and other brandies, they will do an immediate water reduction after distillation from 70% down to 55% ABV before putting that brandy in the barrel in order to speed the process along. However, you can actually smell it when they have done this, as the alcohol, water, and fats will smell "separated." It is a hard concept to explain if you haven't been trained to smell it, so my apologies.

 

Interestingly enough, I can smell this "separation" note on some Bourbons that have a lot of fat and that have been quickly reduced from bottling to barreling strength. That's one reason that I like to use some version of slow reduction for all the distilleries that I blend for. Even if there is little to no danger of saponification (which, believe it or not, I have seen saponification with certain Bourbons), at the very least the process really helps keep this "separation" note from happening and helps to really integrate all the flavors. 

 

I digress....with that, I've got to make it from Jackson, WY to somewhere in the Nevada desert tonight if I plan to be home by tomorrow night, so I'd better run. I'll be ULTRA careful out there with Covid and with driving in general, I promise! 

 

Meanwhile, I hope that helps explain things a little further? 

 

Cheers,

Nancy 

P.S.- In the photos below, the blending tanks at Wyoming Whiskey, where we do slow reduction from barrel to bottling for certain expressions; my trusty distillery dog, Brandy, who came along for the ride and helped me work in the warehouses the past two weeks and also helped sniff out barrels. 

 

IMG_4402.jpg

IMG_4481.jpg

Edited by WhiskeyBlender
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VAGentleman

When you do slow reduction from barrel to bottling strength in bourbon, how slow do you go?  Is it a couple days, a couple weeks?  Just curious as I know a lot of craft distilleries say they do this and its usually a week or two.  Wondering what a true pro does.  And as always thanks for all the information!

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afmadd
10 hours ago, WhiskeyBlender said:

@Richnimrod, that's not a dumb question at all! I was just typing away and not even thinking about the need to explain things like that. 

 

First things first: "lees" are essentially the dead, residual yeast cells left over after a wine fermentation that precipitate to the bottom of a tank. In the beer brewing world, this is known as "trub." 

 

So if you ever hear the term for a white wine having been aged "Sur Lies," it means "on the lees." For the fabrication of brandy, using a wine that has light lees in it can add a lot of complexity and body, and can be a good choice to use if you intend to lay that brandy down for a long time (i.e., 20, 30, 40, 50, even 60 years, depending upon the maturation potential of the brandy). After the course of about 15 to 20 years of maturation, the brandy might begin to develop an elusive but very prized aroma known as "rancio," which is essentially a nutty, almond, hazelnut type of note that comes from the oxidized esters of fatty acids from the lees.

 

For brandies that have been distilled "sur lie," it is absolutely CRUCIAL to use a slow reduction process , since the possibility of saponification is amplified. In fact, for some VS or VSOP level Cognacs and other brandies, they will do an immediate water reduction after distillation from 70% down to 55% ABV before putting that brandy in the barrel in order to speed the process along. However, you can actually smell it when they have done this, as the alcohol, water, and fats will smell "separated." It is a hard concept to explain if you haven't been trained to smell it, so my apologies.

 

Interestingly enough, I can smell this "separation" note on some Bourbons that have a lot of fat and that have been quickly reduced from bottling to barreling strength. That's one reason that I like to use some version of slow reduction for all the distilleries that I blend for. Even if there is little to no danger of saponification (which, believe it or not, I have seen saponification with certain Bourbons), at the very least the process really helps keep this "separation" note from happening and helps to really integrate all the flavors. 

 

I digress....with that, I've got to make it from Jackson, WY to somewhere in the Nevada desert tonight if I plan to be home by tomorrow night, so I'd better run. I'll be ULTRA careful out there with Covid and with driving in general, I promise! 

 

Meanwhile, I hope that helps explain things a little further? 

 

Cheers,

Nancy 

P.S.- In the photos below, the blending tanks at Wyoming Whiskey, where we do slow reduction from barrel to bottling for certain expressions; my trusty distillery dog, Brandy, who came along for the ride and helped me work in the warehouses the past two weeks and also helped sniff out barrels. 

 

IMG_4402.jpg

IMG_4481.jpg

Wait, is Brandy able to identify good bourbon?  Or just bad barrels?

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Posted (edited)
12 hours ago, VAGentleman said:

When you do slow reduction from barrel to bottling strength in bourbon, how slow do you go?  Is it a couple days, a couple weeks?  Just curious as I know a lot of craft distilleries say they do this and its usually a week or two.  Wondering what a true pro does.  And as always thanks for all the information!

@VAGentleman, well, I suppose it depends upon the distillery, but at least for the distilleries I personally work with, it is never less than 1 month, with the average being about 3 months. With some distilleries such as Iron Root Republic, Still Austin, and J. Henry & Sons, it is usually between 6 months to 1 year, possibly even a little longer. For a few of the highest end whiskeys at Jos. Magnus that are not at barrel strength, I usually take about 6 months to a year and a half. Interestingly enough, though, in the brandy world, that amount of time would be extremely short! 

 

And to @Old Hippie's question regarding how much head space is used up, that will usually depend upon the evaporation rate in the barrel, as well as how much water is put into barrel at any given time. In a place like Texas, where both Iron Root and Still Austin are, the yearly evaporation rate is usually going to be somewhere between 10 to 12% per year. At Iron Root, literally no more than a liter of water is put into a barrel during a reduction session, and it slowly drips into the barrel. There is usually still quite a lot of head space from the evaporation, which is desirable since that helps to promote oxidation, so the process really does not "top up" per se.

 

Of course, the more slowly you do the reductions both in time and during each session, the more seamless the alcohol and water will be. 

 

Finally, to @afmadd's question about my dog Brandy, she's great at identifying BOTH good Bourbon and bad barrels! This little girl is on the job! Below, she's walking through the ricks, sniffing out the best barrels. 

 

Alright, with that, over and out for now. I drove 11+ hours today from Jackson, WY to Reno, NV. Can't wait to make it back home tomorrow. I'm absolutely beat tonight. 

 

Cheers All!

Nancy

IMG_4474.jpg

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Richnimrod
On 7/1/2020 at 11:43 PM, WhiskeyBlender said:

@VAGentleman, well, I suppose it depends upon the distillery, but at least for the distilleries I personally work with, it is never less than 1 month, with the average being about 3 months. With some distilleries such as Iron Root Republic, Still Austin, and J. Henry & Sons, it is usually between 6 months to 1 year, possibly even a little longer. For a few of the highest end whiskeys at Jos. Magnus that are not at barrel strength, I usually take about 6 months to a year and a half. Interestingly enough, though, in the brandy world, that amount of time would be extremely short! 

 

And to @Old Hippie's question regarding how much head space is used up, that will usually depend upon the evaporation rate in the barrel, as well as how much water is put into barrel at any given time. In a place like Texas, where both Iron Root and Still Austin are, the yearly evaporation rate is usually going to be somewhere between 10 to 12% per year. At Iron Root, literally no more than a liter of water is put into a barrel during a reduction session, and it slowly drips into the barrel. There is usually still quite a lot of head space from the evaporation, which is desirable since that helps to promote oxidation, so the process really does not "top up" per se.

 

Of course, the more slowly you do the reductions both in time and during each session, the more seamless the alcohol and water will be. 

 

Finally, to @afmadd's question about my dog Brandy, she's great at identifying BOTH good Bourbon and bad barrels! This little girl is on the job! Below, she's walking through the ricks, sniffing out the best barrels. 

 

Alright, with that, over and out for now. I drove 11+ hours today from Jackson, WY to Reno, NV. Can't wait to make it back home tomorrow. I'm absolutely beat tonight. 

 

Cheers All!

Nancy

IMG_4474.jpg

That is one cute pooch, Nancy!   And, quite a nappy gal.   Has she been shorn?   ...Or, does her hair stay that short and curly?

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WhiskeyBlender
3 hours ago, Richnimrod said:

That is one cute pooch, Nancy!   And, quite a nappy gal.   Has she been shorn?   ...Or, does her hair stay that short and curly?

Thanks @Richnimrod! She went to the groomers a few weeks ago to get her "summer cut."

 

When she isn't shorn, she very much resembles a black sheep! 🤣

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