No, this blog post isn’t your generic rant on relationship advice, this is a whole different story:

This is the story of a shot of whiskey.

The shot that starts the party

The shot that gives you company on lonely days.

The shot that saves you from misery

Or the shot that gives you courage to do something you otherwise wouldn’t have

This elixir is made from water, grain, and some magic- yeast.

Here’s a picture explaining how its made

Fast ageing, game changer/gimmick?

The only problem here- AGEING. Waiting is the hardest part. Many craft distillers usually wait for 2-4 years, but others are employing new ways to cut this time down- significantly.

Tuthiltown Spirits, based in Gardiner, New York use small barrels, ranging from 3-10 gallons, much smaller than the typical 53 gallons. This ensures a higher surface area and faster aging. In Tennessee, Prichard’s Distillery also use barrels up to 15 gallons to speed up the aagingprocess!

The Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia steeps charred apple, peach and oak woods in their barrels of whiskey to add extra layers of flavour and aroma.

How its done

Smaller barrels and increasing the surface area are the solution, but, only part of it.

The whiskey must be continuously absorbed to reduce undesirable flavour while adding desirable ones. Changes in temperature aid this process to a large extent, by improving the flow along the surface areas and facilitating pressure changes within the retort. Cleveland Whiskey, based in Cleveland, Ohio has gained a lot of media attention for this exact process! Tom Lix, the CEO of Cleveland Whiskey says that this method turns year long maturation and waiting processes into a day-to- day affair. “Think about a sponge [underwater], when you squeeze it,” says Lix. “When you let it go, water rushes in. That’s essentially what we do, but we take young spirits and put them in stainless tanks with a measured amount of wood.”

Buuuuut… it surely can’t have such a simple solution, or… can it?

Mark Gillespie, the host and executive producer of the podcast WhiskyCast, says. “Whiskey makers have been trying to speed up maturation for decades, and if they’d been able to come up with a technique that actually worked, we’d have seen the Scotch Whisky Association try to get the ‘traditional practices’ rules taken out of the laws governing Scotch whisky production.”

Umm.. But.. But what about fast whiskey? No fast whiskey?

Here’s a sad puppy dog face of David Tenant to satisfy the Whovian in me and express the sadness that I feel. (No I am not an alcoholic…….yet.)

Tl;DR : The whiskey industry is being dominated by multi-billion conglomerates that have been ruling for decades. Some companies have recently started challenging status quo with ‘fast aging technology’. While the product might be tasty and have desirable results, the science behind this is poorly understood. Many companies, nonetheless are closing the gap between tradition and speed to produce amazing products!

Let me Science it up

From the plethora of articles and journals that I read, I have cherry-picked what you need to understand to understand the process. It is summed up in the following diagram.

The hemicellulose in the oak is converted to acetic acid and then to ethyl acetate. This ethyl acetate is an important component of aged spirits. There exists a patent to be able to add ethyl acetate externally, but this disturbs the system, affecting other reactions.

Another huge unknown in the ageing process is the rate of oxidation.

“It seems to be that [oxidation] has to take place slowly and in just the right proportions,” says  Gary Spedding, biochemist, and owner of Brewing and Distilling Analytical Services (BDAS= BaDAS, pun intended). “If you’ve figured out the amount of oxygen that would need to be consumed within five years to produce a five-year-aged bourbon, it’s not like, ‘Oh, now that I know how much oxygen to throw into it, let me throw that oxygen into the system and then see if I can do it in the space of a couple of days.’ It certainly doesn’t work that way.”

Current scenario

Well, while we don’t know the complete picture about the maturation process, the gap between traditional and non-traditional ageing is now closing. Like, Copper fox using unique woods for maturation, and Tuthilltown employing small barrel long term ageing. Copper Fox’s Wasmund and many of his peers do have many accolades to keep them on track. Tuthilltown has won 100s of awards from the likes of  International Wine & Spirit Competition dating back to over a decade. Cleveland Whiskey has shown that in blind taste tests with other brands, consumers preferred theirs’s more.

But yeah, I hereby leave you with Wasmund’s remark that I completely agree with:

“I think the industry invests a lot of effort in equating age with quality,” says Wasmund. “But all you need to do is let people try [the spirit] blind and take it from there.”

My verdict

Age doesn’t matter, personality does. 😉

Changing lifestyles, consumption habits of whiskey, high disposable income, growing affordability of whiskey, new innovative products in the market and increasing demand for premium whiskey are some of the factors driving the industry. But the industry needs to innovate to meet these demands and deliver more than plain, old whiskey (pun intended). Non traditional maturation could really be the future!