Category Archives: Wood Aged Spirits

Barrel-aged Coffee Infused Mezcal – Bitter and Bittererer

Yesterday I infused 6oz of El Scorpion Mezcal with 1/3 cup whole French Roast coffee beans.  After 24 hours, I strained the Mezcal – it was a dark, rich chocolate color.  Almost a full ounce of it surrendered itself to the beans. I poured half for today (later on today, rather) and half into my oak barrel.  I will report back in several days…

 

Bitter and Bittererer

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2pt Coffee Bean Infused Scorpion Mezcal Silver — 1pt Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth — 1pt Scarlet Ibis rum — 1/2pt Benedictine — 4 dashes each El Guapo Whiskey Barrel-aged Cocoa Tea and Titze Bear’s Den Aromatic Bitters Pour half for now, other half in barrel (I previously barrel-aged a boulevardier in mine)

All Around the World

I don’t travel Internationally nearly as much as I’d like.  I tell myself I can’t afford it – but that’s not the truth.  The truth is – I am gainfully employed and prioritize my funds according to my values, just as every other gainfully employed person does.  I enjoy travel, but it also drains me quite a bit.  So much getting there, then getting back.  What environment will I come back to?  The Spartan life is not for me – I need beauty and whimsy e’reday.

 

Ultimately – I am in love with creating a dynamic environment within my home.  This is my world, and it is ever changing – just as I am.  Design, photography, cocktail creation, and experimentation are things I value – and my bank account proves that. Damn, my hobbies are expensive af.

 

I say all of this because while my travel game needs a lot of work – I can still experience parts unknown through drink.  I can connect with people from Scandinavia by drinking something they drink – Aquavit.  I can connect with people in Scotland – their land is in the Scotch.  I can connect with those in Haiti by drinking the rum they painstakingly produce.  Ok, enough of my musings, for now…

Pirate’s Purse

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1 3/4oz Rhum Barbancourt Rum (4yrs/3stars) — 3/4oz Linie Aquavit — 1/2oz Lime juice (though I think I overshot it – a bit) — 1/2oz Maple Simple (1:1) — 3 dashes each Peychaud’s and Dale Degroff’s Pimento bitters *This drink is deceptively mellow… it will sneak up on you, I betcha!t Also, I will revisit this recipe, maybe a little Laphroiag, too? Or omit something? Help y’all!* SPR

 

Oak Aging of Spirits

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Barrel-aged Boulevardier

I truly enjoyed my barrel-aging experience with the American White Oak Barrel I purchased on Amazon from Brew Naturally. *There are many other barrels out there that I’m sure are quite as good. I’m just sharing the specific one that I purchased…

Oak Aging is a process that I am fascinated with and passionate about. Once I learned the complicated – yet magical – chemical processes involved in aging spirits in wood, my respect for aged spirits deepened.

Let’s talk a little bit about wood. Wood is the PERFECT vessel to age spirits in. It has various natural sugars; chemical compounds called “lactones” that impart flavor and aroma; and tannins – which add color, aroma, and flavor. It is also porous – which allows evaporation to occur, and a small amount oxygen in (necessary for oxidation of the spirit, which also imparts color – browning apples, anyone?!) – whilst allowing spirit to stay in, as well. 

Perfect, right? 

American White Oak (Quercus Alba)  is often used to mature spirits.  There are several reasons for this 1) It is abundant in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly the Ozarks; 2) porosity allows for a) evaporation of spirit, b) oxidation (small amount of oxygen enters), c) pliability for barrel making; 3) high tannin content, w/potential for imparting over 400 different flavor/aromatic combinations to aging spirit

There are 3 components to Oak  (Quercus genus) heartwood:

  1. Cellulose –  40% mass of the wood, this organic compound has strength and chemical resistance.  It helps the wood maintain structure and remain durable.  
  2. Hemicellulose – 25% mass of the wood, also an organic compound, and is present in most plant cell walls, as is cellulose.  It has various sugars with lower molecular weights than cellulose- assisting in solubility of alcohol.  We have hemicellulose to thank for the “red layer” in charred oak barrels. 
  3. Lignin – 5-10% mass of wood – tannins!  As mentioned above, these polyphenolic compounds contain the potential for imparting 400 flavor/aromatic combinations to aging spirit!   

The constant interaction between the spirit and the (charred) wood barrel allows the 6 major processes of wood aging to occur:

  1. Extraction – Water and alcohol soak into the oak, extracting flavor and sweetness from the charred inside of the wood
  2. Evaporation – Depending on climate –  evaporation (“angel’s share” ) can account for 3-10% loss annually
  3. Oxidation – Evaporated spirit creates space in barrel, allowing air to enter into the barrel. O2 in the air forms aromatic compounds by dissolving into spirit — this is where “terroir” enters – which gives various spirits their unique “taste of place” (I’m thinking briny, seaweed infused Islay Scotch)
  4. Concentration – Depending on climate – water evaporates faster than alcohol, or conversely, alcohol evaporates faster. Either way, the volume of spirit is reduced, concentrating the aromas and flavors the magical (ok, so – yes – science – but it seems magical!) extraction/oxidation aging processes have imparted
  5. Filtration – Charred inner layer (red layer) allows filtration to occur, smoothing the spirit by absorbing sulfur and aldehyde compounds
  6. Coloration – Red layer, now caramelized by charring the inside of the barrel, adds reddish color to spirit, and oxidation colors further, adding brownish shade 

Phew!  Amazing stuff!  Now that we’ve distilled the oak aging process – don’t you just want some tawny, liquid sunshine?! Thank you oak, thank you chemistry, thank you terroir –  thank you, thank you!!!!! 

In closing, I am stoked and humbled knowing that so much dynamic chemistry is occurring during oak aging.  The ability to age cocktails at home is no gimmicky, dismissive project.  There is science/magic going on in there – and that is not to be taken for granted.

SPR

___________.  Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide, 2015. Washington, D.C.: The Society of Wine Educators, 2015.

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