Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mini-Barrel Experiment, Step 1

My everloving, everpatient wife got me a whiskey barrel for Christmas. It wasn't a 53 gallon barrel, and it was empty, but it was still a thoughtful gift.

DIRECTIONS: 1. Put the wet stuff inside the round thing. 2. Wait.

I now had a 2 liter barrel and 1.5 liters of Wasmund's single malt spirit.

I also had a fair amount of warning, from real life and on-line, that this wasn't going to work. I was led to expect that most of it would evaporate and what was left would taste like an oak log. But I knew when I signed up that Science isn't for wimps, so I boldly filled the barrel (from Thousand Oaks) with water and waited a few days for it to stop leaking.

Then I funneled both bottles of 124 proof spirit into the barrel, and put it in the laundry room downstairs (not an Islay-like environment, but it is the warmest room on the coldest floor of my house, which is sort of like having a climate).

Time flew, and snow fell, and my son asked me the other day whether my whiskey was finished. I was at a loss. Had I finished all my whiskey? Even the bottles I hadn't yet told my everloving, everpatient wife I'd bought?

But no, he of course meant the stuff in the charming little barrel downstairs. I frankly admitted that I did not know whether it was finished, and thanked him for suggesting I check.

The whiskey (my apologies to non-Americans who might read this, but in my country it became whiskey as soon as it hit the inside of the barrel) was reluctant to come out -- maybe there's a wedge of charcoal blocking the stopcock -- but I eventually wrangled a small sample into a glass.

The Copper Fox Distillery disavows any knowledge of this liquid.

If I didn't know better, and if it didn't have little bits of char floating in it, I'd say it looked like the actual kind of real whiskey you can buy for dollars at the store. I was impressed, impressed enough to want to stop there and call it a success, but Science!

The nose of this whiskey -- which, six weeks earlier, was malt spirit being poured into a tiny, charred oak barrel -- was a combination of malt spirit and charred oak. And when I say "combination," don't think "blend" or "marriage" or "synthesis." Think a puddle of malt spirit soaked up with a scoop of ash. If this stuff were a buddy movie, they'd still be arguing over who gets to drive.

As for the taste, it was like something offered you by a neighbor who'd taken a correspondence course on the rectifying techniques of the 1860s, and only gotten as far as Lesson Three.

Still, I feel I learned a lot from that tiny sample. I learned how awful cattle drives must have been, if cowboys would walk into the nearest saloon and ask for a shot of whatever they had behind the bar. I think I understand, in a way I didn't before, the impulse toward government regulation of the distilling industry. And I grew tremendously in sympathy for the Temperance Movement, with the idea that perhaps there really was something to save the drinkers of the time from.

Which leaves me where? It's certainly too young to drink, and yet it may also be too late to save. (By "save" I mean "get to a point where I'd offer a taste to a friend or relation." I will never forget the expression on my dad's face when I offered him a sip of some hard cider I hadn't quite gotten right, and I don't want to do that to another human being ever again. But me, I can drink pretty much anything if there's enough lemons in the house.)

Long term, I'm thinking I'll try a few more experiments. Maybe not aging from new make, but a few weeks' marriage of different whiskies? Maybe get a solera barrel of miscellanies going (and stock up on lemons)? I hope to try an aged Manhattan before I do something that ruins the barrel for life (which, for example, could be aging a Manhattan in it). And maybe, just maybe, someday make something people would enjoy drinking for its own sake.

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