Craft Comes of Age
By Charles K. Cowdery
Style diversity is a key characteristic of American craft whiskey, but most have one thing in common: youth. They are generally young compared to what the legacy producers deliver, lacking the years in a barrel that lead to mature-tasting whisky. No one has solved the aging puzzle either. Young whiskeys taste young.
Unlike most other countries, there is no minimum wood aging duration for American whiskey. Any amount of wood contact will suffice. One type of whiskey, corn whiskey, doesn’t need to be aged at all.
American whiskey making tradition has deep roots. Fifty years ago, when bourbon sales slumped, several large producers petitioned federal regulators to change certain whiskey labeling rules. One proposal, in imitation of foreign practice, would have imposed a minimum age requirement.
The regulators demurred, stating that, “No need was established for a minimum age requirement for current domestic types of whisky.” The ruling further observed that, “there are no appreciable amounts of immature whiskies currently being sold. Although some whisky is being offered at less than two years of age, this is, in the main, corn whisky. In any event, the present regulations protect the consumer by requiring all whiskies less than four years old to bear a true age statement.”
Why 4 years? Because that is the age at which American straight whiskey, aged in new charred oak, is traditionally considered ‘fully mature.’ That assumption underlies both the age statement rule and the specifications for bottled in bond whiskey.
Craft distillers play by their own rules, as they should. The last thing we need is a bunch of small, new distilleries trying to imitate the big, established ones…
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