Whisky Advocate

Do smaller whiskey barrels mature whiskey faster?

June 27th, 2011

Or do they just make whiskey taste woody faster?

I’ve been thinking about this recently because I’ve tasted a lot of whiskies over the past couple of years that were matured in smaller barrels. While it’s true that the big distillers are using them (e.g., Laphroaig Quarter Cask), their use seems to be more prevalent with the smaller, craft distillers. Why? They want to mature their young whiskey as quickly as possible and get it on the market.

Let me be clear right now and say that I have absolutely no scientific evidence to support what I am thinking. Indeed, I can’t even cite specific examples, because it’s not something I have been really taking notes on. So, take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

Still, what I have noticed on several occasions when tasting young whiskey aged in smaller barrels, is that the whiskey didn’t seem taste mature. It just tasted woody. The smaller casks provide for more contact with wood because of the larger surface area for a given volume of whiskey. But it still tasted “green,”  somewhat harsh, and very youthful in character.

So, I wonder: are we trying to cheat mother nature by using smaller barrels? Does it actually work, or are we just fooling ourselves?

Again, this is just a general observation. I have no facts to support my thinking here. But, I can tell you this: I was speaking with a very high official of a highly respected distilling company who is doing research on this topic, and their preliminary findings seem to support my thinking. Stay tuned for more information on this in a future blog post.

I respect (and embrace) the craft distilling movement and everything they do. I don’t want anyone to take this post the wrong way think I am accusing them of trying to pull a fast one on us. There are a lot of distillers using smaller barrels, not just the small guys. And like I said earlier, this is just a gut feeling of mine.

I do think that the use of smaller barrels as part of a mix of smaller and more standard size barrels can add a new flavor dimension and inject some extra wood influence into the whisky. Laphroaig Quarter Cask is an excellent example of this. But, I wonder what Laphroaig would taste like if all Laproaig was matured in quarter (or even smaller) casks?

111 Responses to “Do smaller whiskey barrels mature whiskey faster?”

  1. Nathan says:

    I absolutely agree. At this point I think of small cask aging and aging on wood chips as shortcuts to market that almost always result in an inferior product. The new distillery in Pittsburgh has come to the same conclusion and will be aging their whiskey in full-sized barrels only.

    • Jeremy says:

      Nathan, sorry this is off topic, but what distillery from Pittsburgh are you talking about. I used to live there so I would be very interested in this. Thanks

      • Nathan says:

        The distillery I referred to is Wigle Whiskey. They’re setting up on the first floor of the old Pittsburgh Wool Co building in the strip district. They plan to have wheat and rye white dog on the market by the end of the summer, as well as filling 50-100 barrels for aging.

        Their website is http://www.wiglewhiskey.com/.

  2. Lew Bryson says:

    Small barrels absolutely do not “just make whiskey taste woody faster”!

    They make it brown faster, too.

    I talked this over with three master distillers in Kentucky last week, just out of curiosity. One of them had taken a pretty close look at the issue (as in, empirically), but all three were unequivocal in their agreement: a lot of things have been tried, but nothing works like longer aging in bigger barrels. Now, given that all three are heavily invested professionally in large-barrel aging, you may not expect complete objectivity. But balance that against 50+ years of seeing all kinds of experiments to get faster, better aging…

  3. Jason Pyle says:

    John, I absolutely agree. I’ve been tasting and reviewing a lot of craft whiskeys lately. I’ve been impressed with a number of them, but some have had the intense wood note and flavors you mention. They were also still quite immature (funky, very cerealy, rough edges). When discussing the aging I was informed these whiskeys had been aged less than or around 6 months or so.

    This also got me thinking. I wonder if these smaller barrels are effective if aged a little longer – perhaps some of those flavors start to mellow and improve. That isn’t uncommon to see something like that happen in general with many barrels. Maybe there is still just so much that is not understood about these smaller barrels. The primary distilleries using them have to get the product out. They are distilling to capacity. So hopefully we’ll start seeing more whiskey aged 18 months or longer in these small barrels so we can get a better understanding of what the potential is for them.

    Anyways, it’s an interesting topic. I hope some of these distilleries aging in small barrels and producing very young whiskeys have put away some stock so we can see what the potential is down the line.

    • Wade Woodard says:

      Jason – Garrison Brothers in Texas has released 3 versions of their bourbon. The first was at 1 year old, the 2nd was a 2 year Straight Bourbon and 3rd was at 3 years. It has improved with age. I know they started with pretty small barrels, like 10 gallon, but as they got going increased this up to 20-25 gallon barrels. So age does help, but barrel size is important. Is the sweet spot a standard size barrel of 53 gallons?

  4. Wade Woodard says:

    I live in Texas and strongly support the craft distillers here in my state. Most of them are using smaller barrels for the reasons you mention. While they are making some good spirits, you just can’t cheat nature. Full size barrels properly aged do create a more balanced product.

    I (and many others that I know) have purchased a 5L charred mini barrel and tried additional aging at home. The results have been hit and miss. In my case, I filled barrel with 2 bottles of 1.75l of standard Wild Turkey 101. I let age for about 4 weeks and removed 1/2. This 1/2 was great. The other 1/2 was allowed to age 2 more weeks and became undrinkable in that time – woody and astringent.

    • Scott says:

      “Woody and astringent.” Perfect description of the early results I get whenever I age white spirit (typically one of the commercially available corn-liquor “moonshine” products, but sometimes blended with single-grain vodkas) in new 2L charred mini-barrels. Takes me close to a year to get something where the spirit has caught up to the immediate influx of the wood and the char characteristics. By which time I’m looking at an angel’s share of over 50 percent. I have much better results on the second fill; the spirit gets much less of a shock of tannic woodiness and hardly any of the almost butane-esque flavor that characterizes the first fill’s first months of contact with the new char.

      John’s comment points to, but doesn’t seem to quite tackle head-on, the question of how “maturity” differs from simple exposure to the barrel. Aside from the subjective matters of taste, there’s an important objective, scientific question here. Whatever it is that constitutes “maturity” must come from somewhere. There must be a physical process at work; though whisky may seem magical, there is actually no such thing as magic. It’s all physics and chemistry, top to bottom. So what, exactly, is the change that’s going on when we speak of “maturity”? What molecules are being removed, or added, over time, that are not added or removed in lesser time in smaller barrels?

  5. Paul Lynch says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the thoughtful start to a Monday. Nathan brought up my initial thought about chips and I would add wooden staves in barrels as well to this effort to get the trappings of maturity quicker. Wisdom like maturity is not something easily gotten or purchased. That being said, I have had some very good craft whisk(e)y and wish nothing but the best to our craft distillers out there. I just wish the economics did not push many of them to release a product they themselves may wish to age longer.

  6. Josh Scott says:

    John, great article and I agree! While I’m a big fan of Laphroaig QC, it still tastes rather young to me compared to the 15yr (my favorite) and the new 18yr. Contrary to the Ardmore Traditional Cask that is double matured and merely finished in the smaller cask.

    I’m certainly no maturation expert, but the engineer in me tends to get excited and geek out over the minor detail stuff. I think there’s still a lot to the maturation process we don’t know. And I think it’s safe to say there’s more to maturation than just the surface area of the wood. Many other factors play into the finished product (ambient temperature, time, humidity, ambient influences (i.e. salt spray), char level, etc.). It’s to no surprise at all these whiskies taste young. I’d be more surprised if they didn’t! Kilchoman comes to mind (albeit it’s primarily aged in ex-bourbon casks).

    To me, adding new make spirit to a quarter cask and allowing it to mature for 6 months, should produce a slightly woodier whisky than if it spent those 6 months in a standard cask. But both would still taste young. There’s nothing “magical” about QCs….just more wood surface area per volume of whisky. The real magic happens over time due to an infinite amount of variables.

    • Thomas W says:

      I can only agree on your remarks, as far as Laphroaig goes. I never “got” the QC, personally. I find that lacks the depth and body all the others have. And it does taste youngish, with (almost) everything happening upfront.

      • Bob Siddoway says:

        Really? I love QC and find it to be equally as tasty and complex as the 15, and clearly better than the 10 and 10 Cask Strength. The new 18 does still have it beat, however. I think the QC just has more floral notes than the average Laphroaig, but perhaps that is just the “young” taste you are describing.

  7. Nash Patel says:

    I’m a great Lover of Single Malt whiskies and Scotch, and I love Laphroaig, and recently I tried the Laphroaig 18, and I love the woody flavour in it, but I believe that whiskey aged in smaller barrels, didn’t seem taste mature. It just tasted woody, which I like, and most people may not, but I also believe the smaller the more the contact with wood, and at the same time but it still tasted “fresh” and very young in character..

  8. Ryan says:

    And I’ve seen this supposition spun the other direction by American brandy distillers maturing their products in U.S. barrels ranging from 100-to-200 liters, whom surmise that the actual maturity of many best-selling major-label Cognac brands is passively overstated by companies whom have not openly disclosed the aging their products within massive multi-thousand-liter tuns. Tuns that artisanal brandy distillers claim diminish the process of maturation compared to barrel-aged artisanal products of equal, or less, maturity. I suppose the supreme observation to take away from either exercise is that until any data-supported criterion is widely acknowledged; until there is a verified standard, there is primarily scattered data to base judgments on. And given that these judgments will always be the product of both empirical and aesthetic observations, it appears that there will always be unwidely acknowledged (proprietary), manifold standards of maturation.

    • Tadas says:

      Very interesting. Can you provide more information about what Cognac does on barrel aging and their practices. What are tuns? Are they made with oak?

      • Ryan says:

        Yes, the tuns are oak. They resemble multi-thousand litre wine tuns, or the vertical marrying (vatting) tuns some whisky distilleries use, shortly before bottling, for vatting single malt from various types of barrels. Except rather than just marrying emptied casks for a few months (as with some whisky), some Cognac companies also use tuns for maturation–following their distillate’s legal minimum two years in French oak barrels. Some artisanal Brandy distillers argue that because the ratio of stave surface area to distillate is so low in such huge tuns, Cognac of extensive tun maturation should not be considered of comparable quality to entirely barrel-matured Brandy or Cognac of equal age. Which seems the inverse of John’s inquiry.

      • sam k says:

        Tadas, tun is simply another word for tank.

  9. jim white says:

    As a wine writer and winemaker in Napa Valley, I need to share this urgent note with Scotch producers: DONT FALL DOWN THE SAME RABBIT HOLE THAT SO MANY ILL-ADVISED NAPA VALLEY WINEMAKERS DID!
    For the last 20 years, too many winemakers here have pumped up the wood in their wines to the point where the beverages are no longer food-friendly. It’s hard to find a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc that hasn’t been aged, or barrel-fermented (!) in wood; too many wines taste as though they’ve passed through the kidney of a beaver.
    I hope, John, that you are WRONG and that Scotch makers (the magic elixir which follows a good meal and a good bottle of wine) are not moving in this same woody direction.
    In sum: The best woody is a morning woody — not one that you have after dinner in your Scotch glass!

  10. Doug MacKenzie says:

    Hi John-
    Being a craft distiller facing these questions, I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re right. The research that I’ve done on maturation leads me to believe that there are three essential components:
    Absorption: The alcohol expanding and contracting within the wood to absorb color and flavor from the wood.
    Evaporation: A certain amount of liquid that evaporates out through the barrel depending on chemical makeup and climate.
    Oxidation: As liquid evaporates through the wood oxygen permeates back in through the wood.
    The only factor of the three that is accelerated by using a small barrel is absorption. You can’t cheat mother nature. If your goal is to have young, brown whiskey, then by all means the small barrel is the way. But if good whiskey is the goal, then there is no substitute for time in the barrel.
    You also have to ask the question “If there really was a way to speed maturation, wouldn’t the big guys already be doing it?” Being a distiller, when I see the amount of barrels inventoried at a large distillery, I see it through cost and tax liability eyes. I also know the amount of time and money these companies have to devote to R & D so if there really was a way to get their products to market faster I think they would have already found it.
    I say let vodka pay the bills while the whiskey waits patiently in a 53!

    • Mr Manhattan says:

      Word! I don’t see any substitute for the passing of the seasons and the normal cycle of oxidation/reduction which that allows.

      Michael

    • I think this is the perfect answer. Obviously SOME things will happen faster in a smaller barrel, with a higher suface area to volume ratio, but not all things. I think this can occasionally give the suggestion of a whisky that has matured beyond it’s actual years in the barrel, but the difference does not consistently stand up to rigorous taste comparisons against genuinely older whiskies.

  11. Larry says:

    Small barrels will change the ratio of wood:whiskey in the aging process. In a smaller barrel I would expect more wood to be exposed to the whiskey. So the aging wouldn’t really increase, but the concentration of compounds that whiskey extracts from the wood (at least in the early phases) would happen more rapidly in a smaller barrel. It will also increase aeration of the enclosed whiskey with increased surface area per volume of whiskey. So evaporation from this barrel will be faster as will the amount of dissolved oxygen in the whiskey, which I suspect will increase the rate of extraction from the wood again. I believe this is why wine barrels are sized in a standard fashion. To ensure the right rates of aeration and extraction of compounds from the barrel.

  12. David D says:

    Wow, what a great topic! I can say that personally there is no doubt in my mind that small barrels make whiskey oakier, browner, and richer faster than larger ones. However, like a hearty stew or good sauce, cooking something faster never results the same taste as simmering it slowly over time. There is absolutely no way that 15 years in a barrique would result in the same whisky that 30 years in hogshead could produce. However, I’ve never actually heard anyone claim that it would, so I’m not sure who we’re arguing against here. I don’t think smaller producers are saying that their young whiskies in barrique are comparable to older ones in bourbon or hogshead. Do we have any examples of that?

    • Ryan says:

      Fifteen years would be generous compared to the maturation of many small producer’s products. And I don’t believe the discussion is about casks the size of a wine barrique, is it? I’m no barrel expert, but isn’t a wine barrique about 30 gallons larger than a quarter cask, around 45 gallons larger than an octave, approximately the size bourbon barrel, and within 25 gallons of a hogshead? If so, then obviously a barrique would not be utilized with the intent of encouraging more prolific interaction between distillate and wood in the hopes of a more balanced product in less time than larger casks require. Whereas this is precisely what small producers utilizing quarter casks or octaves are aiming at. So it seems the issue isn’t whether or not small producers are claiming less time (much less than 15 years) in small casks is comparable to more time in large casks; but that if less time in small casks is not boosting the balance and maturity of the small producer’s product lines, then what is the point of utilizing them?

  13. JC Skinner says:

    One small point I’d make – since the whiskey is changed over time in contact with wood, it stands to reason that wood changes over time in contact with whiskey.
    Therefore, maturing whiskey quickly in smaller casks means that it is in contact with more younger wood for a shorter period of time than using bigger barrels for longer periods.
    I would suggest that one of the things that removes the green taste of new make is contact with wood that is itself ‘maturing’ for want of a better word.
    Having said all that, there are whiskeys (and some bourbons are good examples) that benefit from quicker rather than protracted maturing periods.

  14. The Bitter Fig says:

    This seems to tie into an interesting post Serge had on Whiskyfun about a week or two ago. His basic premise was that aging whisky has three major components to it. [1] getting the “young” out of the whisky [2] getting the wood into the whisky [3] the strange alchemy of leaving whisky in wood for a long time and getting unexpected results.

    It’s entirely plausible that small barrels do 2 faster, but have no effect on 1 and 3. That seems about right. *Some* of the benefits of aging will happen faster, but not all of them. As a commercial standpoint, if you’re running a small distillery and want to get some product out faster, it makes a degree of sense, but those distillers ought not think that they can get the other benefits of aging too…

  15. Quentin says:

    John,

    A timely post. I’ve been wondering recently if the industry has done any experiments to assess the potential impact of climate change. Particularly, have the Scottish distillers tried aging their product in other climes (e.g., Kentucky) to see what the impact of warmer seasons would have? I know it would no longer be legally sellable as Scotch, but I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that they are concerned about the long-term health of the industry in a potential future where the cooler climes they are used to are no more.

    Quentin

    • MedGuy says:

      I believe it would no longer be scotch if not matured in Scotland. But it would be a neat experiment to mature Scottish new make in Kentucky and maybe some Kentucky new make in Scotland.

      • Whisky Monique says:

        This experiment has been done. I remember hearing stories during our distillery tours in 2007 in Scotland. I’ll have to look through poorly archived notes to see the exact companies particpating… but, the conclusions were what you’d expect, neither product tasted anything like when they were matured at “home.” The results weren’t bad, just very different than expected.

        • Chap says:

          Great to see you on here, by the way!

          I figure that’s the next Buffalo Trace experiment: take the exact same mashbill, the same distilling run and same barrels from the same wood, then send them off to the four winds (Islay? Bangalore? Omaha? Cognac?) for the same amount of time to see what changed.

    • I’d say you get something similar to Amrut

      I have tasted a Jerusalem matured Arran, it was less than 3yo iirc, and as I got it blind I guessed it as a mixture of Scapa and Amrut…

      Hot climate do mature whisky faster, but not the same way as smaller barrels do

      Steffen

  16. mongo says:

    how do duncan taylor’s octaves work? they seem to have a lot of older whisky coming out of octaves.

  17. David says:

    Interesting. I recently heard an Irish distiller cast doubt on the proposition that whiskey matures faster in a smaller cask. And that company has tried it.

  18. Dave Pickerell says:

    John,

    Great topic! From a chemical engineering point of view (as well as one of a distiller), maturation of spirits in charred oak barrels should alway be thought of as a two part process.

    Part 1 is extraction … the physical action of dissolving the various wood chemicals and pulling them into solution in the maturing liquid. Principally, these wood chemicals include vanillins, wood sugars & carmelized wood sugars, lactones, acetic acid, tannins, etc. These compounds all extract at differing rates, but virtually all of the rates are affected by two major items: surface area to volume ratio and temperature swing during maturation. As such, small barrel maturation is clearly capable of substantially speeding up this portion of the maturation process. (a 10 gallon barrel has about twice the surface area to volume ratio as a traditional 53 gallon barrel). So, the color, woodiness, etc. noted by most of the previous respondents is clearly explained. The char also acting as a filter of sorts, tends to remove the “grainy” essences at the accelerated rate.

    Phase 2 is reaction … the complex series of chemical reactions that occurs in the liquid inside the barrel between the distillate chemicals, the wood chemicals, and oxygen. The rate at which this phase moves along is principally impacted by time alone, although temperature and concentration of the reactants also contribute to the rate of reaction. As such, small barrel maturation has little effect on this phase of the maturation. Although there is a small contribution due to the faster accumulation of extracted wood chemicals.

    The net result of small barrel maturation, then, is enhanced extraction with only a little effect on reaction (when applied to the typically shorter duration of maturation allowed). So the products tend to have LOTS of color and woody character, but not much depth of complexity. It seems to me that this depth of character could reasonably be expected to improve substantially with small barrel maturation completed with an appropriately selected finishing process.

    • Ryan says:

      So a distillate’s short stay in a small barrel serves to ‘cheat’ our sense perception, not mother nature? What I mean is, if increased wood component yield from small barrel extraction is adequate for rapidly masking some volatile constituents of young distillate (yet either additional time in the barrel, or additional ‘ACEing’, remain necessary for combined distillate and wood components to achieve a sensory impact we’d label: rich, soft, full-flavored, complex, mature, etc.) then aren’t briefly utilized small barrels primarily serving as ‘wood component yield amplifiers’ aimed at rapidly overwhelming volatile distillate constituents of immature whiskies with hefty doses of charred oak?

  19. Fear not! I’ve got some science to back you up on this. I figured my mini-nerd out on Twitter should be posted here, so here we go.

    Yes, small barrels don’t age a whisk(e)y. They just give it more wood flavors. The act of barrel aging can be broken down into three categories: wood derived chemicals, evaporation of unwanted volatiles, and restructuring of the water/ethanol mixture.

    First up is the extraction of chemicals from the wood. Increasing the surface area to volume ratio of a barrel to spirit will indeed extract chemicals readily available in the wood but you need time to further extract other chemicals. As you know, charring a barrel gives the spirit within a different taste than just raw oak: this is the act of breaking down lignins and cellulosein the wood, which make up the cellular structure of the wood along with cellulose and hemicellulose. However, the extraction of these chemicals takes time. Vanillin, vanillic acid, and the various aldehydes (syringaldehyde, acetovanillinone, etc.) take a few years to be removed (as the chemical reactions between the ethanol and various chemical compounds in the new make spirit are slow to take place without a catalyst). Also, the various sugars that come from heat degredation of the cellulose (cellulose is a polysaccharide or linked sugar). The sugars with the quickest uptake are arabinose, xylose, and glucose which give spirits a sweetness. However, fructose and glycerine can take two or three years to be leeched out as they need to be chemically broken down by ethanol within the barrel, they’re not just available to be extracted.

    Secondly is the evaporation of unwanted volatiles. Volatiles that evaporate during aging are propan-1-ol, ethyl esters (such as ethyl acetate), and acetaldehyde. Also, there is the evaporation of sulfur based compounds as well. The dimethyl sulphides evaporate over time as the spirit ages. While dimethyl sulphide itself evaporates rapidly, dimethyl di and trisulphides take upwards of 3-4 years to evaporate. While it’s true that, overall, the amount of “good volatiles” (i.e. volatiles that give positive attributes to the spirit) increase during maturation, there is definitely the venting of unwanted higher alcohols and off-product esters to contend with.

    Finally is the ethanol/water mixture quandry. If I were to tell you to take one cup of water and one cup of pure ethanol and mix them, and I asked you to tell me how much you have (volume), you’d say two cups. However, that’s not true. While a bottle of vodka or whisk(e)y seems as if it is a perfect distribution of ethanol and water, the realization is it’s not. Ethanol is a very, very polar chemical. As you may know, it is a two carbon chain with hydroxyl group (OH) on the end. The carbon chain is quite non-polar while the OH group is very polar. Being surrounded by a very polar fluid (H2O), the carbon chains are really, really uncomfortable. So they end up clumping together. The carbon chains will huddle in the center of a circle while the hydroxyl groups stick out on to interface with the H2O. This keeps the nonpolar carbon chain happy and the polar hydroxyl group happy at the same time. So, due to this clumping, you’d have about 1.7 cups instead of two. This clumping takes a lot of time to fully take place. The longer you let these groups sit, the tighter and more compact the clumps will be. It is aided further by the extracts from the wood in ways that we don’t actually know yet. One experiment conducted was (blasphemously) taking matured whisky and distilling it. After distilling, the clumping wasn’t as strong but after adding the wood extracts recovered back into the distillate, the clumping was just as strong as the aged whisky. I tell you this because this is the main difference between a new whisk(e)y and an aged whisk(e)y. That roughness that young whisk(e)y have can be attributed to the lack of clustering.

    Unfortunately, small barrels can only give a full effort on one out of three of these topics. It is easier for the ethanol to extract chemicals readily available in a smaller barrel but unfortunately, only time can provide ALL of those chemicals, evaporation, and appropriate water/ethanol interaction.

    Note: I’m just a Brewing and Distilling Science student and my knowledge of the subject is far from perfect. I’m still learning so I may have gotten a bit of this wrong and whatnot. Feel free to correct me. Actually, please correct me. I need to understand this for my master’s thesis.

    • Scott says:

      IWB’s explanation, especially the section on the molecular behavior of ethanol and H2O, is just about the most interesting thing I’ve read online this year. Thanks for that!

      • Well thank you!

        An interesting point on the water/ethanol thing that I forgot to mention is that only takes place at concentrations of ethanol higher than 20% by volume. This is why a lot of tasters cut their samples down to below this as it allows the true character of the spirit to come out. By watering it down to less than 20% ethanol by volume, it breaks up the ethanol clusters and makes for a uniform spirit.

        And yet again, thanks. Glad to see I can put my degree to good use. Soon enough I’ll have a thesis on exotic wood aging (with historical precedence) to talk about as well!

        • Whisky Monique says:

          Fascinating fascinating stuff! I would love to read anything else you’ve got, even be another editing eye on your thesis if you’d like. As a former Chem E student, now just a whisky lover, I miss this end of things. If we were studying whisky 15 years ago, maybe I’d have stayed the course.

          • Woo, Chem E! That’s my undergrad. It’d be lovely to get some help on the thesis. If you’ve got somewhere I can contact you at, I’ll get on that ASAP.

    • Hi IWB

      All your points are corrrect but I think you got the final volume wrong

      I get it to 1.93 cups !

      Here is my calculates

      lets say each cup is 100cl

      Thats 100*0.997/18=5.539 moles of water and

      100*0.789/46=1.715 moles of water

      18 is the molar weight of water, 46 being the molar weight of ethanol. 0.997 and 0.789 is the two liquids mass density

      At this fraction I get the partial molar volumes of the two components as

      Water : 17.5 Ethanol 56 (cl/mole)

      I read this from a table of my old 1986 physical chemistry book, the numbers are somewhat accurate

      Total volume is 17.5*5.539 + 56*1.715 = 193cl

      Maybe I am wrong as well, didnt use my chemistry degree in 25 years :-)

      The useful point of this (If there’s anyone left reading this) is that when you go to a bar and ask for a cocktail, thats measured out in a cup, ask them to pour the measured water first and then fill it up with alcohol to the line on the glass. :-)

      Steffen

  20. Rick Duff says:

    There are some things to keep in mind with the smaller barrels. They can be successful, however they won’t equal a larger barrel in total aging.. as the angels take too much to allow for aging a long time.

    Wood contact, evaporation, and oxidation is accelerated in these small barrels.
    The other item that matters and you can only get over time is the interaction with the environment. The changes in atmospheric pressure, the changes in heat, humidity, seasons. These come through time.

    A smaller barrel allows more of the whisky to interact with these, however the evaporation will win out.
    I’ve done a lot of experimentation with smaller barrels. I used to use 1 litre barrels.. but the staves are too thin and my angels too greedy. I keep 2 2 gallon barrels, and 1 3 gallon barrel on hand to age things. Timing is big on these. I’ll have a somewhat smokey whisky in one.. take a good sample and boy… it is really smoky.. then a month later I got to bottle and that smokiness is nowhere to be found.

    I agree that there is no discount for time.. however the smaller barrels can produce a good product in a shorter amount of time.. They can not create a masterpiece though in a shorter amount of time.

    Also remember what John was finding with the Buffalo Trace barrel experiment… there is a LOT of variation barrel to barrel depending on where on the tree the wood came from, and how it was dried.
    My 3 gallon barrel I got at Tuthiltown Distillery a few years back, along with it’s contents (bottled) of Bourbon. That stuff was mighty fine.. a real cherry of of batch. That wood in the barrel was special and it continues to age other stuff nicely for me.

    Also folks thinking of those beautiful rows of barrels at the distilleries… an awful lot of scotch gets carted off and is stored upright, stacked, in large warehouses in Glascow … very unromantic.. but even a lot of the cherished stuff from Islay is aged there.

  21. Adam Brewer says:

    Hi John, my name is Adam Brewer, hail from Brisbane Australia and one of my all time favourite whiskys is Laphroig Quater Cask.
    I didn’t read the above comments so sorry if I am about to repeat what some one else has already said.
    Once upon a time I was a Bar Tender but am currently conducting trainings for the WSET and their spirits course. One of the details we go over in every training is the elements evident in spirits produced in a pot still, the main thing that we emphasise on is the presence of “congeners” and explain that the aging process, in part, is to help mellow those congeners and allow complexity of flavour to develop (the tasting example we give is an unaged Blanco Tequila and an Anejo Tequila aged for 18 months. The variable that effects the way in which this occurs in time not size, so in short I think it would be very easy to prove what you are saying.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Personally I’m not crazy about Laph Quater Cask. I do think it has some youthful harshness and the oak on it is weird and kind of rough to me– almost to much viscosity and vanilla from the oak as sometimes happens to bourbon… It’s certainly not a more mature tasting Laphroiag.

      • John Hansell says:

        I like the concept of Laphroaig Quarter Cask. My only criticism is that there seems to be some young whisky there in the mix. If they just upped the age and did the same treatment, I think it could be a really great whisky. I feel the same way about Ardmore Traditional, BTW.

  22. bj reed says:

    Great responses everyone. I have learned a few things from the discussion especially of the distinction between contact with the wood and other factors in play – Maybe its extraction + interaction = highest satisfaction! :)

  23. Danny Maguire says:

    For what it’s worth, my view is that smaller casks will mature the whisky faster, but if you leave it much longer than 5 years it will start to take on a woody character in just the same way that it would have done matured for longer in a larger one. But then again there is the character of the individual cask and how that will affect the spirit, there again, where was it in the warehouse? There are so many variables. The size of the cask WILL have an effect, where it was in the warehouse WILL have an efffect, how good the cask is WILL have an effect, the length of time it’s in the cask WILL have an effect. Add them all together and you get that mystery of matured whisky. If they’re all good you will get a good whisky.

  24. Red_Arremer says:

    George Grant (Glenfarclas) told me that a whisky which might be in some respects too woody at 30yo might be just right at 50yo. He seemed to think that some chemicals went slowly back and forth between the whisky and the cask as the cask breathed.

  25. Tadas says:

    One thing that was not tuched – aging whiskey in super small barrels. They are sized from 2 liters to 10 liters or so. I have bought a barrel kit from Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia. Barrel was 2 liters in size. I lost 2/3 of the whiskey to evaporation in a year . Novel idea to age whiskey yourself as a consumer but it does not work :(

    • Rick Duff says:

      I seem to remember the folks at Tuthiltown saying that in the 2-3 gallon barrels they originally used, they equated 3 weeks in wood to 1 year in a 53 gallon barrel (from a loss and browning perspective.) If you had yours in the barrel for 1 year.. that would be like 21 years.. and 2/3 loss after 21 years would be quite normal. I did a 1 liter barrel in a HOT environment.. after 1 year I had not 1 drop left.
      I keep my 2-3 gallon barrels in my basement.. temps of 65-80.. higher humidity.. and I loosely wrapped them in plastic wrap after loosing 90% of some Glenglassaugh new spirit I had put in one.
      Evaporation is still high.. but not as high..
      A brand new charred barrel though will impart that woody astringent taste.. it gets much less so in 2nd 3rd etc.. fillings..
      I’m currently aging some Neutral Grain Spirit in one barrel, and Very Old Barton in another.. with some Olosoro Sherry Barrel chips thrown in for good measure.

  26. BG says:

    Tadas,
    Thanks binwas getting ready to buy a kit. What were the storage conditions?
    BG

  27. Chap says:

    I guess this is the place where I ask how the weather at the Amrut warehouse affects this again, and if larger barrels would have a useful effect…

    • Ryan says:

      Amrut’s site states they use, “maturation facilities in India with carefully controlled ambience.” Obviously ambience and climate are synonymous.

    • Ryan says:

      With regard to hot warehouses and larger barrels, worth mentioning that Kavalan (in Taiwan) claims to use barrels as large as 700 litres to slow evaporation on their top floor.

  28. JWC says:

    agree with everyone – can’t cheat time, just tastes woodier, etc., as for the small craft distilleries, a 1 year whiskey is going to taste like 1 year whiskey.

  29. Alex says:

    Another engineer here (well, student at least)…

    When I look at barrel aging I think about three areas: the wood/spirit interface, the gas in the barrel and the liquid itself. All of these things are affected by changing the barrel size and seeing as how so many people have commented on how mini consumer barrels lose a huge amount of spirit in a short amount of time you can’t chalk it up to only being a change in surface area to volume ration. So with a higher evapouration rate we’ll likely have a converse effect with an increase in the oxygen in the liquid which will speed some reactions as well.

    So I think there is more at hand here than that, but on the other side of the argument is that not all reactions happen at the same rate – IWB stated that some reactions between the alcohol and wood take literally years and with an increased loss of alcohol this is unlikely will get any kind of kick from a smaller barrel size.

    It is not the same as aging in a larger barrel but it’s not purely “woodier” either.

    • Tadas says:

      Mini consumer barrels have very thin walls. My guess is that it is the culprit for a fast evaporation.

      • Alex says:

        I’ve heard people talk of “tight” casks that lost very little (apparently Glenfarclas is a good example of this) but I assumed that had to do with how well they were crafted and how each stave fits with the others. Thinking about it for a moment though, thin walls will aid evap no matter if it’s occurring between walls or through walls so never mind.

        Still the point about high evaporation rates going hand in hand with higher oxygen levels stands

  30. M Lange says:

    I will say I have tasted a number of very good whiskeys from smaller barrels, like stuff from Hudson and New Holland, as well as some of the overly oaked stuff you guys are mentioning. As far as craft distillers go, my favorite whiskeys so far have come from smaller barrels, rather than those that have spent only 2 years in a full sized barrel. The trick seems to be knowing when to take the whiskey out of the wood, as the small barrels can get overly oaky and astringent very quickly.
    I will say that one major reason the big boys use the barrel size that they use is cost. It takes about the same amount of time and labor to produce a 5 gallon barrel as it does a 53 gallon one, so even though the materials cost is less, the cost of producing the barrels is relatively close. Or put another way, ten 5 gallon barrels cost WAY more than one 53 gallon barrel, even if you have your own cooperage. If you have the ability to wait 4-10 years to put your product out, it is more cost effective to use these bigger barrels.
    If you think of how 53 gallons became the standard size, I think of it as an evolutionary process. Things like the labor it takes to produce a barrel, the amount of aging time needed, the ease of filling and emptying the barrel, the ease of moving the barrels around a warehouse, and other considerations would all have been taken into account, and on balance, large distilleries settled on 53 gallons. Flavor would not have been the only consideration. For a newer distillery, these considerations might cause a distiller to come to a different conclusion.
    I would never argue that it is accelerated aging; statements like “1 year in a 15 gallon barrel is like 3 years in a 53 gallon barrel” seem crazy to me, because you aren’t going to get the exact same product, you’ll get something that is different but, I believe, can be high quality if done correctly.
    My two cents.

  31. Hi,

    One things I’m noticing in some of the comments is some conflating of terms and assumptions.

    Small: anything less than 53 gallons. But there’s a wide range of sizes available from 1 gallon to 25 gallon. How much oak extraction into the whiskey will vary depending on the size, obviously, and it won’t be the same across the range.

    Char: widely varying but assumed to be uniform which it’s not.

    “Harsh”: often equated with young, but not sure that’s true. Some well known and popular whiskies have a bit of bite, and that’s seen as a good thing (depending on the taster, and whether they consider “smooth” to be a characteristic of quality or insipidness). Not all white dog is harsh when young, even when straight from the still.

    “Funky”: not a quality of wood, nor aging in small barrels, a possible flaw of the distillate that may age out if given enough time and depending on how much is there.

    The aging process isn’t uniform across time and temperature and it seems that people assume that 6 years is 6 years in all cases. Might not be true.

    I don’t believe that small barrels age whiskey faster, but there’s some good whiskey that can be made and then aged in smaller barrels for less time. And there are some interesting things that can be done with small used barrels instead of new barrels. Armagnac is aged in an interesting way: first in new charred oak for oak/wood extraction then longer aging in used barrels. Totally not done in the US that I know of.

    Sorry to see the post late.

  32. Todd says:

    Don’t know how I missed this conversation… A few things I wanted to add. There has been some research out there on this.

    First, International Stave Company has looked at varying effects. Also, I know they were doing some research at Michigan State University. I wish my school would have had their own still. I believe they were looking at extraction rates, however. I don’t recall if they were looking at any other measures or not.

    I know folks have reported favorably on some micro-spirits, and against others. I am sure some of it may be due to barrel sizes, but I wonder if some is not due to the initial product that went into the barrel. This may be especially true if they are only aged for a short period of time.

    What about the difference between toast/char levels? I would assume that since there a very few small barrel coopers here, many of the barrels are fairly uniform between distilleries, but a level 3 toast is still a lot different from an alligator char.

  33. John Burlowski says:

    You are right… there is no “time machine”. Not better, not older, just woodier.

  34. JD says:

    Great topic, and great discussion. Thanks everybody for your posts… I’ve learned a lot.

  35. PeteR says:

    John, another great topic generating lots of posts. You can see there’s lots of passion on the subject from the length and abundance of posts.

    I’m wondering if many of the posters are equating “aged” and “matured” with “better”. Ultimately that is what most of us care for anyway. Does it make the spirit taste better to me?

    I for one find that there’s a wide range of aging periods resulting in similar “green” or harsh characters in the spirit as well as characters that I appreciate in my favorite drink. For example, Copper Fox Rye is only aged for 1 year using applewood, cherrywood and oak chips and the spirit is quite good to me. I’m sure it’s the same for the other end of the spectrum, though I can’t comment directly on those as I’ve tried very few whiskeys over 20 years in age.

    The good news is there’s lots of variants in wood aging and more than enough opportunities for the rest of us to taste them

  36. MedGuy says:

    What about bigger barrels?

    John mentioned Laphroaig Quarter cask which is relatively young but (for the sake of argument) maybe tastes like a 10-12 year old due to extra wood.

    Conversly…

    To you , does Lagavulin 16 y/o taste like a 10-12 year old with less wood because its matured in hogsheads (really big barrels)?

    • John Hansell says:

      I would say that Lagavulin 16 just tastes like Lagavulin 16.

    • Thomas W says:

      Sorry, but I do not agree with you on the QC. The depth of an older bottling is clearly not there IMO.

      • John Hansell says:

        I think they are using the QC to make up for the fact that they have some young whisky in there. I like the concept of using QC or smaller barrels, and I think that it has added a new dimension to the whisky, but it would be nice to see the whisky (as a whole) aged longer.

    • Tadas says:

      Yes, Lagavulin 16 y/o tastes to me like a younger and greener whiskey. It also has less oak impact you would expect from 16 y/o whiskey.

  37. Patrick says:

    As mentioned by In With Bacchus, the main advantage of small barrels is “Increasing the surface area to volume ratio of a barrel to spirit ” or to increase the amount of contact between the wood and the spirit. The woody flavors will appear in the whisky earlier than in large casks (e.g., barrels), but the chemical reactions leading to the perception of maturation will take time. Futhermore, if the filling strength is very high (e.g., 70% ABV), the wood extracts will be either more pronouced.
    By using small cask, you might remove some harshness rather quickly and thus allowing you to sell a whisky at 3 or 5 YO, but this would not prevent you from shortening significantly the time to full maturity.

    Whiskies matured in small casks maybe goode, but so far, I always preferred the whiskies matured in larger containers (e.g., hogshead or butts).

  38. Gary Gillman says:

    I think the point Cheryl made viz. initial aging in a new charred container and then aging in a used one is very helpful. A mix of this type, in conjunction with a smaller barrel of the right size, might, in conjunction with the right distillate, provide a great whisky in three years. Dave Pickerell in his excellent summary of the issues also discussed a variable that can be helpful, finishing in a cask that had held another spirit or wine.

    I think long aging can be overrated. A fine bourbon does not need more than 6 years aging, 8 maximum – there are many good bourbons that are older, but I am not sure the extra quality warrants the extra years in the wood.

    Malt whiskies may require a different approach, I am not sure new charred barrels do much for this type of spirit unless perhaps the aging is short and a switch is made to an old but sound container that can slow-age to perfection. How long is always hard to say given the wealth of variables, but I’d say on average, longer than for bourbon.

    If you were minded John, I’d be interested in a subsequent WDJK to see a discussion on the effects of old vs. younger trees for barrel stocks. Many of the malts of years ago, and bourbons, were aged in wood far older (is my understanding) than the wood harvested today for whisky cooperage. Did this make for better whisky? Considering that the barrel gives, what, 60% or more of the taste quality to a whisky, when whisky was aged in barrels made from wood that was much older than it is today, did that affect the taste in a positive way? Is that one reason why 30 year + malts are often so good…? Or does age of the trees make no difference?

    Gary

  39. Gary Gillman says:

    Just one more thought, which is that we need to remember what barrel aging is, or was originally, for. It was to convert enough of the fusels to pleasant esters and other compounds so the whisky would be palatable. In bourbon, this takes about 4 years. In malts, about twice that rate on average. Half of each such rate reaches the legal norm but not the taste criteria of most I would say.

    Some fusel content apparently increases over time, but overall the reactions are such to remove a heavy oily/petrol taste with a more estery one. Woody taste alone of course won’t do it. But a lot depends on the spirit going in. You can triple-distill to a relatively high proof as some surviving Lowlands producers do, and that spirit needs less time in wood as a result to mature. A very congeneric spirit will need longer. I think a 3 year aging program in a small barrel of the right type can reach the sweet spot given the right distillate. And it may be necessary to switch from one to another type of such barrels, even size of barrels.

    I don’t accept that mother nature has such a dominating effect to warrant giving up trying. Were that so, we would have no cycling of bourbon warehouses, no doubling, no triple distilling, no lyne arms of particular shapes. There is no ultimate point at which the hand of technology – still fairly primitive too when you think about it – should cease to extend in these matters.

  40. Karl says:

    Interesting. I seem to recall my guide at Woodford claiming their product ‘tastes older’ because of their climate-controlled rick houses. They produce far more temperature oscillations in their buildings than mother nature does in their competitors’. Thus, there’s more interaction between the barrel and its contents.

    All of this really makes you question what “age” means…some say it’s just a number.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Karl I’ve heard that most warehouses are temperature controlled these days. Probably a lot of this talk about the importance of the climate of the region where the whisky’s aged is blown out of proportion.

      • Ryan says:

        Agreed. Seems everyone has something to say about the ‘unique climate’ of a given distillery’s geographical location, but hardly anything to say about climate controlled warehouses. For example, there is no end of discussion on the ‘scorching’ climate in India where Amrut is located, and how said climate accelerates maturation–yet Amrut’s own website states they use, “maturation facilities in India with carefully controlled ambience.”

        • Mr Manhattan says:

          Of course, that could be marketing-speak for “we have a building in which we store the whiskey.” Just saying.

          BTW: I am really unclear about how much temperature controlling really goes on in Kentucky. The “old boys” speak very reverentially about the effect of the seasons on their products, though again this too could be a form of marketing-speak. Consider also the cost involved in retrofitting an existing rickhouse—some of which are very large and old. If you all have some substantive evidence for this practice, please chime in.

          One thing I have convinced myself of, however, is that none of the large distilleries, with the exception perhaps of Maker’s Mark, rotate barrels between floors. When you think about it, the sheer number of barrels involved at a place like HH (for example) makes this impractical. Instead, that same sheer number probably allows for “selecting to profile” of barrels destined for a blend or for a single barrel bottling.

          • Ryan says:

            They very well may revere the Seasons, but they’ve also been using heat and steam to control the Winter climate of warehouses since 1886… so says Buffalo Trace.

          • Mr Manhattan says:

            OK…I’ve done some asking around and this is what I’ve learned:

            Some distilleries, like BT and Woodford, prefer temperature controlled warehouses. Others, like Heaven Hill, do not. In point of fact, after HH bought the facility at Fairfield from Seagram’s, they specifically ripped out the insulation and temperature controls in the warehouses.

            So this then turns into another variable. ;->

            Michael

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Another detail about this– “temperature controlled” can mean different things. @ Springbank for instance temperature control in the malt flooring room takes the form of someone monitoring a thermometer and opening and closing windows (the room’s got no heat or AC). They keep a log book about the temperatures.

          • Ryan says:

            Springbank deviates from the norm. The number of bar-coded barrels in modern palletized ‘storage facilities’ equipped with air/dust handling systems and wireless computing/communications systems is far greater (and continually multiplying) than what’s inside throw-backs like Springbank. Yet brand strategies universally employ warehouse narratives invoking romantic, old-timey, old-fashioned, barrel vs. the elements imagery that obscures the reality of most facilities.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            You’re right of course Ryan but Spring bank, at least, is still a throw back– for now anyways…

  41. Ryan says:

    Agreed. It seems everyone has something to say about the ‘unique climate’ of a given distillery’s geographical location, but hardly anything to say about climate controlled warehouses. For example, there is no end of online discussion about the scorching climate in India where Amrut is located, and about how said climate accelerates maturation, yet Amrut’s own website states they use, “maturation facilities in India with carefully controlled ambience.”

  42. sam k says:

    OK then, let me throw this one into the discussion. We hear about how the seasons cycle the whiskey into and out of the barrel; expanding into the wood when it’s warmer, and pulling out of the wood in cooler months.

    I say B.S. That whiskey is soaked into the wood 12 months out of the year in full contact with every layer of every stave, reacting with the wood continually whether it’s warm or cold out. The temperature can certainly affect the process and the outcome, but I can’t imagine that in the winter, there’s actually less whiskey in the wood itself.

    Or did I miss something in physics class?

    • Mr Manhattan says:

      Rather than thinking about this in terms of how much liquid is held in the staves, think about the barrel itself as a membrane between the liquid inside and the air outside. What’s changing with temperature (as well as humidity) is how that membrane behaves. Even if the total amount of liquid in the membrane is constant (and we’re NOT in agreement about this) then what’s happening in that membrane can still be affected by the environment in which the barrel is kept.

      BT, by the way, has investigated the effect of wood grain size on aging as part of the Experimental Series. I’ve tasted the two whiskeys, one held in fine grain oak, one in coarse, warehoused side by side for 14 years. The end results are two quite different products. (Mr. Hansell reviewed them on this blog as well. You can look it up.) I’ve also heard they’ve done weird stuff like wrapping barrels in plastic film, but I’m not sure what they learned from that (except maybe not to do it again).

      Michael

      • sam k says:

        No argument with anything you’ve said Michael, and in retrospect, my statement that “I can’t imagine that in the winter, there’s actually less whiskey in the wood itself.” was not well thought out. As I noted above, “The temperature can certainly affect the process and the outcome…” That would obviously go for humidity, too, which would affect the amount of whiskey standing in the membrane (and I like your analogy!). There may indeed be less whiskey in the wood itself when it’s less humid out, but that’s because it’s evaporating into the drier outside air. I don’t believe it’s a factor of the whiskey retreating from the wood, and back into itself.

        I’m making one simple statement: until someone has concrete proof to the contrary, I believe there’s no migration of spirit deeper into the wood during the summer that is followed by migration back into the hollow of the vessel during the winter, which is what’s recited as gospel by the big distillers.

        Now, if there’s a case to be made against that concept, I’d appreciate your thoughts. And I can certainly be convinced to change my mind given good reason!

        • One thing that will have an effect with warmer environments is greater movement of the whiskey molecules within the barrel. Molecules don’t leave the enter of the barrel and magically appear on the outside. Heat is a catalyst for the movement of the molecules, and in cold temperatures the extraction and interaction will slow down. Also cold temperatures will help the whiskey contract ever so slightly. And not everyone is using #4 char barrels.

        • Mr Manhattan says:

          Here’s my take:

          Wood is composed of several kinds of materials (fibers), most notably cellulose and lignin. Those materials were “constructed” by the tree so as to allow for the bi-directional transfer of water (and the nutrients which it carries) between the roots and the canopy. Those structures, designed to transfer liquids, probably continue to function (albeit less efficiently) after the tree is dead and its wood has been converted into staves that make up a barrel.

          Now think about what happens to the wood (converted into staves) in response to changing temperature and humidity over time: it expands and contracts (like many other materials). When it expands, there’s going to be more space in the structures into which liquid may penetrate. When it contracts, there’s less space, which forces liquid out again. So there’s going to be an exchange of liquid between the wood and the barrel contents over time.

          Finally, there’s the function of age on the wood to consider. As it gets older, it probably becomes stiffer, meaning it responds differently again to changes in temperature and humidity. Maybe some of those structures I mentioned break down. What I’m not sure about is whether that means wood tends to become more or less porous as it ages. Maybe someone who works with wood would be able to answer that one.

          Michael

          • Ryan says:

            The potential for movement (across the grain) is finite and ceases as the wood’s structure reaches equilibrium with its surroundings. Cask selection, toasting or charring, and cask enhancement impacts distillate more profoundly than wood movement does.

          • Mr Manhattan says:

            Are you saying there’s no exchange or that’s it’s secondary to the things you listed?

            Also, what do you mean by “reaches equilibrium with its surroundings”? What are you defining as “surroundings” — the contents of the cask or the environment in which the cask is sitting, or perhaps both?

            Michael

  43. Jason Pyle says:

    Maybe I am wrong, but based on these comments which have been fascinating, the resulting end product is as much (I would argue more) art as it is science. Happy 4th, enjoy some of this art today (responsibly of course).

  44. Keith Sexton says:

    Hey, If Laphroaig gets it’s casks from Maker’s Mark, does anyone know if that goes for the qtr cask as well? Just wondering.

  45. Ethan Smith says:

    It’s late and I didn’t get to read all the responses, but I find the new Jim Beam Devil’s Cut to fall under this category. The whiskey tastes just like Beam white label, but there is a loud, strong oak note. It’s just like what’s going on with the smaller barrels. While I don’t find the Devil’s Cut unbalanced, I do find it unique in the way it drinks. It promotes itself as a brother to Knob Creek with the woodiness, but the actual bourbon distillate still shows its youth. I am a strong endorser of what Mother Nature does with whiskey. You simply cannot rush the natural aging process.

  46. sam k says:

    Oh, what the hell. I just wanted to make it 100 comments! It has definitely been an engaging discussion, though, hasn’t it?

  47. JD says:

    Don’t feel bad, Sam… If you hadn’t done it someone else would have.

    The strong consensus here seems to be that you can play around with various factors, and create some interesting (even desirable) effects, but nothing quite substitutes for actual time in a barrel.

    On semi-related note, somebody upthread mentioned shrink-wrapping barrels in airtight plastic to prevent evaporation during aging and deprive the angels of their share. I know some distilleries have been playing around with this. Has anyone heard any results yet? IIRC I first read about this 2 or 3 years ago so maybe the experiment hasn’t had time to run its course yet?

  48. sammy says:

    Salute

  49. JDEJ says:

    I’ve worked with the aforementioned MSU group working on small barrels/aging/extraction.
    We looked at oak extraction rates and angel’s share in 2,3,5,10gal barrels. The extraction rates were predictably higher in smaller barrels (duh), but when we looked for other aging markers things got complicated fast. There is no academic quality standard for aged whiskey as the styles of whiskey, climate, original congener concentration, etc are so varied that research groups have essentially thrown up their hands.

    I’ll say that in the barrels we used, the extraction profile got really high really fast and in the smaller barrels quickly reached concentrations that were so high, there was no way they could be reduced through esterification and reaction to the point where they would not overwhelm all of the other flavors. That is to say the smaller the barrel the less likely it is you will get a balanced flavor profile, and the more likely you’ll end up with oak flavored white dog.

    My conclusion (not necessarily that of MSU or anyone else associated with it) via my research was that producers working with smaller barrels should distill with a lower congener concentrations (reactions would never consume the high congener levels found in other whiskeys) and then look for a flavor profile that balances oak with the fresh white whiskey flavors (before the oak extraction got too high and overpowering) . This means to me that artisan distillers using small barrels might not be looking for equivalence with large make whiskeys, but need to make that fact clear to consumers.

  50. This topic is certainly a popular one.

    There are scientific papers describing which chemicals get extracted from the cask at different intervals in the maturation process (Scotch & Irish whisky). These papers also describe what oxidation products are formed at different time intervals too. If you are interested I can email you the papers, I’m at dennis@newhollandbrew.com.

    I’m a craft distiller and have made whiskey in 53, 30, 20, 15, 10, 8 and 5 gallon casks. There is no doubt you get a different flavor profile from different size casks. We’ve aged the same whiskey in 53 gallon casks (3-4 years) and 5 gallon casks (6-7 months) and can say without hesitation the whiskey is not the same. There is a different balance of flavors and aromas. The increased surface area to volume ratio must impact the relative concentrations of flavor components over time. There also must be a different ratio of oxidative products as well.

    But all the vast majority of us know about whiskey is from large casks, so it makes sense when we taste something different (small cask whiskey) we immediately label it as inferior. Could it just be the flavor profile is different, something to be discovered and enjoyed as unique? At our distillery we use small casks to rapidly investigate new and unique grain combinations. The best ones will be made as large cask whiskey, but we’ll keep investigating ideas that at times will be way out there. But we’re a distillery born of a craft brewery where innovation is our culture, necessary for success.

  51. Mitch Abate says:

    We at Downslope take a hybrid approach in aging our Double-Diamond Whiskey (which has won 3 Silver Metals including one at the last ADI conference in Portland).

    First of all we make our cuts very carefully – making sure our middle cut is as sweet as possible.

    We start our aging process in 59 gallon experienced red wine barrels. We let the whiskey rest in these barrels for up to six months (occassionally pumping some air into the barrel)

    We then transfer our whiskey into 20 liter casks which have been used. The aging progresses until we feel the whiskey is ready (3 months plus).

    We further blend our whiskey from several of the small barrels

    By using the techniques I have mentioned our whiskey does not have the off or woody tastes.

    Try it and email me your opinoins.

    • T. Weiss says:

      Hey Mitch. Are you pumping in air (from air compressor?) into the barrels or oxygen from a tank?

      • Mitch Abate says:

        We use small aquarium pumps – we also imploy a type of solarus aging – we never completely empty the barrels – there is always some whiskey left over from the prevous barreling.

  52. […] and longer aging (I am far, far from the first person to comment on this; see Chuck Cowdery and John Hansell, among others). There are many people out there who swear by the flavor profiles produced by […]

  53. […] allowing the wood to have an affect faster, which isn’t quite the same: John Hansell made some comments recently about this on his blog. However, the country does also have quite a big variation between day and nighttime temperatures, […]

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