Something’s happening in American whiskey that’s never happened before—rapid aging is garnering acceptance. And celebrities are leading the charge.
From retired baseball star Derek Jeter and NFL Hall of Famer Charles Woodson to the rapper Yelawolf and Hangover executive producer Bill Fay, new whiskey blood is entering the game with rapidly aged whiskey. “We are building out devices to put in distillery and to process in real time. It’s like an electronic filtration system,” Fay said of his technology, Steric Systems, on my podcast The Fred Minnick Show. “It does some very positive things to the spirit.”
But the whiskey trade has typically written these off as gimmicky and consumers have toed the line of traditionalism, often citing romanticism and “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” In fact, anytime somebody introduces techniques to age faster, hardcore fans often go to Twitter with “hocus pocus voodoo” comments.
In 1867, a Frenchman used rotatable wooden paddles to agitate barrels like a butter churn. Using a similar concept, the 1871 U.S. patented Peiffer & Richards apparatus placed barrels on roller slats, heated the room, and agitated casks back and forth. The inventors claimed this “ripened” whiskey within a few weeks. In the late 1800s, several more agitation systems would be created, including an 1879 heat-and-motion device that offered “practical value and utility.” Over the next century, ultrasonic radiation, sound energy, ultrasound and reactors have been used to age whiskey faster.
None of them worked.
But people keep trying to make whiskey faster. And there have been some minor gains in this quest, such as climate controlled warehouses and deep bass music played near barrels, but generally the old paint canister method or ultrasonic methods have flopped.
As a taster, I’ve long said that I will always try new products if they are rapidly aged, and I’ve tried most of them, usually leading to negative reviews. But Fay’s tech and others have opened my palate to the idea that there is a place for new systems in whiskey.
Once in a blind tasting with TerrePure products, at their facilities, three rapid aged products competed against Bulleit, Jim Beam and Woodford Reserve. I ranked them 1) Jim Beam, 2) Bulleit and 3) Woodford Reserve, with the rapidly aged products coming in after. This derailed their notion that tasters can’t taste the difference. But that was also early on in their technology.
I have since had rapidly aged whiskeys that would have faired much better in that blind tasting. And in fact, I’ve tasted some blindly that beat other products.
Although not used in any public products, Fay’s Steric Systems absolutely ameliorated the flavor profile of a wood-forward bourbon, perhaps carving out a unique solution to the bourbon world—getting rid of the over-oaked note.
In addition, rapper Yelawolf’s Creek Water Whiskey and NFL Hall of Famer Charles Woodson’s Woodson Bourbon both use rapid aged technology and yield delightful corn and fruit notes. Both Woodson and Yelawolf joined my podcast to show off their spirits, and I’ve tasted them since and they are both very palatable and drinkable spirits that are worth consideration.
They also have no longer made me hesitant to taste rapidly aged products. While I have always said I would, I certainly didn’t look forward to those moments, as I’ve tasted everything from dry wall to smelling putrid foul in them.
This technology could open a Pandora’s box in American whiskey for the value category. If these companies can make whiskey faster and get to market quicker, without tasting like a dry wall infusion, they can own the under $20 category. But the minute they charge more than $20, which Woodson’s does, they better have good rationale. There’s no way the rapid aged whiskey will ever taste better than a standard Knob Creek, a 9-year, value just under $40.
Or maybe they will.
I remember thinking rapidly aged whiskey would never find mainstream acceptance.
Original posted at www.forbes.com