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Entries in Hooch (2)

Tuesday
Apr282009

Homemade Whiskey (Raising My Spirits Part 2)

On New Years day I filled a 1 liter oak barrel with cheap vodka .  Now that is has had a chance to age for about four months I figured it was time to check in on the results.  Because the surface to volume ratio is so much higher in this small of a barrel, I figure the four months of aging approximates two years for a full barrel.  The results are amazing, but I wish I had started with a better quality of vodka.  It still needs to mellow a bit (it still has a hot alcohol taste and nose).  I could also charcoal filter it to smooth it out.  The color is spectacular and it smells like a typical bottle of whiskey that would have cost much more than the vodka I started with.  This would be great for mixers as-is, but I am going to try and mellow it out a bit further for sippin.

This batch filled up a 750ml bottle nicely.  The remainder of the initial liter evaporated off.  This is what distillers refer to as "the angel's share".  The bottle is a Glenlivet water bottle that I brought back from my UK trip.  I just sanitized it and poured the whiskey straight from the barrel.  The best part is that I now have a bourbon barrel I can use to experiment with aging beer in!

Cheers,

-D

Wednesday
Jan072009

Raising my Spirits...

As mentioned in an earlier post, I treated myself to a small oak barrel for aging experiments.  My real target was simulating beers aged in oak bourbon barrels.  Most distilleries around the world use these casks as well, placing their newly distilled, neutral spirits into the casks for years to extract their color, flavor and aroma from the wood.  My virgin barrel from eBay was simply lacking experience.

My wheels began to turn...How could I give my new barrel that old bourbon barrel character without aging whiskey in it?   Why not  just age whiskey in it?  Why not experiment with the aging process for spirits, then use it for beer later?

Distilling spirits is illegal in the US, so building a still and extracting ethanol from homebrew just doesn't seem wise.  However,  I may have discovered a way to experiment with the key processes of aging whiskey while staying within the letter (and spirit) of the law.  Why not just start with an off the shelf neutral spirit like vodka?

To keep the experiment manageable I purchased a second, smaller 1L oak barrel on eBay.  I found a 1.75L bottle of Svedka Swedish vodka at Costco for $17. 

Svedka is rated nearly as high as Grey Goose and probably better than anything I could produce as an amateur distiller anyway.

To prep the barrel I soaked it in water to allow the wood to swell and seal itself properly.  Then I rinsed it out, refilled it and let it sit for two days with a couple of Camden tablets to sanitize it.  After that rinsed it out three times and filled it with Vodka to begin the experiment.  Aging, by definition, takes time : )  so my patience will be tested here for sure.  The good news is that the larger surface to volume ratio of small barrels will allow spirits to age the equivalent of a month in a full size cask for every week in my miniature barrel.

I am not the most patient guy and want more insight into what might be happening in the barrel without opening it for at least a few months.  To provide more instant gratification, I placed the remaining vodka in an empty whiskey bottle with toasted oak chips (the kind used for throwing into your beer or wine fermentor to simulate oak aging).  This will give me a handy visual clue to what may be taking place in the cask.  I can also easily open the bottle and sneak a whiff or even a nip from time to time.

The progress to date is amazing.  After only 5 days, the bottle already looks and smells like decent whiskey!  I'll be sure to keep you posted on its progress from time to time.

Cheers,

-D