Whiskey is often referred to as “the nectar of gods.” This golden nectar has soothed sorrows, healed wounds, and even started wars as it incites a unique type of loyalty that few other substances are able to inspire.
Few of us ponder the process of whiskey production---how does it make its way from grain to mash to the spicy deliciousness that we know and love? Are those whiskey gods taunting us with the time it takes to deliver a perfectly aged whiskey? For heaven’s sake, why can’t we speed up the process? Just what is the benefit of aging a batch ten, twenty, or thirty years?
Whiskey, in its infancy, is a clear white alcohol known as moonshine. While moonshine has attracted a following all by itself, some swear that the aging process of this blank slate is what makes whiskey great.
Aging is the process of storing distilled alcohol or wine in barrels for a specific amount of time. The overall goal of aging is to remove some of the harsh elements of raw alcohol and give it a mellow, earthy flavor. Most barrels used in the aging process are oak; some distillers choose to use charred barrels for added depth and character of their spirits. While other types of wood may be used for aging, it is important to note that the type chosen is extremely important, as characteristics of the wood become present in the final product as it ages.
Whiskey and brandy are the most popular types of alcohol known for aging. Many distillers require that even “young” batches spend time in barrels for at least three years prior to bottling.
Rum and tequila can also be aged, but it is not required to maintain a certain standard of flavor.
High-quality spirits that are aged for long periods of time are generally more expensive than those with shorter production times. A 50-year old Scotch would be significantly more expensive than its counterpart that had only been aged for five years.
What effect does aging have on whiskey?
When whiskey enters a barrel in its inception, it is virtually tasteless. As the alcohol maintains contact with the barrel walls, it draws unique notes of flavor and color that we have come to know and love as whiskey. The longer the aging process, the more pronounced your flavor and color will be.
Depending on the type of wood that is used in aging barrels, you are likely to get unique batches each time. As the wood itself ages, it goes through changes and takes on additional characteristics that lend themselves to the batches inside. Many distillers like to play with different types of wood at different times of the year, or to use finishing barrels to add unique notes of flavor such as extra smokiness, a little bit of maple, or different spices to round out the whiskey experience.
Barrels that previously housed sherry are commonly used in whiskey production, as they help to give the whiskey a sweeter flavor reminiscent of wine. Bourbons can only be aged in unused barrels, so they cannot be reused for subsequent batches after the first run. Some distillers choose to use exotic woods in their production, bringing a uniqueness of flavor that signifies their brand.
Whiskey’s aging process stops the minute it is bottled---unlike wines, they do not get better when sitting on the shelf. That’s reason enough to crack open that bottle and start enjoying it right away!
How old is it, anyway?
A whiskey label will often reveal its age; in particular, if it is a signature blend, a distiller may want to market it with age in mind. Look for this information on the label when purchasing. Aging requirements have a lot to do with climate. A Scotch that is produced in a colder climate may need 15-20 years to mature, while a south-of-the-border bourbon may only need seven years, due to higher heat and humidity. Experienced distillers know what is required for each of their blends to achieve maximum depth and vibrancy of flavors.
Ready to crack open a barrel?
Thanks to those willing to tend the barrels of brew in our storehouse, you’ll want to open a bottle of our award-winning whiskey as soon as possible! At Palmetto Distillery, we maintain the historic traditions of our bootlegging forefathers, and our passion for perfecting each glass of delicious whiskey and moonshine is evident in every glass. What are you waiting for? Discover what all the buzz is about! Visit www.palmettodistillery.com to place your order today!