If you are anything like me, the kind of person who needs between 2-3 large glasses of bourbon to sleep at night as well as just cope with a lousy existence as a human person, you are well versed in the upcoming whiskey and bourbon shortage.
Basically, because stupid hipsters started thinking bourbon was cool, there’s been a massive increase in consumption that didn’t correlate to what predicted intake would be. Bourbon and whiskey take a lot of time to make (7-10 years for good stuff) and no one envisioned the spirit’s surge in popularity.
(I blame assholes who put ‘Whiskey’ in their Twitter bios. Fuck those people.)
Now, there’s not enough. For distilleries, it’s either seriously increase prices, which will squelch sales, or take drastic measures to change the way whiskey is made.
A great, in-depth article in Nautilus took a look at some of the funky things bourbon makers are trying to do with impending doom driving them insane.
Enter entrepreneurs with start-up spirits and a potential solution. Through a variety of unconventional aging methods, drawing on chemistry, they have already squeezed a two- to more-than-20-year process into days, weeks, and months, much to the chagrin of whiskey connoisseurs, who will tell you the secret to a refined bourbon is time. While some companies have taken age labels off their bottles to get products to market sooner (bye-bye 12-year-old premium bourbon; hello ambiguously aged premium bourbon), new distilleries are experimenting with smaller barrels and rapid oxidation.
It’s a tricky process, because up until recently, the only thing you needed was time, and you had plenty of it.
“Time in the barrel is like sandpaper, smoothing out the rough edges,” says Liza Weisstuch, who writes regularly for Whisky Magazine and the Whisky Advocate.
Now, you need a miracle. Or smaller barrels.
One entrepreneur trying to cheat Father Time is Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, New York, makers of Hudson Baby Bourbon and Hudson Four Grain Bourbon. When it opened in 2003, Tuthilltown started experimenting with accelerating the maturation of single malt, rye, and bourbon whiskeys by letting the alcohol settle in 2- to 5-gallon oak barrels, instead of the industry-standard 53- to 55-gallon oak casks, increasing the alcohol-to-barrel-surface ratio.
“The small barrels sped up aging significantly; we could get to market in months, instead of years.”
I’ve had it. It ain’t uhhh…. Uhhhh… It’s not bad. I probably wouldn’t know the difference if you told me, but I’m no connoisseur. Except that, once you know it’s not as aged, you no longer want it. Also, it is HELLA expensive. Like $100 a bottle. I’d rather not pay that.
Meanwhile, another distillery was just like, “UHHH, fuck it? Let’s throw some wood in the whiskey or something? Maybe that will work?”
At Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia, makers of Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky and Copper Fox Rye Whisky, head distiller and owner Rick Wasmund adds toasted oak chips to his 53-gallon barrels, agitating them to increase the alcohol-to-surface ratio and exposing them to heat and cold.
Others are trying even weirder shit. Hey, the things a man will do when desperate for booze.
Terressentia starts with undrinkable 4- to 6-month-old whiskey because they want their whiskey to be brown—something you can’t get without time in an oak barrel. They filter it in plastic tanks with a technology that expedites the aldehyde and acid dance, creating drinkable esters—chemical compounds—in just eight hours
Tom Lix, owner of the Cleveland Whiskey Company, uses steel tanks with wood segments under pressure.
[Scott Spolverino, an industry consultant] has done research into an ultrasonic-energy treatment. “It could physically push the spirit deeper into the barrel staves to draw out more aldehydes and provide catalytic energy for reactions,” he says. “But I’m not entirely sure it could speed up the esterification process.”
Me? I’m just gonna ask for a raise to cover my booze expenses. Seems reasonable in my line of work. Hopefully though, this will knock assholes out of the game. Because the shit that will remain is the big brand stuff, which is still fucking good. Fuck snobs.
Many of the big distillers stepped up production of high-end whiskey five years ago, when word of a shortage started to spread. And there has always been a plentiful supply of non-premium brands: Jim Beam White, Evan Williams Black, Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, 1792.
Yum. Give the whole article a read. It’s really good.