The Rising Popularity of Accelerated Aging among Whiskey Distillers
Most whiskey distillers have a love/hate relationship with time. On one hand, time can mature whiskey into an exceptional spirit. On the other hand, it takes so much time, 12 to 24 years in many cases. New barrels (which are a legal requirement for most whiskey in the U.S.) are quite expensive and take up storage space, so a distiller has to eat those costs and wait years to see a return on investment. Faced with those obstacles, it's no wonder more distilleries are developing ways to accelerate the whiskey aging process.
As whiskey ages, it develops subtly complex flavors by absorbing compounds from the wood of the barrel in which it's contained. Instead of waiting for this to naturally happen over several years, speed-aged whiskey uses a variety of techniques and technology to move flavors from wood to whiskey in less time. Among the simplest of these techniques is to use smaller barrels, which increases the surface area of the wood that is exposed to the whiskey. Tuthilltown Spirits in upstate New York takes this a step further by pumping low-frequency sound waves throughout their aging storehouse. Allegedly, the sound waves "agitate" the spirit, helping their award-winning Hudson Baby Bourbon reach sufficient maturation in only four months.
The Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia takes a different approach to increasing the surface area exposed to the whiskey. To create Wasmund's Single Malt Whiskey, they load the distillate into normal-sized barrels. Then they add a mesh sack filled with toasted oak and apple chips, which works like a teabag to impart flavor. After about 12 months, they remove the mesh bag and put the whiskey in another barrel, which is heated and rolled several times over 2 months. Despite being aged for only 14 months, this whiskey was once "Best in Class" at the American Distilling Institute.
Right in our backyard, the O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Kentucky is planning to utilize a proprietary process called "TerrePURE." According to the patent for the process, it basically uses ultrasonic energy and oxygen and temperature manipulation to create a better tasting whiskey in a shorter amount of time. Could accelerated aging catch on among Tennessee's distillers?