We don’t do this very often as we typically focus solely on bottles, but we came across a new product that we thought you will find very interesting. There has been a significant trend recently with various new finishing techniques for whiskey that have produced some impressive results. Sherry finishing casks, scotch aged in rum barrels, Makers Mark aged on French Oak staves, and too many more to mention, have all come on the scene and exploded with popularity.
Recently, there have been several products that purport to let you age your own liquor. We’ve all read the reviews from objective whiskey experts and know how that turned out, so when Beyond Barrels offered to let us try some before and after samples, we were highly skeptical based on the results other brands have produced. Worst case scenario: we have to try some nasty bourbon, but in exchange we get a free lunch out of it, so we agreed.
Here is their pitch: Their product is a piece of wood that when placed into a 750ml bottle of liquor, gives you the same ratio of wood surface area to liquid volume as a 53 gallon cask. 53 gallon casks produce the best results because of this ratio. The Bottle Aging Stave is long and thin to minimize end grain, since end grain imparts a weird brown paper bagish flavor. It is then heat treated using a three step process that is designed to simulate 1/8th of an inch into a barrel stave, so in a sense, it takes over where the barrel left off. The process begins when the wood is still green, and they control the wood throughout the entire process, keeping it from being exposed to any commercial production techniques. (Pesticides in your whiskey anybody?) The final piece of the equation is that they offer these Bottle Aging Staves in woods other than oak such as wood from a cherry tree. Beyond Barrels isn’t trying to let you age your own whiskey per say, they product is designed to allow you to apply your own finishing technique to any liquor you choose.
We were able to try before and after samples of buffalo trace and makers mark. The after samples had been aged for roughly 2.5 months on cherry Bottle Aging Staves. Below are our impressions of the differences.
Color: Both whiskeys were slightly darker in color. They picked up a very subtle red hue as well. Since the Bottle Aging Staves were not charred, we were surprised to see any color change at all. The color they picked up was definitely a unique color that you won’t see in any other whiskey.
Nose: Even a cursory smell of the bottle yielded a very deep earthy cherry note that complimented the base bourbon very nicely. After pouring the samples into a glass and letting them breathe for a few minutes, it was obvious that the rawness of the alcohol smell had been tamed. If I had to put a number on it, I would have guessed that the after samples had another 3-5 years of aging behind them. The note imparted by wood from a cherry tree is very different from what you expect a cherry to smell like, yet it is very obviously cherry related at the same time.
Taste: So…This is nothing like the reviews for another aging product I’ve read. The heart of the original bourbon is still there, but its been transformed and wrapped up in a very woody cherry flavor. Please excuse the cheesy analogy, but its like cherry flavor hit puberty and grew a beard. The initial flavor when it first enters your mouth is a slightly spicy cherry note, which then blends into the original flavor of the base bourbon with a slight fruity cherry hint. After that the cherry influence really starts to take over for the remainder of the flavor profile.
Body: The overall body of the after samples didn’t feel quite as thin as the original bourbons. It sat heavier on your tongue in a sense as well. In the glass it held legs in a similar fashion as the original bourbons.
Burn: There is obviously some sort of filtering going on with the Bottle Aging Staves, since the bourbon is much smoother than before. What was previously a harsh alcohol burn is now a warming sensation that is very pleasing. The filtering theory was further supported when we were able to smell a used Bottle Aging Stave that had been out of the bottle for about 3 days. You can definitely smell the cherry, but it smells a lot like the bad alcohol smells that emanate from cheap liquor.
Finish: The finish may have been the biggest improvement area. There were still hints of the original finish, but a sweet rich cherry flavor lingered for much longer than the original finish lasted.
We were informed of one word of caution, if you drink too much from the bottle before it finishes aging, it will spend all subsequent time with an un-ideal ratio of wood to liquid volume. Basically it will be like aging liquor on a smaller than ideal barrel. To demonstrate this, Chris brought a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch that was full and one that was half full. They both had a Cherry Bottle Aging Stave in them for just over 1 month. The difference was night and day. The half full bottle had so much spice on the initial phase of the flavor profile that it was like a punch to the face, while the correctly aged bottle had a much more balanced flavor.
Overall, I would recommend giving this product a shot. If nothing else you can experience what your favorite whiskey tastes like finished on wood from a cherry tree. Right now they have cherry available, but 5 year weathered French oak and 3 year weathered American white oak are coming soon. If you're interested in trying this out visit http://www.beyondbarrels.com we were impressed by the results and I'm sure you will be to.
Full Disclosure: We have not received any compensation for this review outside of some free samples and lunch. I told Chris that if we thought his product lived up to the billing then we would gladly do a blog post to help spread the word on what he has going on at Beyond Barrels.