Whisky by any other name would smell as sweet – accelerated aging of spirits

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Although we’ve voted to leave the EU, we are still governed by its rules and regulations and, I suspect that we will be for some time to come as most of the legislation will be transferred across en bloc to allow the bureaucrats time to unpick things piece-by-piece. In the meantime, whisky (and whiskey) can only be used in Europe to describe spirits that have been aged in wooden casks for at least three years.

Now, contrary to popular belief, it is not pixies, angels and leprechauns that make whisky (or whiskey) but distillers backed up by physics and chemistry. In the US, the 3 year rule does not apply and youthful whisky is commonly found.

The differences are several:

(1) Brewing like a Brewer – most US distillers started life as brewers and then moved into distilling so they think differently. The key thing is to keep everything hygienic, to control fermentation temperatures tightly and to separate the grains from the wort as early as possible in the process…..if you don’t do these three things then what goes into the still isn’t as good as it could be.

(2) Cut aggressively and get rid of the heads and tails – why re-distil bad stuff? You can’t convert foul tasting alcohols into good ones by adding it to the next wash in the still – you simply concentrate it again.

(3) Accelerate the chemical reactions that turn un-aged whisky into aged whisky using technology. Warming the spirit accelerates evaporation (or you could wait ten years for the angels to take their share)….oxygenating it speeds up the chemical reactions converting unpleasant flavours and aromas into desirable ones….ultrasonic waves do the same thing – agitating the molecules in the spirit and helping them along the way….or you could sit and wait for small temperature changes over ten years to help the spirit through to maturity.

(4) Speed up the oaking process by using cubes, staves and chips with a greater surface area per litre of spirit than a cask. Using smaller stainless steel casks also allow for greater manual agitation to further accelerate the aging process.

The results are not better than traditional whisky or worse than traditional whisky – it is a different product – fresher, lighter and more approachable than many older spirits with a sense, like beer, that it still has that link to barley growing in a field.

I’m sure that there will be many out there who will not be able to get past the fact that accelerated aging does not mean 9.5 years sat in a wooden cask next to a loch in Scotland….to them, I issue a future taste test….and to paraphrase the bard again:

Be it whisky or be it not whisky….that is the question….

 

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