If you’re looking for a way in which to turbo the oak in a glass of scotch, add some wood to your Manhattan or flash-age a bottle of gin, here are a couple of cheats which at the very least, are fun to play around with.
To prevent the bar geeks amongst us from crying blasphemy, we agree – there is no way to cheat time. Maturation is more than just the amount of oak sugars infused into a base alcohol, it’s a slow marriage of chemical components from which slow oxygenation plays a vital role in delivering length and mellow end-notes. Now that’s out of the way – lets look at some creative ways to shortcut the lot.
Yet another creative piece of genius courtesy of Kickstarter. The brain-child of Oregon based designer Tony Peneche, ‘Whiskey Elements’ allows you to customise your own whiskey oak flavouring claiming potential to develop three years of oak maturation ‘effects’ in just 24 hours.
Using traditional American white oak, the team have meticulously tested the results of flavour releases from oak of different levels of toasting and charring. While the method officially referred to as ‘chipping’ is far from new, Whiskey Elements have done their homework understanding that most whiskey barrels are restricted by oak variety due to the difficulties to produce a tight cooperage (no leaks). By using small, end cut staves with multiple lacerations they are able to influence a large ratio of oak contact vs liquid – something they verbosely call ‘accelerated transpiration through capillary action’.
Choose your flavour (oaky, vanilla, maple, smokey, peaty), add your stave, wait 24 hours – job’s a good’n.
[Visit: Whisky Elements]
2. Nitrus Infusion
While it may sound like something which makes your car go faster, it’s to chefs that we have to thank for this one. Becoming more and more of an essential piece of cocktail equipment, the whipped cream or soda charger is perfect for the flash infusion of primary flavour compounds.
Beginning with any body of liquid, simply add your desired flavouring ingredient, seal and charge with nitrus oxide (N2O). Through the simple act of pressurisation, any oil or natural sugar flavourings in the ingredient will impregnate throughout the base liquid with the further assistance of a bit of agitation (shaking). While carbon dioxide (CO2) could also be used, this would also carbonate the water component of the drink (which comprises around 60% of the liquid) giving it a fizzy-flat texture which might not be desirable.
Fancy an oak aged cocktail? Simply add a Manhattan, Negroni or Old Fashioned to the siphon, insert some seasoned oak chips, charge with N2O, shake, vent gas, open and strain.
Stepping back in time to an age when young Irish whiskey’s were commonly imbibed out of wooden cups, one Irish woodturner has created a reputation for his heavily charred, native oak whiskey tumblers.
Based out of County Meath in middle-eastern Ireland, seventh generation master woodturner Joe Laird hand shapes his own whiskey tumblers out of seasoned Irish sessile oak (Q. patraea) before deep charring each cup opening up further notes of toasted vanilla, coconut and caramel from almost any whiskey drunk from it.
Taking a little over five weeks to make per tumbler, it’s understandable that each cup comes with a price tag of around EU€70.00 (USD$77.00).
4. Underwater Aging
Should you have access to a spare boat, winch, cray pot and lake, you can now dump your barrels of young spirit overboard to increase the effects of maturation while avoiding the excise man at the same time.
Yet again it comes down to pressure. A topic causing much debate amongst the wine community, one South Carolina company has patented a technique called ‘Aquaoir’ involving the submerging of new bottles of wine into the Charleston Harbor basin where natural elements involving cold temperatures, darkness, pressure and constant agitation accelerate the aging process to around two years in just three months (according to their website).
Even Japanese sake producers have experimented with the effects of underwater aging. According to one dedictaed blog, around 3,200 bottles of rice wine from 15 different breweries were submerged to a depth of around 300 meters off the coast of Minami-Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture to further develop natural flavours.
And while you may argue that the above products mature differently to spirits, Seven Fathoms rum based out of the Cayman Islands has created an entire product built around the concept by submerging newly filled rum barrels to 42 feet (seven fathoms) before bottling. As stated by co-founder Walker Romanica, the ocean allows them to “take advantage of the kinetic properties of the ocean tides and currents to create a very unique flavour profile and a remarkably smooth rum”. Science aside, it makes for a damn good story.
5. Liquid Oak
Not to be confused with ‘liquid smoke’ which is extracted from the smoking of wood, ‘liquid oak’ uses a natural water-based extraction process to capture flavouring components found in well seasoned and toasted oak staves.
While there are many essential oils and remedies on the market which claim pure oak extracts, one of the world’s longest established flavour and fragrance ingredient suppliers – Treatt – has best delivered a substitute using nothing but natural food-safe processes. Unlike their many competitors, Treatt use no chemicals, enzymes or organic solvents and begin with only the finest American and French oak from 60-year-old sustainable trees, seasoned for two years and from various tasting grades. Unfortunately the product is currently only available in bulk volumes but with more and more bartenders experimenting with maturation, it’ll only be a matter of time until we’ll be reading this on a cocktail menu.
[For further reading see: Understanding Maturation – Part 1: Know Your Casks]