Today was the day I decided to end a "failed" experiment. On November 11th, 2011, I filled small charred oak liter and 2 liter barrels with some Heaven Hill Trybox Rye. It was unaged, 125 proof right off the still in Kentucky. Here, about a week short of 6 months, I poured the barrels out to see what had happened to the whiskey aging inside. As you'll notice from the photo, the whiskey has certainly changed color! Note that it looks very similar to a whiskey that was aged for a decade or more. The flavor is another story. Even though it has picked up the color and tannin flavors of the oak, the hot, yeasty, bread-like notes of the unaged whiskey are all still present and powerful. The rye is unfortunately not pleasant at all to drink and will probably be mixed or used for cooking. A failed experiment to age my own whiskey. Or was it?
Through this 6 month experiment, I have learned quite a few different things, all of which are invaluable to me as a whiskey connoisseur. It has reinforced the findings of Buffalo Trace distillery, Chuck Cowdery, and Jason Pyle that small barrels just don't age out whiskey correctly. There is no substitute for time and patient aging in a 53 gallon barrel. I handled this experiment like a micro-distiller would age their product and got pretty much the same result they do- An unbalanced whiskey that still carries all the unfavorable notes of an unaged product, but with a severe dose of oak tannins.
Read more about Mr. Cowdery and Mr. Pyle's findings here:
Sour Mash Manifesto Article
Chuck Cowdery and Buffalo Trace
I have already started a new experiment though. Using the same 1 and 2 liter barrels, I am already aging some 80 proof Heaven Hill white label bourbon, which is 3 years old and $10 per liter here in PA. I want to see what effects the small barrels will have on an already aged product at a low proof- along with seeing how much of the rye flavor is transferred to the bourbon from the soaked wood of the insides of the barrels. This experiment should yield something drinkable- and hopefully really tasty too!