For Christmas I got a small keg to age something in. I did not want to just dive straight into aging bourbon without experimenting first so I did a little research.
It turns out that aging distilled spirits is not something new but has been around since the history of our country. Who knew? Some of the interesting sites that I found suggested first trying a small quantity in a mason jar with wood charred and placed in the jar with the whiskey. A few of those sites are
There are also a ton of companies that will “help” you start your project.
So loaded with research material and a bunch of mason jars, I thought what did I have to loose?
I went ahead and collected what I thought would be all of the necessary components. Given that I love to experiment I wanted to try oak and hickory chips as well as white whiskey, moonshine, and bourbon as the base.
The two types of chips that I got were Jack Daniels Oak Barrel chips used for BBQ smoking (Ace Hardware) and Hickory chips for flavoring.
The blogs that I read suggested burning the chips and placing them in a mason jar with the white whiskey. I wanted to do this in a controlled way so I measured 2 cups of white whiskey and 50 grams of chips. I experimented burning the chips with a dark and light char as well as burning them by hand with a butane torch and with a smoking box in side a grill.
The three liquids that are being experimented with are White Whiskey, Moonshine, and Weller Reserve Bourbon.
First I put light charred chips into a mason jar and added 2 cups of White Whiskey. Everything that I read suggested getting something with the highest proof because it will absorb the flavor of the wood better than a lower, watered down concentration. The Rio Brazos Whistlestop is 90 proof. The Palmetto Moonshine is 105 proof. The Weller Special Reserve is 90 proof.
I put blue painters tape on each jar to label if it was light or dark char, if it was hickory or oak chips, and if it was Weller, Whistlestop, or Moonshine.
Everything that I read said don’t expect much change over the first week or two. The color changes very quickly but the flavor does not change. I stored the mason jars in the garage because the temperature variation helps the wood absorb and express the whiskey. The smaller container ages everything at a faster rate since you have a higher liquid to wood ratio. What would typically take 3 years should take 2-3 months. My hope is to sample the different containers and see if it gets better over the weeks/months.
I did sample the Weller a week later to see if the flavor changed and was very surprised how much it changed. The flavor took on a smoky and woody taste. I am not sure if it is something that I like but it had less of an acidic after burn but also tasted oversmoked. My hope is that it will settle down and smooth out as the liquid pulls from deeper and deeper in the wood.
After my initial experiment I did put samples on the shelf and filled my 5 liter cask with Weller. Given that Weller and Whistlestop costs the same at our local liquor store I wanted to start with aged bourbon and see if I could change the flavor.
It is important to look at the economics
- Jack Daniels Oak Barrel Ships – $9
- Hickory smoking chips – $5
- Cast Iron smoking box – $16
- Dozen 1 Quart Mason Jars – $16
- Moonshine, Whistlestop, or Weller – $30 for 1.5 liter (need 3x)
- 5 Liter Oak Barrel – $100
Simple experiment – $60, mason jars, smoking box, chips, 1 liter liqueur of choice.
Full Barrel – $260, oak barrel, 4.5 liter liqueur of choice, smoking box, chips.
I also ordered some test tubes with cork stoppers ($12 for a dozen) so that I could pull half a shot a week to test the taste. I label the corks with a number representing the week that it was pulled and plan on doing a vertical sampling after month three.