Steve Szceblowski (Dr. Mix) -
Folks, ever had the dream of running your own distillery, but lack the familial pedigree, personal fortunes, and vast land holdings? Have a science fair project idea to research how spirits age and change over time in an oak barrel? Are you harboring an incontrollable urge to wear a white suit and talk like a Kentucky Colonel? Or perhaps just have the need for a witty conversation piece at the next tailgate party? Then look no further than the Bluegrass Barrel Company of Kentucky (http://bluegrassbarrels.com).
Bluegrass Barrels are Canadian and Kentucky charred white oak barrels, available in 1, 2, and 3 liter sizes. The deal here is, you set up your barrel, pour some booze in, and wait…how long you wait is up to you: weeks, months… and who could blame you if you jump the gun and taste test along the way?
These mini-barrels portend to simulate what goes on in the environs of distilleries; that is, aging booze for the desired effect of mellowing, and adding color and taste through the interaction with charred wood. According to their website, the barrels will hold and age wine, whiskey, rum, or tequila for a specific number of reuses, depending on the spirit. For me, though, Kentucky and charred barrels means bourbon (look up the historical contributions of one Rev. Elijah Craig on his discovery of the combo of charred barrels and whiskey)
When I received my Bluegrass Barrel, there was a bit of a learning curve involved, as one has to learn the difference between the bung hole and the spigot, for example. Upon receipt, one also has to “cure” their barrel, which entails filling/refilling the barrel with hot water for roughly a 48-hour period, in order for the wood to expand, thereby preventing any future leaks when the spirit is in place (remember there’s no glue or nails holding this baby together, only the metal hoops!), it is OK for the barrel to leak during this time though.
After a proper rinse out, you should be good to go! The spirit I chose to age was a bottle of Old Forester, a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Decent stuff, but not aged too long (about 4 years for this brand) so I could hopefully detect a benefit from the barrel. The fifth went into the Bluegrass Barrel on November 5th, and here on January 20th I can state that, dang, there’s definitely a difference! A much richer oak aroma for starters, and a mellower taste for sure.
A word of caution: there’s a fair amount of evaporation accompanying the aging process (aka, the ‘Angels’ Share’) so you might want to add extra booze in order to fill up your barrel, lest you be shortchanged on the back end of the process. I can now plan to decant the ‘enriched’ Old Forester and move on to try out a barrel-aged Manhattan, methinks.