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With the energy around small batch distillation impacted the likes of entrepreneurs and home enthusiasts to brand new magnitudes, the idea of small batch barrel aging has been all the rage. You can find a number of options online now offering small, ready to go barrels, allowing you to simply add un-aged whiskey and then wait patiently for the outcome. But I have been thinking more and more about how there has to be another way. Another way, that maybe isn’t as traditional, but takes advantage of the same principles of barrel aging and allows for a potentially quicker but definitely more adaptable approach.
The beauty of mason jar bourbon is that to some extent, I have no idea how this will turn out. Although in fact, this is very similar to the prospects that distillers face when starting a new aged spirit. I remember when we asked the guys at NY Distilling how they thought their then-aging Rye would turn out and as an answer, a chuckle was about all we needed.
But we can try and simplify the process a little bit. We know a few things for sure that have been working for centuries. Take for example the 53 gallon barrel that has become synonymous with aging. These barrels interact with the whiskey contents through the porous nature of the wood. Overtime, the wood exchanges, the whiskey extracts, and the flavors develop to be rich and complex. And although some variations do occur, this 53 gallon barrel tends to have one thing constant: the surface area to volume ratio (wood to whiskey).
Luckily for me, I love calculations. Translating the SA/V ratio for the barrel to a small mason jar was simple enough, but mason jars are of course made from glass, not from wood. So what about using oak chips? Turns out, American oak chips are readily available at most home-brew stores as many home-brewers use the chips for a similar purpose. To impart barrel aged flavor into their beer. Brilliant. Now we were in business.
Except for one major issue. Bourbon barrels are flame treated to bring out the wood based sugars for the perfect extraction. Enter my creme brulee torch. I knew this thing would come in handy for more than just burning sugar! So here we are, with some flame treated wood chips soaking in a mason jar full of moonshine. Now what? When will it be ready? How will I know? The answer to those questions are also admittedly straightforward. I have no clue. But I’m pretty damn excited to keep you posted!