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What You Should Know About Whiskeys
A freshly distilled Glenlivet in 1964 would have been clear and have tasted cereal-rich, slightly smoky, brightly fruity, and a bit solvent-like. However, it needed time to mellow down in a barrel.
More than 50 years later, the liquor is now deep amber in color without the hint of its smoky aroma. The fruity notes have become richer; there are caramel, chocolate, honey, and toffee characteristics; and there’s a hint of tannic dryness. Most of the initial alcohol has evaporated in the barrel, which left only 100 bottles available in the market.
How Whisky is made
Like any other spirit, whisky is influenced by its environment — the type of barrel, the charring in the interior, as well as the place where the barrel is stored. Over the course of time, these factors make a huge impact on the color, feel, and flavor of the whisky. And although we don’t have an idea about the magic of aging a barrel, we do know that it is extremely significant.
By law, bourbon must be aged in an unused, charred wood barrel; meanwhile, Scotch whisky is aged in barrels that have been previously used for bourbon or sherry. While bourbon is being aged in American oak barrels; Scotch whisky is often aged in European oak.
Barrels are usually toasted in Europe and charred in the US before it is used to age whiskies. The charring will serve as filters of the spirit as it partially removes flavors that are undesirable to the taste — it works just like water filters work at home.
How Barrels affect the Flavor
The wood used in the Barrel adds flavor to the whisky: lignin adds vanilla and marzipan-like flavors; while lactone gives butter coconut flavor. Lignin and lactones constitute the major part of what is called the “wood flavor”.
The wood spice, on the other hand, is composed of another set of compounds. The tannins give an astringent flavor — they can also be found in teas and walnuts, giving a similarly dry mouth feel. Tannins extract the sweet butterscotch taste of whiskeys over time, making it taste more like an old wet log.
Finally, the smoke flavors of whisky are measured by the amount of phenols. Despite being associated with campfire smoke, phenols that are aged in a whisky barrel don’t blow away during windy days; but, rather transform there.
Bryan Davis of Lost Distillery said, “The longer you age, the more the phenols bond with other things in the solution to form new compounds like phenylated carboxylic esters, which tend to taste like honey. In a way, you trade smoke for honey.”
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