Pretty awesome huh?
I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked - either by bar owners, or just experiment-loving whisky-geeks - whether we can get hold of little diddy casks for them to mature stuff in.
So – ladies and gents – here we are: 4 different cask sizes from 1 litre to 50 litres, all provided with a diddy little bung to go in the top of the cask, and all with a nice little tap from which to dispense your very own cask-aged products.
They’re made from 100% Fresh Kentucky Oak, and have been toasted to a medium level (maybe medium-heavy). As with ‘normal’ casks, the ends are un-toasted. In the name of science, I took the hoops off one of the 5 litre ones and bashed it to bits for you to see the way they’re charred for yourselves.
In terms of the way that spirit (or indeed ‘stuff’) is going to develop inside these casks, the answer is pretty darned quickly, and with *a lot* of Oak influence. The very first day that I received a sample of these, I filled one of the 1 litre ones full of vodka (Smirnoff Black since you ask), and monitored its progress with glee. There’s a lovely little photo below of the vodka before going into the cask, after one week, and after 2 months. As you can see below, after a couple of months it looks more like a well-matured bourbon than anything else.
The fact that it matures so quickly is intrinsically linked with the surface area to volume ratio of the cask. #MathsAlert
Now bear with me, and I’ll educate bore the socks off you.
If we take the internal surface area of your average 225 litre whisky hogshead and lay it out flat, it’s going to be about 1.8 sq/m*.
If you take the internal surface areas of 225 1 litre barrels, you get about 10.8 sq/m*.
This means therefore that there’s (proportionally) approximately 6 times more surface area available for the spirit to interact with (and we all know that wood is where most of the flavour comes from in whisky)…
This in turn means that you’re going to have a spirit that’s got the wood influence of a 2yo bourbon (the minimum legal age for a bourbon) inside of two months.
Now I know what you’re all thinking – “All my worries are over, I’ll never need to buy any of that ridiculously expensive ‘aged’ whisk(e)y again!”. Hmm...
Whilst there’s no denying that the wood influence happens quickly on this scale – very quickly indeed – there is genuinely no substitute for time. Wood on its own is not a panacea – or the SWA wouldn’t have such a problem with people using additional toasted oak staves to accelerate the maturation rate of a cask.
The 2-month old spirit you can see in the image above is currently sitting here on my desk, and, well, it’s Oaky. Very oaky. It’s also sweet, spicy and incredibly vanilla-rich. If you gave this to pretty much anyone, they’d tell you it was a bourbon (I left a bit to evaporate in a glass over a weekend and it even formed a sticky residue in the bottom of the glass – such is the sugar content of the wood). They’d then probably go on to tell you that it’s pretty overpowering and unsubtle. This said, I have caught myself subconsciously taking several sips over the course of writing this post, which is usually a good sign. It’s also worth pointing out that because I used Smirnoff Black in this experiement, the colour is going to be much less intense than if I’d matured some new-make at 63.5% abv (ethanol is a much more powerful solvent than water, so a higher ABV spirit will extract more from the wood).
We’d therefore recommend that unless you actively want a product that’s intensely oak-rich, you think about maturing something else in the cask before you go on to cram it full of whatever it is that’s already going through your head… Just a bottle of Vodka would do, just something to take the initial Oak-Hit – to fall on the Quercus-Grenade for you.
So – without further ado - the products are all available here – fill your boots!
Kentucky Toasted Oak Barrel - 1 Litre
Kentucky Toasted Oak Barrel - 5 Litre
Kentucky Toasted Oak Barrel - 20 Litre
Kentucky Toasted Oak Barrel - 50 Litre
And to answer the question you’re all thinking – yes – of course we’re going to release a ‘Mature your own kit’ – it’ll be here in just a few short weeks.
And to answer the second question you’re all thinking – yes – Sherry-Finished, Bourbon-Finished and [pretty much anything else we can think of]-Finished casks will follow in the fullness of time. We’re busy experimenting with the best, and most cost-effective way of doing this as I type…
*This isn’t exactly right, as I’ve used calculations based on spheres, and barrels aren’t perfectly spherical, but you get the idea…