There’s almost nothing better than bourbon, whiskey or rye neat or on the rocks (many rocks or even a slushie if it’s really hot outside). What’s in your glass is a matter of preference and one man’s beer is another woman’s bordeaux.
If you know how to enjoy alcohol, you probably reach for the top shelf and better known beer and wine to ensure you’re getting a quality drink. But did you know you can also make your own high-quality liquor, beer and wine for a fraction of the cost of top labels? You don’t have to be a celebrity to create your own top-shelf liquor—and it’s easier than you might think it is.
Celebrity Brands & American Oak Barrels
It seems everyone with a following has their own whiskey, tequila, wine or bourbon. Justin Timberlake has his own tequila, Bob Dylan came out with a line of whiskey, joining Willie Nelson and Drake. Matthew McConaughey makes bourbon and the wine Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie created is so popular that even in divorce they’re continuing the venture. These celebs are just a handful of many who are making everything from cognac to vodka.
You can join them. Do you know what the common denominator is that all these celebrity recipes have? The American White Oak Barrel. Made from oak trees sourced in the U.S., oak barrels:
- Won’t leak and are ultra-strong.
- Allow oxygen to pass in and out.
- Provide flavor notes like vanilla, caramel, coconut.
- Remove undesirable sulphur compounds.
From Beeswax to Whiskey it’s Better in a Barrel
Almost everything comes out better in a barrel. Think barbecue and worcestershire sauces, komichi and pickles, coffee and cigars. But nothing compares to alcohol aged in a barrel; that is perfection. Alcohol fermenting in a barrel to age—whiskey, wine, beer, tequila, even vodka—can add flavor, complexity, depth and smoothness that can’t come from any other source.
By way of example, in a one liter barrel you can age Crown Royal to Crown Reserve in about two weeks or Crown XR in about a month. Or you can bootleg Crown and make it at home for $11 a fifth. You can do something similar with just about any rum, tequila, bourbon, whiskey or scotch—even beer, wine and vodka.
What Happens to Liquor in a Barrel
The contact with the wood is what gives these aged liquors color and character, especially if those barrels have been used beforehand to age different liquor, like rum, sherry, or even red wine. The development of fragrance and complexity spontaneously happen, but the key reactions are believed to be catalyzed by the wood itself.
Degraded lignin in the wood adds vanillin to the spirit and lactones give rise to a buttery, coconut flavor. American oak has a high concentration of lactones and the strong presence of coconut-like flavor is one way tasting experts can tell that a spirit was aged in American oak.