I have been told by many of my guests, that sitting on the porch and drinking whiskey with me is the best bar in Louisville. I have plenty of whiskey to sample and the conversation is always great. I had a couple of people over the other day and they are involved in the industry. As it usually goes, they asked me some questions about the industry and I thought I would share some of the porch conversation with my readers.
The conversation was about warehousing whiskey. They wanted to know my opinion on putting barrels on pallets and top filling the barrels. I am no expert in the subject, but I do have an opinion. I don’t believe that palletized whiskey will be bad whiskey, but I think that it could be better whiskey if they stored the barrels in the traditional manner. The reason is that when you top fill a barrel and store it vertically, you are going to have three gallons soak into the wood, as happens in all barrels, and the top head will remain dry throughout the aging cycle. The bottom head will be flooded with whiskey at all times,. That means that whiskey will soak into the head at the bottom of the barrel, but gravity will keep the whiskey from coming back out into the barrel, losing the effects of that head as well. The heads give the whiskey a lot of its flavor. This was shown to me by Ted Huber, who did an experiment with four barrels with different toast/char levels on the heads. He allowed me to taste some whiskey from each barrel and they were all different in taste.
The argument for palletizing and top filling the barrels was that it exposed the whiskey to more of the charred wood in the barrel. This is probably true, I am not a mathematician and cannot do the math need to figure this out, but I will accept it as true. However, I do believe that losing the heads and the flavor that they give the whiskey is the problem. I do know that one major distiller experimented with top filled and palletized barrels and rejected their use for their top quality Bourbons. They use the whiskey aged on pallets for their flavored whiskey and bottom shelf brands.
Palletized warehouses are cheaper to build and if you are a small distillery without a traditional warehouse, I can understand why you would choose to build one. However, two Indiana distillers I know of have elected to use two barrel racks that can be moved with fork lifts to age their barrels. It costs a little more, but both distillers make excellent whiskeys.
The subject of conversation moved to barrel entry proof. I am a firm believer that lower barrel entry proof makes better whiskey at a younger age. I have written on this subject before and you can find that blog here. However, I do want to say that there are many distillers since I wrote that blog that have adopted the lower barrel entry proof for their products. My conversations with them affirms what I have been saying for years – lower barrel entry proof makes for more of the wood sugars in the whiskey at a younger age and they don’t have to add as much water to proof their whiskey down, making the flavor more like the whiskey in the barrel.
The final subject was on filtration. Some filtration can be a very good thing. It can remove bitter tannins and other less desirable flavors from the whiskey, making the whiskey taste better from the bottle. However, the filtration needs to be adjusted for each whiskey to remove the bad flavors while keeping the good flavors.
These are some of the subjects discussed on my porch. I will continue to write about these conversations in the future. I hope you enjoy these discussions as much we did when they happened.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller