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How to Use Chemistry to Age Whiskey in Days Instead of Years

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By Chris Gayomali

Maker's Mark attracted gobs of unwanted (or perhaps pre-meditated?) attention earlier this year when it announced that it would begin watering down its bourbon in order to meet the market's unprecedented demand.

A swift and severe public butt-kicking kept Maker's from following through, but the company's decision to dilute its alcohol content was apparently the result of basic supply-and-demand economics. Maker's shipped 16.9 million cases of Kentucky and Tennessee whiskey in 2012, which was up from 14.9 million cases in 2007. (Which just so happens to be the year Mad Men made its debut. Hmmm.) Decent bourbon, however, takes at least eight to 10 years to reach maturity. Maker's Mark simply failed to make enough bourbon to anticipate its soaring popularity.

But what if the aging process could be condensed using some technical wizardry? That's what's driving a new bourbon-maker called Cleveland Whiskey. Based out of its namesake city, the company's premise is to synthetically age alcohol at a much faster pace using a controlled chemical process. Instead of taking years, Cleveland Whiskey is aged to maturity in just about a week.

Founded by former marketing executive Tom Lix, Cleveland Whiskey has basically been an overnight success. Since March 1, the company has sold more than 14,000 bottles, which works out to about 1,000 bottles a week—not bad for a small-batch brewer. Lix says he plans on producing 7,000 cases of Cleveland Whiskey this year, before ratcheting things up to 20,000 cases in 2014.

The process involves highly pressurized vats, along with pieces of charred oak to infuse the bourbon with its signature character. "I took apart a couple of used barrels, and it didn't seem like the whiskey soaked very deep," Lix told Forbes. "So I started experimenting with pressure to get the spirit to soak deeper into pore structure."

The spirit ages in a whiskey barrel like normal for the first six months of its life. Then it is deposited in stainless steel tanks. Meanwhile, the barrel it aged in is cut up, processed, and put into the tank as well. Within the tank, the spirit is agitated, and undergoes a series of differences in pressure to squeeze in and out of the wood pores. "Like a sponge," Lix said. Once deposited in the tank, the whiskey takes about a week to create. [Forbes]

The important question, of course, is what does the stuff actually taste like? "Not bad" seems to be the consensus, although one blind taste-tester told Forbes that it tasted more like "an Irish whiskey than it did a bourbon."

Cleveland Magazine was more effusive with its praise:

It's dark in the bottle, a gorgeous honey-amber hue in a glass. The aroma was rich and complex. It had none of the bite or harsh alcoholic "heat" — though it is 100 proof — that usually comes with young (and therefore inexpensive) whiskey. The mouthfeel is round and silky. An added splash of water smooths it out even more. This is comparable to a very fine high end bourbon. And it will sell for a fraction of the price. [Cleveland Magazine]

With a patent pending, Lix is careful not to divulge too many specifics about the process. But he is optimistic about his chances of disrupting an industry that has more or less abided by the same basic tenets for centuries. "I believe in the Coca-Cola model," he told Cleveland.com. "Don't tell anybody anything."

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11 Common Misconceptions About Beer
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If beer only conjures up images of frat boys pounding cans of the cheap stuff or doughy sports fans reveling in the alcoholic refreshment before, during, and after a big game, think again. Beer has come a long way, baby, and many of the preconceived notions about the beverage are decidedly unfair, as evidenced by the following 11 fabrications.

1. BEER SHOULD BE SERVED ICE COLD.

All of those neon ice cold beer signs are actually bad news for beer drinkers. To properly enjoy their beer, it should be served at 44 degrees Fahrenheit (with a little leeway depending on the type of beer you’re drinking—a barrel-aged Stout, for example, should be served only lightly chilled). The reason is that taste buds become dead to the taste of the drink when it is served any colder, which means you’re not really tasting anything or getting the most enjoyment out of your beer.

2. FROSTED BEER MUGS KEEP IT CLASSY.

Piggybacking on the falsehood that beer should be guzzled cold, it also shouldn’t be served in a frosted beer mug. Would you serve wine in a frosted glass? No. An intensely cold beer mug will also numb your senses to the taste of the beer.

3. ALL DARK BEERS ARE HEAVY.

If you’ve been avoiding dark beers because you fear their intensity, you’ve been sorely misguided. “People naturally assume they are heavier,” says Hallie Beaune, a rep for Allagash Brewing Company and author of The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer. “I think it’s that connection to Guinness, which promotes itself as creamy and almost like a meal, that’s the feeling they give in their commercials. For a lot of people that’s the first dark beer they’ve had so they assume they’re all similar when, really, dark beers are just dark because of the roast level of the malt that’s used in the beer.”

4. GUINNESS IS INHERENTLY FROTHY.

Sure, Guinness is served all creamy and delicious-looking, but Beaune explains it has less to do with the beer itself and everything to do with the tap most stouts use, which has more nitrogen than the standard tap (generally a mix of nitrogen and CO2). To deliver all that frothiness, a stout faucet, which has a long, narrow spout, is used.

5. DRINKING BEER FROM THE BOTTLE IS THE BEST WAY TO ENJOY IT.

Sure, a bottle may look more refined than a can, but it’s still not the appropriate vessel. “Drinking beer from the bottle is another no-no, mostly because what you taste comes from your olfactory senses from your nose, so if you take a sip of something from that kind of bottle your nose isn’t participating at all,” says Beaune. “It’s too small for you to get a whiff of the beer. Just like if you were drinking red wine out of a wine bottle, you wouldn’t really be able to evaluate that wine.”

6. YOU CAN STORE BEER ANYWHERE.

Think again! All beer should be stored in a refrigerator. It responds best to cold, dark storage.

7. "SKUNKY" IS JUST A CUTE WORD FOR BEER GONE BAD.

There is actually a reason why seemingly rancid beer is termed "skunky." “Light can hurt beer—they call it lightstruck,” says Beaune. “The light interacts with the hops in beer (the four ingredients in beer are malt, water, hops and yeast), and it can actually have this chemical reaction that creates a smell that’s the same as a skunk gives off, which is why you hear about skunky beer.”

8. ALL BEER BOTTLES ARE CREATED EQUAL.

Darker bottles are important. Clear or green bottles may be pretty, but they’re not doing much to protect your beer from light. Dark beer bottles work best to help retain its intended flavor.

9. CANNED BEER MEANS CHEAP BEER.

Cans are actually a great way to protect beer, but in the old days they would often give the beverage an aluminum taste. “Most of the cans the craft breweries are using nowadays have a water-based liner so the beer isn’t actually touching the aluminum,” says Beaune. “It can be really good for beer. Cans heat up and cool down very quickly, too, so you obviously want to keep them cold.”

10. BEER IS MUCH SIMPLER THAN WINE.

You’ve got your four ingredients—malt, yeast, water and hops—what could be more basic than that? Manipulating those ingredients in various ways will give you different varieties, but breweries are doing some really cool stuff by adding flavors you’d never dream would work so well in beer. “A lot of the flavor in beer comes from the malt or the hops or yeast, but then there’s all of this freedom in beer,” says Beaune. “We did a beer at Allagash called Farm to Face, which is a pretty tart and sour beer. We added fresh peaches to it from a local farm. You can’t do that with wine—you can’t add peaches. People add everything you can imagine to beer like pineapple, coconut, every fruit—there are no rules. That’s one of the fun things about beer, it’s a lot like cooking, you can add rosemary, you can add whatever you want. Everybody experiments. It keeps the beer world really interesting.”

11. BEER WILL GIVE YOU A BEER BELLY, BUT COCKTAILS WON'T.

Sure, anything in excess will contribute to weight gain, but beer is hardly the most calorie-laden drink you’ll find in a bar. Much of the flack beer gets (i.e. the “beer belly”) goes back to the fallacy that beer is particularly heavy. “Most glasses of wine are pretty high in alcohol and a lot of cocktails are way higher in calories,” says Beaune. “If you drink a margarita that’s one of the highest calorie things you can drink.”

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Spain's Famous Blue Wine Is Coming to America
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Last year, a Spanish startup caused a stir when it introduced its electric-blue wine to markets in Europe. Now, after receiving preorders for more than 30,000 bottles from American customers, the eye-catching beverage is finally ready to make its way to the U.S., Eater reports.

The bright blue drink, dubbed Gïk, is the creation of six young entrepreneurs with no previous experience in the winemaking industry. They collaborated with University of the Basque Country and the food research department of the Basque Government to make the product.

Gïk is made from a blend of red and white grapes with a non-calorie sweetener added in. Though the color resembles something you'd find in the cleaning supplies aisle, the ingredients that create the effect are all natural. A pigment found in grape skin and indigo from the Isatis tinctoria plant (commonly known as woad) are responsible for the wine's alarming hue.

The shade—which according to co-founder Aritz López represents "movement, innovation, fluidity, change, and infinity"—is intended to appeal to Millennial buyers. With an alcohol content percentage of 11.5, Gïk is comparable to a white zinfandel or prosecco, and a pack of three bottles retails for $48.

The Basque region of Spain is traditionally known for its sparkling, acidic wine, but Gïk was designed to stand out from the current options. In 2016, López told Eater that his team felt the Spanish wine scene was "missing a little revolution," so they set out to create something innovative. But it turned out to be a little too innovative for the company's own good: According to Spanish law, only red or white wine can be sold in local markets, and Gïk was fined €3000 (about $3600) for violating the rule. Following the controversy, they were forced to drop the "wine" label and start branding the concoction as "99% wine and 1% grape must."

Standards are less strict in the U.S., and when bottles reach markets stateside they will be flying under the wine banner once again. Gïk will make its U.S. debut in stores in Miami, Boston, and Texas before hopefully expanding to retailers in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Washington, California, and Nevada. And while they may have the blue wine market cornered, there's at least one blue-hued beer brand out there Gïk will be competing with.

[h/t Eater]

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