This article first appeared in the Oct 9th issue of Whiskey Network‘s weekly newsletter, Barrel Report.
You may have heard of pressure aging whiskey – a process that condenses the years long aging process down to only a few weeks. But what if one could make an award winning whiskey in as little as three days? That’s just what the folks at Bespoken Spirits have done. This Silicon Valley startup, which launched publicly this past Wednesday, has been described as a “Nespresso machine on an industrial scale”. The product (whiskey, but could also be rum or brandy) is achieved by the same idea of pressure aging (exposing different woods to the spirit under extreme pressure) but using a chemical reactor; think of it as the barrel (in this case “micro staves”) being put into the spirit, rather than the spirit being put into the barrel.
Their drinks have won awards in blind-tastings at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits.
While some entities, such as the Scotch Whisky Association, have bristled at the notion of such a product being called whisk(e)y, the fact is that America doesn’t have the stringent aging laws required by other countries. It should also be noted that Bespoken, along with other companies also utilizing this method, typically buy their base spirit in, and that can include product that already qualifies as Scotch or Irish whisk(e)y; they then just put their own spin on things.
Advantages are being able to put a product on the market much faster than a more traditional aging method allows. Bespoken also claims it uses less wood and energy than traditional aging, along with avoiding loss due to evaporation. It also provides ideal circumstances for experimentation – it’s much easier to try new things and see if they work quickly and less expensively, rather than risking a lot of time, money, and space without being able to test results until years down the line.
There is debate that such accelerated aging may reduce the fruity characteristics often found in whiskey, as there is less oxidation and esterification. Is it possible, even with modern day science, to make a complex spirit under such conditions? Also, what do the whiskey drinking public think? Are there prejudices already in place that would alienate a significant portion of whiskey consumers?
Ironically, only time will tell whether pressure made whiskey stands a chance against centuries of whiskey making history.