Road to Refinement – The Whisky Aging Process
Age might be a mere number, according to a renowned adage. However, for a barrel of whisky, it counts for significantly more. Age stands as a testament to the character, taste and flavor of whisky. Similar to a child, the ‘water of life’ matures over time and eventually attains refinement, while resting in the barrel for years.
When newly distilled whiskey is barreled for the first time, it is almost comparable to moonshine – least suggestive of what it will go on to become years or even decades later. Instead of its signature golden hue, new whisky is completely clear and tastes much like malted barley. However, once it enters the barrel for redemption, things start to become really interesting.
The two most essential factors that contribute towards the taste, flavor and color of a particular whisky are the barrel where it’s matured and the environment where the barrel is stocked in. Conventionally, toasted or charred oak barrels are used to age whisky. The charring creates a charcoal layer that filters unwanted flavor and mellows the harsh notes of the whisky. Meanwhile, the wood instills its own flavors into the blend, suffusing the liquor with distinct zests and aromas of lignin, lactones, vanillin and tannins.
Bourbon, by law, requires new charred barrels to be matured in. Once done, the bourbon-soaked barrels are often used by Scotch distillers to mature their products- which predominantly rests longer in these barrels to attain that ultimate refinement.
Climate too, plays a significant role in lending flavor to whisky. Bourbon distillers prefer aging their whisky in a dry environment which triggers speedy evaporation and concentrates it faster than Scotch, which is generally matured in humid climates.