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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Now That's What I Call Maturation... Volume One!

Here at Caskstrength, we love new whisky related-stuff.  The moment we saw a fully operational three litre copper pot still for sale by the side of the road in rural Portugal, we knew we had to have it.  As you may recall, we had a crack at using it (well someone resembling us anyway) and the results were really rather impressive...well, to us anyway.  The point we're trying to make here is that whether or not the spirit which ran from our little gem is deemed to be any good, we had a fantastic time understanding the principles of distillation (albeit on a micro scale) and it only served to highlight how hard the art of the commercial distiller is.

Recently we took the opportunity to explore another key aspect of the whisky making process, from a micro scale - this time in the shape of a brilliantly novel kit, retailed by a US craft distiller.  The Copper Fox distillery, neatly situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (hang on, this is the opening line of a wonderful song, is it not?) have, under the tenacious eye of owner Rick Wasmund, been bottling some really interesting expressions - from a spanking single malt, the barley smoked using apple and cherry wood, through to a rye whiskey, with a wonderfully malty spicy character.    One of their latest endeavours is to bring the art of maturation straight out of their Virginia warehouses and into the homes of every would-be distiller/whisky enthusiast interested in the effects of wood on a new make spirit.  The bottom line here isn't to achieve perfection, but to have a bit of fun, play around and experiment.

Wasmund's Mature Your Own Whisky Kit (WMYOW) is now available in Europe for the first time (retailing at £120 from The Whisky Exchange and at its heart comes a miniature two litre charred American oak cask and two 75cl bottles of either the single malt new make spirit or, if you're so inclined, the same quantity of the rye new make.  Both new makes roll in at 62% and the cask is, according to Wasmund, 'of a medium char style'.

Well, we couldn't resist, so now the Caskstrength office has now become a little test haven for maturation.  Speyside dunnage-style it certainly isn't, that's for sure - and i'm pretty sure the view from our windows in Exmouth Market is of the local Post Office sorting office, not the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We plumped for the rye option and set to work ensuring the cask was going to be watertight, by first filling it with room temperature water, then spraying the outer surfaces regularly.  After a day, our little wooden beast was ready to go and we marked 'M Day' as Saturday 20st October.   We'll be monitoring the spirit regularly over the next few months, but by way of a first update one week after filling, the news is interesting.  

Wasmund's rye new make is very fruity, with some spiced notes, a hint of smoke (freshly cut green apples) and some fine citrus notes. As a control, we kept a small sample back to reference throughout the maturation experiment.  After a week in the warehouse with an occasional gentle rolling of the cask when we could remember, the spirit has already begun to evolve.  Gone is the initial fruity apple note, replaced with a lightly peppered meat, lots of charcoal and freshly sawn oak.  It is still youthful, immature and vibrant, but as expected, creeping in are the beginnings of what we were hoping to see.  The cask is clearly going to give this a lot of character in a short space of time, including colour, as you can see, taking on an initial light gold note.

One week, eh... If this was Scotland, that wouldn't even register on the maturation map yet.  In actual fact, it bodes well for our plans to re-use this cask for future experiments.  Because of its obvious dominance, putting something in as easily overpowered as a Scotch single malt would perhaps be foolish, without seasoning it prior to filling and this has thrown up all manner of possibilities - sherry, port, wine, peated whisky, rum, vermouth, cola?? who knows, but in any rate, the next few months will be a hugely fun-filled experience.

We'll be putting up regular updates on the rye on our Facebook page, including interim pics to show you the colour and tasting notes.  It's also been suggested that we could have some fun 'manipulating' the spirit to get more from the cask. Hmmm. Next week, Caskstrength are taking a jaunt across the Pyrenees in a very tasty Maserati GranTurismo, so perhaps I should sling the cask in the boot, for a little 'alpine agitation'? Or should we take a leaf from the Tuthilltown distillery and blast bass-heavy music through the cask? The sky's the limit here.

Hello... here comes the ultimate Maturation Playlist -  or if you like... Now That's What I call Maturation -  Volume One!! Watch this space...

Hot on the heels of this superb kit comes another equally interesting version from our chums at Master Of Malt.  The MOM MYOW kit (£99) includes a one litre kit and new make spirit made from malted barley. We'd love to see whether the results are similar to the rye kit we have.  If you decide to get either of these, please feel free to share the results with us -  we're pretty sure that no two whiskies will turn out the same.