As you may have read in our previous post, we are the proud owners of two oak barrels. Natasha spoke to a bunch of local bartenders like Joe Alessandroni from 28HKS and Manhattan’s Ricky Paiva (have you seen their room full of barrels? That place is something else!) and learned that the barrels need to be conditioned before stuff goes in and the magic happens.
So, to condition the barrels before they take liquor (and low-alcohol beer at that, in comparison to the 50 percent and up cask strength spirits), we put a white spirit in to strip the harshness of the char. We bought a few bottles of Smirnoff Red from Duty Free for the purpose, and though the barrel leaked a bit from both ends, the wood soon sealed up.
Everyday since Monday, I’ve been pouring out small amounts of the liquor to watch the change happen, and by Wednesday, the colour had darkened to rival some ten year old whisky! The smell is intense, fresh oak, but on the tongue, I found it very pleasantly rounded, not overpowering.
We did a side-by-side tasting of the conditioned spirit with the original vodka and there’s a world of difference in the flavour! If we tasted the two in a blind tasting, it would be almost impossible to tell that they were once the same thing. The most surprising part is how much smoother the barrel-aged vodka has become – it’s actually pleasant to drink now. The most shocking thing for me is that this all happening in the space of just four days. I guess it helps that the weather is much, much warmer than in Scotland, so the heat helps the flavours impart faster. But I’m surprised that bourbon is aged for so long. Ok well, to be fair, bourbon barrels are much bigger, and the climate may be cooler, but it’s still just four days, compared to the six months a young bourbon would spend in the barrel.
We may not be able to water into wine like Jesus but we surely can turn flavourless vodka into something more tasty in just four days, which I think is more impressive.
Disclaimer: I know by definition, we haven’t made a true bourbon as the base grain for the vodka most likely comes from corn syrup, and not real corn like bourbon. They taste super similar in flavour though!