The flavor, color, and aroma of every bottle of wine are influenced by a large number of factors that result in a unique final product. Hundreds of chemical compounds within a bottle of wine can react with one another to create changes in the makeup of the wine.
These reactions tend to improve the taste over time, but these changes are not always predictable since each crop of grapes is different. The method of fermentation that the grapes undergo, in addition to the region and year of a specific grape varietal, will determine the best time to uncork the wine. A balanced approach paired with controlled storage conditions are key elements in crafting finely aged wine.
The process of winemaking that is utilized today has been developed over thousands of years. In ancient Rome, the practice of partially drying the grapes before fermenting them was used to concentrate the sugars, which allowed the wine to be aged for years. Wines were aged in clay amphorae and sealed with wax or resin in addition to a cork if it was available. Wine was usually stored underground in such places as underground catacombs, cemeteries, wine caves, underneath floors, and wine cellars.
The use of corked bottles to house wine was a 17th-century development and allowed for a more effective aging process. The combination of air-resistant glass and a cork that permitted small amounts of air to enter the bottle helped the wine age over a period of years. This enhanced the appreciation for aged wine, which continues today.
The benefit of centuries of winemaking has equipped us with many methods of maturing and aging wine. Although some vintners use age-old techniques to craft their wine, others employ the benefit of technology to achieve a more balanced result. Some of the most common vessels that are used today to hold wine while it matures are oak barrels, stainless steel containers, and glass carboys.
♦ The use of French and American oak barrels for aging wine is one of the most popular and widespread methods.
♦ Barrel-aging can result in woody aromas and a sweet, creamy character in the wines they house.
♦ The wood and wine age together and oak flavor seeps into the liquid over time.
♦ This airtight container never degrades and is impermeable to light.
♦ The containers can be fitted with oak planks and then filled with wine.
♦ The chief issue with aging wine in stainless steel is the lack of oxygen exchange, which can result in muted flavors.
♦ These containers are typically used to store small amounts of wine.
♦ They are more fragile than wood or stainless steel and do not keep light out.
♦ There is the benefit of being able to see the color change in the wine as it ages.
The wine cellars of today, like those of the past, are underground, but they are also much more high-tech than ancient cellars. Thousands of dollars can easily go toward building a wine cellar that provides the perfect temperature, humidity, and exposure to light.
Wine that is aged to excellence will produce a product that contains balanced fruit, fermentation, and aging flavors. The length of time it takes to achieve this will vary on the wine itself and the conditions it is stored in. The culmination of these processes and time are all necessary to bring the wine to its flavorful peak.
23 recipes for leftover wine
I suspect that many of us will agree on one thing that leftover wine is something of a myth. In my case it is about as comprehensible as quantum physics theory. I just cannot get my head around it. But with age comes a little wisdom. Not that I am any closer to understanding the laws of the universe, but I have learned that it is better to save the remains of a bottle of wine for another day rather than bracing myself for the inevitable thick head.
Supposing you've had a party and there are several half-opened bottles left. (It happens, apparently.) There is no need to pour it away. (Sadly, I have seen this happen too.) If you look after the wine properly it will keep for at least another day, if not more. It is unlikely to taste the same (although in some rare cases, I have found that red wines have improved, but that probably says more about my taste buds).
Your wine will need to be tightly resealed, whether you use the original cork or a rubber one with a vacuum pump sealer, to remove the air. If you only have a small amount of wine left, then it is best to decant it into a smaller bottle or a clean jar. I have to admit that I have never found the vacuum pumps to have made much of a difference. If the wine is left open to air for any length of time, it will begin to oxidise. If you put the resealed bottle in the fridge, this will help show the process.
Wine that has been opened for a few days and is perhaps a bit past its prime is perfect for cooking or for using in marinades and salad dressings, and gives a boost of rich flavour and intensity to all sorts of sauces, soups and stews, or makes a good base for poaching fruit such as the classic pear in red wine. In the summer, a beautiful dessert can be made by macerating strawberries and other soft fruit with a little sugar, wine, rose or champagne.
I have been asked whether there are hard and fast rules about which wines to use in which dish. The classic combination is to use red wine with duck and game as well as red meats, and white wine for seafood, eggs and white meat. Personally, I think these sorts of rules are made to be broken just work with what you've got. I have found that in some cases the colour of the wine can be interchanged. While I prefer to drink the sort of robust, full-bodied, tannin-rich wines that make you feel as if you have just inhaled the contents of a cigar box, I find that young, fresh, fruity red wines are best for cooking. In any case, no matter which wine you use, you will lose many of its drinking qualities through cooking all the subtleties, nuances and top notes of flavour are often destroyed by heat.
Of course, not all seniors are pessimistic. Some, such as Kirt Spradlin, don't care a whit about what their necks look like.
The great-grandfather is one of those vigorous and optimistic elders who astounds his peers. Naturally, he tires more easily and has to take things slower, he says. But having battled prostate cancer, the California man relishes every single month that life affords him. When asked his age, he proudly replies, "79 and a half."
The former electrical engineer took up a new hobby after retirement: mountain climbing. He has climbed Mount Whitney and Kilimanjaro and trekked to Mount Everest's base camp. Just last year, he and wife Donna went on a weeklong backpacking trip -- just the two of them alone in the wilderness. Donna is 80.
"People think we're nuts," he says. But for him, aging with a bad attitude is simply out of the question.
The Spradlins have grown old with astonishing grace and acceptance. But depression is a real threat among the old some drift into isolation, bitterness, and a sense of meaninglessness. Still others put up their dukes, determined to go down swinging. Face-lifts and tummy tucks? Bring it on.
Experts who have worked with thousands of seniors share their insights into how you can navigate emotional challenges in order to age gracefully.
Aged Sushi, With a Glass of Natural Wine
Chef Eiji Ichimura is often referred to as the “the sushi astronaut,” a nickname he has earned from fans in New York for his singular approach to aging fish. The chef, who believes the aging process expresses seafood’s ideal flavor and texture, most recently worked at David Bouley’s TriBeCa restaurant Brushstoke, where the New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells awarded Ichimura three stars in 2012, calling his food “some of the most remarkable sashimi and sushi” he had ever tasted. Today, Ichimura has a new eponymous restaurant, also in TriBeCa, which offers an extensive list of natural wines to pair with his creations — a novel combination, even for Manhattan standards.
“I taste constantly to get a sense of the characteristics of each fish and how it changes throughout the year,” Ichimura said earlier this month with the aid of a translator. “Which ones are good after three days of aging? Which ones require more? And, of course, which ones should be served the day they come in?” Ichimura’s practice falls into the Edo-mae category, a Tokyo tradition borne of the need to preserve fish without refrigeration — but Ichimura uses less salt and vinegar than tradition dictates. He says that spanish mackerel ages for 10 days before it arrives at its sweet spot, while yellowtail needs a week. Meanwhile, he serves horse mackerel hours after it has arrived from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.
Ichimura sometimes serves an aged and un-aged fish side-by-side for contrast, as well as to highlight the flavors of the aged cuts. In one dish, he offers a single piece of sushi that features three different agings of o-toro (popular and luxurious fatty tuna). Despite Ichimura’s desire to experiment and “pull as much umami as possible,” he says he is more eager to please than to prove a point about how far he can go in the direction of funk. (Especially lately, many chefs have shaped their cooking around the art of aging ingredients.)
At this new restaurant — which, unlike Brushstroke, was designed for him from the beginning — Ichimura says he can more freely tinker, and offer a wider variety of fish than before. He also intends to create “a more Japanese service style” that feels less like a French-style restaurant and more like the calm sushi-yas that became popular in postwar Japan. And the selection of natural wines is courtesy of Jorge Riera, whose list at Wildair, the popular Lower East Side restaurant, has made a strong case for small producers. In that spirit, Ichimura’s beverage menu includes sakes and wines produced with minimal intervention. “The goal isn’t to overpower the fish, and we’ll still have classic Burgundy like Raveneau,” says Idan Elkon, Ichimura’s main partner at the restaurant. Elkon first ate in front of Ichimura over a decade ago, when the chef was gaining a following at a modest restaurant in Midtown, which opened in 2003 and was also called Ichimura. Elkon dined at the counter inside Brushstroke over 200 times, a tally that was surpassed by only one other devoté: Lou Reed, before his death in 2013.
Can Homemade Wine Make You Sick?
The quick answer is that homemade wine, in general, can’t make you sicker than regular store-bought wine.
However, the chance of making errors when homebrewing wine is obviously higher than the manufactured wines you see in stores.
Homebrewed wine can’t kill you unless you really mess up.
The process of making both beer and wine simply doesn’t allow hostile bacterias that can make you sick on a life-threatening scale.
There are some things that can go wrong tho, that might give you indications that it is the winemaking you sick, but usually, it is due to human mistakes when brewing the wine.
Here are some things that can go wrong and possibly make you a bit sick when drinking and making homebrewed wine:
Lack of Sanitation
This is a general rule when homebrewing anything, always sanitize literally everything (Amazon link), this includes all your equipment, bottles, airlocks, tubes, vials, and even some ingredients. Along with this, you can even purify the water you use to completely delete any form of threat that hostile bacteria can enter your wine batch.
Use of Natural Yeast
In an earlier blog post, I talked about the natural fermentation that some winemakers use. These recipes using natural yeast rely on the yeast found on grapes and in the air, but generally, have a higher chance of contamination compared to using manually added yeast.
Using this method, you allow yeast into your wine, but it also allows for unwanted bacteria to possibly enter your wine batch, which can create complications.
It probably won’t kill you, but it can certainly make your stomach upset. The chance that these bacterias actually affect you aren’t high since as mentioned, most bacteria simply can’t live in the wine as the fermentation process takes hold.
TIP: It may be a good idea to stay away from natural fermentation if you are not very experienced.
Use of the Wrong Container
If you are putting together your own homemade kit, keep in mind to acquire a food-grade container (Amazon link). If you don’t check whether or not your container is food grade, it can actually contaminate your wine.
In very rare cases you may actually get very sick or even get lead poisoning if not checking whether or not your plastic/metal container is suited for winemaking.
On several forums, you can read about people complaining that their homemade wine gives them headaches compared to store-bought wine.
The reason for this is quite simple science and happens due to an increase in histamines and tannins in the homemade wine.
When homemaking wine the balance between the two can shift quite regularly, and make some of your batches give you quite nasty headaches.
If it continues to be this way, you may want to consider switching up your processes or find a new recipe.
These are the usual things that can happen if your winemaking goes wrong.
And as you can see, they really aren’t that bad, and most are very rare. If you are interested in homemaking wine, go for it, the chances of failing on a health-threatening level are very slim.
As long as you make sure to sanitize everything, and maybe stay away from natural fermentation as a beginner, you are not very likely to run into the risks mentioned above.
Hello, my name is Simon. Together with a group of writers I write about brewing beer and making wine. We all share a passion for the great things in life, such as making stuff from scratch.
The business of HomeBrewAdvice is to bring you great information, stories and product reviews from brewing at home, and making wine
Picking A Winemaking Yeast
To give you an idea of how to pick a wine yeast I’ll walk you through my own decision making process. My next wine is going to be a Riesling kit and I’m going to do a little experiment. I’m going to pick my own yeast to replace whatever the kit comes with.
I’ll be using two different yeast strains in a split fermentation. Half of the grape juice will be fermented with one strain of yeast and the strain will ferment the other half. This way I can directly compare how the same wine tastes when made from two very different yeasts.
Here are the yeasts I’ve chosen and why.
The first yeast is W15. This yeast is known to produce citrus flavors, heavy mouthfeel, and can stand up to aging. Aging is an important characteristic for a kit wine for reasons we’ll explore here in a minute.
Th second yeast I’ve picked is R-HST (catchy name huh?). This yeast can produce rose and peach flavors, some mouthfeel, as well as minerality. Minerality is a quality that also lends itself to aging.
The Differences Take Time to Manifest
In an interesting article on the flavor contributions of yeast Cornell researchers found that most characteristics yeast impart on wine take six months to a year to show up. This is, in part, why it took so long for winemakers to figure out that different yeasts produced different flavor profiles. They were comparing wines too early.
Kits generally don’t produce wine that can be aged for very long. My concern is that the wine will start to decline before the yeast characteristics show up. This is why I chose two strains known to produce wines that can be aged.
Because it takes six months for any differences to become perceptible it’s important to keep the yeasts and the final products separate during that time. Otherwise you’ll never know the differences between the two end products.
There is another reason for fermenting separately though. Fermenting yeasts don’t get along well with other micro-organisms. They tend to expand in population so as to starve out any competitor for resources.
Usually one will dominate the other and force it into extinction. Even if they both strains coexist in your wine for the full duration of fermentation you’re still not guaranteed to have an equal contribution from each.
The only way to fully experience what these little dudes are doing for us is to ferment separately. Once they’ve matured you can begin tasting, comparing, and blending.
10 Essential Julia Child Recipes Everyone Should Master
“When I was living in France in the early 1950&aposs, cut-up chicken was unheard of. You bought your chicken whole,” Julia Child writes for a 1987 edition of the New York Times Magazine. “Returning to this country some years later, I snobbishly resisted any suggestion of ready-cut chicken until I started my television series, ‘The French Chef,’ and was suddenly cooking for a large audience. I was rather rapidly won over to the idea of buying chicken in pieces.”
Child may be known for her mastery of classic French dishes, but just like generations of Southern chefs, she gained fame for her ingenuity, resourcefulness, and lively spirit. (And just like Southern cooks, Child certainly did not shy away from cream or butter.)
Julia Child is the original queen of French cooking. Her beloved French recipes𠅏rom boeuf bourguignon to spatchcocked, wine-basted chicken—stand the test of time as show-stopping dinner party mains, and her desserts are in a league of their own. Once you’ve rewatched all the episodes of The French Chef, it’s time to get into the kitchen and recreate some of Child’s classic recipes. You can find more of Child’s classic French recipes in her cookbooks—Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, is a great place to start.
Coq a Vin
Translated as 𠇌hicken in wine,” this classic French dish is deceptively simple. A Burgundy wine like Pinot Noir gives the dish complexity and body—you can use any red wine you𠆝 like, but in honor of Child, we suggest selecting a French bottle. Find the recipe here.
Well-known as one of Julia Child’s favorite dishes, this soup of chilled leek and potato is startling in its simplicity. Aside from the leek, potato, and water, Child’s version of the soup calls for barely any additional ingredients. Child provides the option to add a bit of cream to the completed soup as a “nourishing touch, but by no means necessary.”
A thin, light crust is the trademark of this French quiche, its filling made with bacon, eggs, heavy cream, and nutmeg. Julia Child’s recipe for Quiche Lorraine is guaranteed to impress. The Southern Living Test Kitchen&aposs Quiche Lorraine is a welcomed dish at any brunch as well.
One of the first recipes featured on Julia Child’s The French Chef, this stew of slow-cooked beef and red wine is a Child staple. It may take 6 hours to come together, but that leaves plenty of time for developing big flavor. Find the recipe here, or try our pared-down take on beef stew.
A quintessential French dish of crepes flambeed in a buttery orange sauce and brandy, Child describes this as an 𠇎legant dessert,” and we can’t help but agree. Watch Julia Child make Crêpes Suzette here, or make a similarly elegant Crepe Cake.
What Julia Child called “the most interesting recipe I’ve clipped,” Chicken Waterzooi𠅌hicken nestled in a silky sauce of cream and egg yolks—is Child’s take on a classic Flemish dish. She swaps fish for chicken and layers the chicken with vegetables and simmers it all in chicken stock and vermouth. Chicken Waterzooi is undoubtedly one of Child’s most underrated recipes (if not for the fun name alone).
Just as Southerners hold casserole near and dear to our hearts, Julia Child celebrated the cassoulet as a perfectly humble dish of beans and meat. This must be one of our all-time favorite Child quotes: ssoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.” Here’s Child’s quite involved take on cassoulet (but you might be better off making a classic Southern casserole).
Homemade vinaigrette is one of the easiest things to whip up in a home kitchen, and it’s so much better than the bottled stuff (Ina Garten agrees). Julia Child’s recipe for vinaigrette—made with 𠇍ry martini proportions” of vinegar to oilrtainly stands the test of time.
If you’re just begun to foray into bread-baking, may we suggest testing your hand with a classic French baguette? It may not be simple, but the result is spectacular. Get the recipe here.
A showstopper of a dessert, this upside-down apple tarte is the French answer to an apple pie. When served hot and topped with a dollop of cream, this warm, caramel-coated tarte is simply irresistible. Julia Child developed multiple versions of this recipe𠅏ind them here.
Bring Back Cognac, the King of After-Dinner Drinks
Make 2020 the year you get a little too into Sidecars.
Odds are, if you’re a drinker, you enjoy a stiff pour of something dark and neat now and again. Especially after dinner, and especially during winter. Not to paint too vivid a picture, but the kind of drink you savor by the roaring fireplace in a worn leather chair under a taxidermied head of some sort, if you’re into that sort of thing.
A good bourbon or Scotch is hardy and fortifying, a glass you want to linger over. Increasingly we’re starting to appreciate dark rum and aged tequilas as worthy sipping spirits, too.
And yet somehow, in 2019, Cognac is rarely mentioned in the same breath. The king of all after-dinner drinks is due for a comeback. If you’re a fan of dark spirits, you owe it to yourself to get to know Cognac.
If you like the vanilla and caramel notes of bourbon, you’ll love the gentle sweetness of Cognac. If you appreciate the subtlety and refinement of Scotch, you’ll find them, albeit in a different guise, in Cognac. If the subtle agricultural nuance of a༞jo tequila appeals? Cognac has that, too.
Like all dark spirits, Cognac spends time in a barrel. But whereas whiskeys are made from grain, Cognac is a brandy. (Brandy, in the broadest sense, is any spirit distilled from fruit.) To create Cognac, grapes from a geographically protected region of Southwestern France are fermented into wine. It’s then distilled twice, to create what’s known as an eau-de-vie, or “water of life,” the poetic French term for an unaged brandy. Cognac territory is divided into six distinct appellations of these, Grande Champagne and Petit Champagne are most highly prized, due to the chalkiness of their soil and the fruity, floral aromas that result from it.
Most Cognac houses, as producers are known, source externally, buying already-distilled eaux-de-vie the art, so goes tradition, is in the aging and blending. But these houses tend to work with the same growers and distillers over years—if not generations.
Cognac houses bring together these eaux-de-vie and lay them to rest in oak barrels, where they might spend anywhere from years to decades. There are government-mandated distinctions for the classification of Cognac𠅊ll brandies use in the blend of a V.S. (“Very Special’) must be at least two years old V.S.O.P. (“Very Superior Old Pale”), at least four XO, ten. But that’s a minimum age. Rémy Martin V.S.O.P., for instance, blends 200 eaux-de-vie, includes brandies with up to 12 years on oak.
A long-aged Cognac is likely to be among the oldest things you’ll ever drink. A bourbon on the older end spends, say, 10-12 years in the barrel. An older rum, less time. It’s rare, if not unheard of, to see a Scotch much older than 18 years. Cognac? Sky’s the limit. Rémy’s XO blends eaux-de-vie up to 37 years of age, averaging 25 years. Dudognon’s line of “Heritage” Cognacs have a minimum of 40 years.
Of course, that’s not what you’ll find in a standard-issue bottle. But what you will find in virtually any good Cognac is an initial burst of fruit, due to its grape base a round, supple smoothness, as wood transforms the brandy and true nuance, thanks to the careful art of blending the refined spirit.
Why hasn’t Cognac really caught on with a generation so well-versed in craft spirits? Perhaps it’s that the name Cognac smacks of luxury, even inaccessibility. Perhaps it’s that brandy sipping was a habit of generations past. And while whiskey’s astronomic rise in popularity is largely connected to the emergence of the craft cocktail world—once we get hooked on Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, an interest in American whiskey isn’t far behind𠅌ognac hasn’t had a breakout cocktail in quite the same way. (We’re still waiting for the year of the Sidecar.)
These brandies are pricey, to be sure, but no more so than other high-end spirits. The time Cognac spends in a barrel inevitably entails a higher price tag. But if you spend $40 on Woodford Reserve or Basil Hayden’s, or $70 on Macallan 12 or Oban 14, Cognac isn’t necessarily a stretch. Especially when you’re thinking about holiday gifts. When better to splurge a little?
While Cognac is all about tradition, producers are still innovating, increasingly introducing bottles that pride themselves on a particular style rather than abiding by the classic age statements. Ferrand, among the most esteemed Cognac houses, honors their history with the recently released Ferrand 10 Generations Cognac ($60). Made exclusively from the Ugni Blanc grape, it starts out fresh and fruity, but ends with a distinct spice, almost in the manner of a rye this is a whiskey-lover’s brandy, but with the fruit-tinged delicacy we love from Cognac.
In creating Rémy Martin Tercet ($110), launched earlier this year, cellar master Baptiste Loiseau identified eaux-de-vie from one of Rémy’s partner vineyards that were particularly fruit-forward. He worked in collaboration with one of Rémy’s longtime wine masters and one of the house’s master distillers to shape their newest brandy from grape to bottle. As a finished Cognac, it’s bold on the palate with fruit and spice, bright and vivid throughout, a bit higher-proof than Rémy’s standard line. This is one to sip slowly and savor on its own merits. (Try serving it on ice, in a wine glass.)
And if you’re looking to explore the world of Cognac cocktails? Pick up a bottle of H by Hine ($40). Moderately priced and nicely balanced, it’s developed for bartenders, and hits every note we love from a good Cognac𠅏resh and fruity initially, bold and rounded on the palate. A perfect entry-level sipper, but it really shines in a classic cocktail. Pick up a bottle, along with a bottle of quality orange liqueur, and embrace the Sidecar as your drink of the holiday season.
At this point your wine has aged a bit and its time to start thinking about bottling. However, before we’re ready for that we need to take care of a few things. First is clarifying the wine.
No one wants to drink a cloudy or chunky-style wine. It looks bad and even if it tastes great people’s first impression will be that your wine is off somehow. Why else would it look like that (they might think)?
What Makes Wine Cloudy?
A cloudy wine has suspended particles in it due to the chemical reactions that took place during fermentation. Like magnets the suspended particles have either a positive or negative charge. Having too many particles of a single charge (all positive for example) prevents them from settling down at the bottom as they repel each other and remain floating around.
If left alone most wines will eventually clear up through racking. Also, over time the positive particles find negative particles, fall in love, and make a home for themselves on the bottom of the carboy.
There are times though when a wine just won’t clarify on its own. At this point you’ll need to clarify (or fine) your wine with a fining agent of some kind.
Clarifying Your Wine
In order to get all those suspended particles out of your wine and on the bottom you’ll need to add a chemical that can bond with the particles making them neutral in charge so they become heavy enough to settle down. There are many methods to choose from.
Over the past millenia there have been many different fining agents used to clarify a wine. To name a few of the more odd ones: bull’s blood, isinglass (from fish bladders), and clay. How nasty does that sound.
Today there are chemicals available so you can avoid having to draw blood from your bull. Namely bentonite and gelatin.
Aside from chemicals you can clarify your wine through filtration as well. It takes a special filter that is fine enough to catch stray yeast cells and other microbial organisms. The drawback to this method is that the filter can remove precious flavor nuances and that’s the last thing we want.
After a lot of research I found that most of the top quality wine makers use egg whites to fine their wine. Pros including Robert Mondavi use this method as one of the corner stones of making his white wines. If it’s good enough for Mondavi it’ll probably do for us too.
The recipe is simple, using the egg whites, of course, and some salt. Once the recipe has been concocted you merely mix it well into your wine and give it some time. The egg whites bond with the tiny particles, making them heavy enough to sink to the bottom.
As soon as your wine is clear you need to rack it off of the settled particles. I cannot stress enough how careful you need to be during this racking. The particles that were so hard to settle out are quite easily stirred back up again. Should this happen you’ll likely need to repeat the clarification step.
Can a Fine Whiskey Age Overnight?
That’s the claim being made by several companies that are using technology to speed their spirits to the liquor-store shelf.
Credit. Gabriela Hasbun for The New York Times
There is an old joke about business that gets told a lot in Napa Valley: How do you make a small fortune in wine? Start with a large fortune.
The same goes for making whiskey. Equipment, barrels and enough space to keep them all can cost millions, money you won’t recoup until years later, when the spirit has matured. In the meantime, you’ll have lost 20 percent or more of your product to evaporation as it ages — what distillers wistfully call “the angel’s share.”
Whiskey, in other words, is ready to be hacked — at least according to Stuart Aaron and Martin Janousek. Their company, Bespoken Spirits, in Menlo Park, Calif., says it can make whiskey in just a few days, using heat and pressure to force alcohol in and out of small pieces of wood that give the spirit its characteristic flavor and color.
“With modern material science and data analytics, we can change this antiquated industry,” Mr. Aaron said.
Bespoken, whose first bottles appeared in stores last fall, joins a crowded field. Nearly a dozen companies claim that they can speed, or even bypass, the aging process. Many have attracted significant attention from investors: Endless West, in San Francisco, has received nearly $13 million in funding since it was founded in 2015, while Bespoken’s backers include the retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
Some of these whiskeys are better than others. While several have won awards at spirits competitions, so far critics have largely dismissed them. But as whiskey sales grow by double-digit percentages each year, and as consumers — and investors — clamor for more than establishment distilleries can provide, companies like Bespoken may be here to stay.
The question is, where does whiskey made overnight fit in a business built on tradition and prestige?
For almost as long as distillers have been putting spirits in barrels to mature, people have been trying to speed up the process. Traditionally, aging involves letting the rise and fall of seasonal temperatures push whiskey into a barrel’s wood, then out again, leaching flavor and color along the way, a process which might last anywhere from a few years to several decades.
Before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 imposed regulations on how whiskey could be made, “speeding up” often meant dosing clear alcohol with caramel and soot, or worse, to make it taste old. But other techniques that were developed in the late 19th century — like heated warehouses that could replicate a full quartet of seasons several times a year — became accepted, and even a common practice among established distilleries.
Over the last decade, some distillers have taken to using barrels much smaller than the standard 53-gallon size, increasing the surface-to-volume ratio inside and thus the rate at which whiskey cycles in and out of the wood.
Bespoken’s technology is in some ways the next step in this evolution. Instead of a full barrel, the company uses thousands of half-pinky-size wood chunks it calls “microstaves,” which it places, along with unaged or partly aged whiskey, in a steel tank. By rapidly raising and lowering the pressure and heat inside, the device, which Mr. Aaron and Mr. Janousek call the “activator,” forces the whiskey in and out of the wood several times a day.
The process offers another advantage, beyond speed. While a barrel is usually made entirely of the same sort of wood, there are hundreds of types of microstaves, varying across tree species and treatments, which allow Bespoken to create a near-limitless array of styles and flavors: The company claims to have 17 billion possible combinations to work with.
“Traditional distilleries excel at producing one thing over and over,” Mr. Aaron said. “We have already produced thousands.”
Another distillery, Lost Spirits, based in Los Angeles, takes a similar approach, loading whiskey and wood into what its founder, Bryan Davis, calls the reactor. One key difference is light: In addition to fluctuating the heat, he bombards the wood with intense light, which he says rejiggers the molecular structure of the wood, helping create the sort of complex flavors one associates with well-matured spirits.
For Mr. Davis, who used to mainly make whiskey before focusing on aged rum, the urge to manipulate aging is less about getting a product to market as fast as possible than it is about taking control of a process that, he believes, leaves too much to chance and nature.
What to Cook This Weekend
Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the weekend. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.
- Gabrielle Hamilton’s ranchero sauce is great for huevos rancheros, or poach shrimp or cubed swordfish in it.
- If you’re planning to grill, consider grilled chicken skewers with tarragon and yogurt. Also this grilled eggplant salad.
- Or how about a simple hot-dog party, with toppings and condiments galore?
- These are good days to make a simple strawberry tart, the blueberry cobbler from Chez Panisse, or apricot bread pudding.
- If you have some morels, try this shockingly good pan-roasted chicken in cream sauce from the chef Angie Mar.
“It’s about getting the ability to move the needle around so we can manipulate these flavor components,” he said. “I wanted to get control so I could create something interesting, like an artist’s medium.”
Other companies, like Cleveland Whiskey and Green River Spirits, use variations on the technologies employed by Bespoken and Lost Spirits. Endless West does something totally different. By analyzing the molecular components of a whiskey, drawing them from natural sources like plants and yeast, and essentially infusing them into an alcohol base, the company claims to be able to reverse-engineer not just bourbon or Scotch, but any beverage, even wine.
The company says it can fashion the equivalent of a spirit aged five years or longer overnight, opening the possibility of mimicking, say, a 30-year-old Balvenie single malt Scotch for a fraction of the Balvenie’s $1,300 retail price. Bottles of its flagship whiskey, Glyph, cost about $40, while Bespoken’s bourbon sells for about $35. Lost Spirits’ rum, which is available only at the distillery or online, costs about $40.
“I liken a lot of the work we do to the digitization of music,” said Alec Lee, a co-founder of Endless West, echoing a sentiment common among these companies. “The digitization of music has largely expanded the availability of great art to people. We want to see a world where quality and availability are not in conflict.”
All three of these companies make competent, pleasant spirits, though each has its shortcomings.
Bespoken’s whiskeys lack the roundness of a conventionally matured spirit there is an initial hit of vanilla, caramel and wood spices, but no follow-through. The same goes for Lost Spirits’s rum, though it’s much more rough and tumble: Bottled at 61 percent alcohol, it is full of dark fruit and leather, a sinewy beast of a drink that, nevertheless, needs depth.
Endless West’s “molecular” whiskey is different. It’s enjoyable enough to drink, and mixes well in a cocktail. But in the same way that an android might have features resembling ears, eyes, hands and hair while still being obviously not human, it has many of the flavor components of a whiskey without actually tasting like whiskey.
Spirits experts tend to agree that whiskeys like these have a way to go before they can compete with conventional labels.
“From my analysis, while someone can create a good product, I don’t get the same kind of complexity as you get from, say, an old bourbon,” said Nancy Fraley, a veteran freelance blender who consults with dozens of spirits companies in the United States and Europe.
It may be that, like computer chess programs in the 1970s, the technology is both impressive and still in its infancy, and that it’s only a matter of time before we see a whiskey from Endless West beat out a bottle of the Macallan in a taste test, the same way the Deep Blue computer bested Garry Kasparov in chess in 1997.
But it may also be that besting the Macallan, or its equivalent, is not the point.
The high end of the spirits market is huge and growing, but in terms of sheer volume, the real money is still in lower-shelf spirits, as well as flavored whiskeys and “ready to drink” canned cocktails — the sort of products in which a spirit’s nuances don’t really matter.
In that sense, a whiskey like Bespoken’s doesn’t have to taste like the best bourbon in order to succeed it just has to be better than the worst, at a competitive price.
And then there’s the international market. As fast as spirits sales are rising in the United States — according to Nielsen, they were up 25.1 percent in 2020 over the previous year — they are nothing compared with the potential that some U.S. and European companies see in places like China and India, where trade barriers are often all that stand between them and billions of consumers, unfamiliar with American spirits but eager to try them. If India dropped its barriers tomorrow, a company like Bespoken or Endless West, with no need to age its products, would be able to supply consumers much faster than a traditional distillery.
That may be why several large distilling companies have been quietly dabbling in rapidly aged whiskey as well. Edrington, the British company behind such luxury Scotch brands as the Macallan and Highland Park, owns Relativity, an American whiskey made using a process similar to Bespoken’s.
Mr. Aaron and Mr. Janousek, of Bespoken, also see an opportunity for customized products — for example, a company looking to give a unique gift to its employees. That possibility is one reason Mr. Jeter has cited for investing: Bespoken could be a boon for athletes and celebrities like him who want their own spirits brand, but don’t want the hassle of paying up front for something that might not be ready for years. (Mr. Jeter declined to be interviewed for this article.)
It’s also possible that, as these companies develop, their products will end up tasting less like a science-fiction version of conventional whiskey than like something else entirely.
Mr. Davis, at Lost Spirits, said he has repeatedly rejected offers from investors because he is more interested in creating new and surprising flavors than in finding a way to beat established distilleries at their own game.
A decade ago, no one could have imagined how large the whiskey industry would grow, and companies like Bespoken and Endless West seem more interested in occupying future markets than in fighting over existing ones.
For a traditional whiskey blender like Ms. Fraley, that’s more than OK.
“From what I have seen and tasted, I don’t see it replicating a 20-year-old whiskey,” she said. “Does that mean it’s bad? No. Does it have a place in the market? Yes. Just as long as we’re clear that it’s not the same thing.”
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