Move Over Infinity Bottle, It’s the Infinity BarrelEdit Post
Contributed by on Oct 04, 2018
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I’d never heard the term “infinity bottle” until Aaron Goldfarb wrote about it back in January of 2017, but I was no stranger to the concept. For the last 10 years I’ve always had at least 1, if not 4 or 5, solera bottles going – that’s what I called them instead. But what if one were to take that concept and merge it with the power of oak and create an infinity barrel?
As all good thoughts are born, this one stemmed from a night of drinking and chatting with friends about whiskey and the gimmicks that get passed around online to make whiskey “taste better”. In all my years of drinking and testing gimmicks I’ve only found one sure method for achieving that: buy better whiskey.
Gimmicks like those utterly useless and wholly ridiculous sticks immediately come to mind. All they do is add color to the whiskey… unless you use two of them that is. But Double Stick Aged Whiskey is an entirely different post – though it does come back to play in this little story of ours later.TWJ’s Finest Old Rare Double Stick Aged Whiskey
Anyways, after a night of drinking and discussing the sticks, “hyper-aging”, sonic aging, small barrels, and all that crap I headed home. Cruising through the lonely streets of Los Angeles, late at night, in the back seat of a car that doesn’t have sirens (Lyft) is a great place for interesting thoughts. That night I started thinking about John Fante.
I remembered the scene where he describes his dad storing casks of wine, and making his own, in their basement during prohibition because no good Italian should ever be without wine. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of having a “house whiskey” and putting the thoughts and conversations together, the idea for an infinity barrel sprung.
Until recently I was using two mini casks as bookends and I started wondering what would happen if I took my already tasty infinity bottles and mixed them into a mini barrel for some added oak-based maturing. If the little cask could enhance what was already good then it might hold some promise for working some form of magic on whiskey that is… not as good.
As a whiskey reviewer with some form of cred I get sent a lot of whiskeys and so I have a ton of samples and bottles of whiskey I don’t really want to drink laying about. As a frequent purchaser of whiskey, I also have a large collection of whiskey that compounds the problem. Basically, there’s a lot of whiskey laying about a 700 sq foot apartment in Hollywood. Some I don’t want to drink, some I don’t, but also don’t want to just throw out. So it sits there.
BUT, what if I can moves that “back shelf” whiskey to the front? What if by the alchemy of oak, time, and mixing some bits of good whiskey with not-as-good whiskey I could create something that’s not just drinkable, but enjoyable? Something that’s more than a novelty?
As appealing as the idea is, I learned from the Mythbusters to always start small scale to identify potential problems before going to the more costly full-scale operation. Long story short I started with a 2.25-liter mini barrel, which consumed one rye and two bourbon infinity bottles. After letting it marry overnight I poured off 200 ml to compare against each week.
Now, if you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen some of the updates already. But in the interest of tying it all together here are the highlights.
2.25-liter Infinity Barrel Weekly Tasting Notes
- Base mix: Spicy aroma with layers of dark sweets and oak; a palate of the same plus a nutty aspect and a solid spicy and oaky finish that fades out to an herbal vanilla.
- Week 1: The spice has moved down a tad and the oak up with more dark sweets popping out all over. The nuttiness is more pronounced and carries through the spicy finish.
- Week 2: Oak, spice and dark fruits all sit evenly across the aroma with a more complex dark-sweets and spice palate. The finish has picked up cocoa and a tannic dryness.
- Week 3: Damn, it’s over-oaked; that didn’t take long. Oak dominates and the texture has become tannic and drying with all other notes fading behind.
The oak it took on wasn’t that offensive “young oak” that comes with most craft whiskeys that employ quarter casks, or smaller. It was richer and I think that has to do with it being already well-matured whiskey. Since this had hit its threshold I bottled the cask to be used for a future project; to my surprise, there was a little under 2 1/4 bottles from the original 3 that went in.
Doing this small-scale experiment taught me 3 important things to think about when ramping up the scale of this Infinity Barrel project.
- I don’t have to worry as much as I thought about it taking on that craft oak taste, but the maturing happens quicker than I thought.
- Small barrels attract greedy angels, so long-term these are going to be some thirsty barrels.
- Making Infinity Barrels are fun.
With learnings in hand, I upped my game from 2.25 liters to 2.5 gallons. Meet Tiny Tweej, my larger mini barrel that’s currently filled with a variety of white whiskey, “moonshine” and TWJ’s Finest Double Stick Aged Whiskey.
“But wait,” you say, “I thought you wanted to try and get not-so-great whiskey to taste great, not make your own from scratch”. To which I say “you’re very astute, thank you for paying attention, allow me to explain by pointing back to learning #1.”
Because the small surface area pounds oak into the spirit like a champion MMA fighter on a heavy bag, and I want this to be a long-term project, I need to reduce the reaction level of the barrel. In the craft whiskey world new make goes in and 3-6 months later “mature” (cough-not-really-cough) whiskey comes out. I don’t want it to come out that soon. I want this infinity barrel to work just like my infinity bottles and keep pouring some out and adding more in, solera style.
As for learning #2, there’s nothing I can do about it. These little barrels will be thirstier than “lifestyle” bloggers on a red carpet so I’ll just have to keep it topped off. Though with the warm weather here in Los Angeles the evaporation could work in my favor, as it does in Kentucky, and increase the proof as the water evaporates out. This is one of those time-will-tell scenarios.
Leaning back to learning #3 this was just the beginning. I refilled the teeny 2.2-liter barrel with both of my scotch soleras and a bottle of Dewar’s 12 I had laying around to make Scotch Infinity barrel with and ex-bourbon “finish”… but it overoaked in a week and a half. Delicate stuff that Scotch… or maybe it’s a powerful little barrel?
Since the Scotch route busted so quick I had no choice; I bottled it all up and filled it with some cognacs I had laying around. This will probably ruin the cognac, being a now-peated cask and all, but the cognac is a sacrifice. I’m hoping after 2 or 3 weeks I’ll end up with a peated cognac cask that’ll work nicely for aging some un-peated single malts with. Exciting stuff.
So that’s where we sit at the moment: the 2.5-gallon barrel is aging new make on my balcony and a 2.25-liter barrel is aging some cognac. This is, obviously, just the beginning. So stay tuned for regular updates on the progress of the Infinity Barrel Project! Or don’t. I’m not your overbearing step-dad.
Edit: I’m just sitting down to read Hacking Whiskey by Mr. Godlfarb and that clever bastard already pointed out the idea of an infinity barrel… of course he did.
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