Wood takes an innovative journey

Who can argue that wood plays a vital role in the taste of your favorite whisk(e)y. In fact, in a Vinepair article it’s estimated that “wood is responsible for 60 to 75 percent of the taste of a finished whiskey.”

More than that, wood is the star of whiskey making with various types of oak, casks that previously held other spirits (even wine), different toasting techniques, even double barrel resting. Maker’s Mark 46 goes one step further and adds wood staves to the barrels. Described as follows: “The innovative wood-stave-finishing process starts with fully matured Maker’s Mark at cask strength. We then insert 10 seared virgin French oak staves into the barrel and finish it for nine weeks in our limestone cellar.”

A new and unique approach

The Sanctified Spirits Company, a startup in Texas, which owns the Oak & Eden brand of bourbon and rye whiskeys, uses a spiral piece of wood (referred to as a spire) inserted into the bottle. This patent pending technique, which they call in-bottle finished whiskey, consists of a 5-inch spiral cut piece of wood from the same species of wood as the barrel. They rest the product for 6 weeks and sell the whiskey with the spire in it.

While I am not a whiskey taster/reviewer, I’m an avid American Whiskey fan, so I tried it to see what it tastes like. The one I tried was Bourbon & Spire (“Bourbon Whiskey finished with a toasted oak spiral”). I loved it.

Here’s how Brad Neathery, Co-Founder and CMO, describes the process:

“The technique allows us the ability to create millions of combinations of whiskey expressions through the selection of the base spirit (bourbon, rye, wheated bourbon, single malt, etc.), the wood type of the spire (American Oak, French Oak, Cherry, Ash, etc.), the fire level we expose the spire to (light toast, medium toast, char, etc.), and the spice or liquid we can infuse the spire with (wine, coffee, rum, beer, etc.).”

About the company

The company was founded by Joe Giildenzopf (CEO), his brother Jamie Giildenzopf (Co-Founder) and Brad Neathery (CMO) in 2017.

When I got a bottle and while doing my research for this article, I noticed the references to God, Christianity and Creation. For example, on the back label it says, “The name pays a gracious homage to both the perfection of the creator who breathes his unique spirit into us, and the wood that infuses our other favorite spirit, and it’s complex flavors.” So, I asked Joe and Brad about this aspect of the company.

“We are Christians. That being said, this is not a Christian whiskey. We’re not attempting to proselytize with this whiskey. We do however, because of our faith and our understanding of Scripture, see the world through that lens, including the production of whiskey. When He turned His attention to making mankind, he did not speak us into existence, he instead used his hands. Taking the elements of the earth and forming a being… breath(ed) into us, which is translated in Hebrew (as) ‘inspire.’ … We call the whiskey Oak & Eden, in-bottle finished, inspired whiskey. And because that great creation story began with God in the garden, we named our product Oak & Eden. Oak is emblematic of wood in the bottle. Eden is the perfection of God’s creation.”

I mentioned these references as religious overtones. Joe corrected me — “I see them as a perspective on the world.”

Makes sense to me. These folks are passionate in what they do, spiritual in how they approach business and it comes together in an innovative, great tasting product.

The products

The current line up consists of Bourbon & Spire, Toasted Oak; Rye & Spire, Charred Oak; Rye and Rumba, Rum Soaked Oak; Bourbon & Vine, Cabernet Steeped Oak.

There’s an excellent review of the brands and tasting notes in this Forbes article.

Brad told me about their newest efforts:

“By the time that you’ve written it, we will have released a collaboration project with Rahr and Sons Brewing, in Texas. They’re a beer company. We want to have two products, a rye infused with their IPA, and a bourbon infused with their Scottish ale.”

The products are all 45% AbV (90°) and sell for $40 for the Bourbon and Rye. Oak & Eden buy their whiskeys from a number of sources, including Midwest Grain Products (MGP). They curate, buy the whiskey, blend, bottle, and finish it in-bottle with the spire.

They launched in May of last year and Oak & Eden is available in TX, CO, KY, MI, OK, and LA. This year they anticipating being in GA, KY, IN, GA, NY, IL. They expect to be national by the end of 2020.

They sold 3,200 (6-pack) cases in eight months in Texas, among the top selling new items in the state. They have a national contract with RNDC (Republic National Distributing Company).

Oak & Eden has three patents, according to Joe:

“We have an exclusive license to the patent for the manufacturing of the spire. We don’t own that, but our cooper does and we have that exclusive license through the life of that patent. We also have a patent on in-bottle finishing, which is the technique of finishing the spirit in a closed glass container with a spiral cut piece of wood. And, then we have a design patent on the bottle and the way in which the spire rests in the bottle. So yeah, we’ve got pretty good IP wrapped around it.”

I asked about their interest in making this innovation available to others. Their answer is they talk about it but have not as yet come to any conclusions, much less a strategy.

The marketing approach

Speaking of strategy, one thing I did not ask about but has since occurred to me, is why they launched so many line extensions from the outset. If it were me, I might have opted to launch with two then gradually roll out the others over time or with selected markets. I would be concerned about stretching the resources too thin.

But I suppose it makes sense. There’s a need to show the range of products using this new technology, an account doesn’t need to purchase all of them, and perhaps they have the financial and other resources to “blast” in rather than “soak” in.

The article cited above in Forbes, raised an important question that I am sure is on the mind of many of you — legitimate innovation or marketing gimmick? The writer’s conclusion:

“I think this is a legitimate innovation and one to get excited about … As a finishing technique, the spire offers a lot more flexibility for finishing whiskeys and dramatically expands the options for different finishes beyond the usual approach of barrels that previously held another liquid.”

I tend to agree. But, the verdict is up to the consumer.