Late last year, I have inherited a number of fresh 5 liter barrels. I have kept them until May this year thinking of using one or two for specific whisky aging purposes. I felt it was the right time to stop using it as a dumbbell for my exercised and to start on my project in May. There started the Barrel Project.
Make The Barrel Water Tight
Since it was a fresh and dry barrel, I first needed to clean it and fill it with water to make the staves swell and interlock. This would ensure no leakage from the barrel. It took around 5 days for the water to stop leaking. Barrel soaking the water into its porous structure would also ease the alcohol penetration in the barrel afterwards.
Seasoning The Barrel
I wanted to season my barrel with some wine before filling it with whisky. I chose an affordable secco Marsala wine brand to season the barrel thanks to Mayur Bhatia (Whisky Goodness), who has chosen the same wine to season his cocktail barrel. The Marsala wine would give a savory and nutty profile. The wine spent 2.5 weeks in the barrel before being dumped. The following photo is the color of the wine after the seasoning. Note that it was in golden color before.
Filling The Barrel With Whisky
The tricky part has come and I wanted to use single malt, mostly on the younger side. After digging my inventory of open bottles I have added the following whiskies in the barrel.
- 550 ml Crabbie’s Yardhead
- 520 ml Speyburn 10
- 400 ml Mortlach Rare Old
- 220 ml Jura 10
- 50 ml Paul John Nirvana
- 100 ml Speyburn 15
- 520 ml Wolfburn Aurora
- 100 ml Highland Blend
I first used the single malts to create a blend that I thought that had room to develop in the barrel. That ‘100 ml Highland Blend’ is this blend and it is blended with the other seven single malts. The first blend in the barrel had the following tasting notes.
Nose: Chalky, lemongrass, cereal, warm, caramel, vanilla
Palate: Vanilla, butterscotch, malty
Finish: Mineral feeling, long, zesty
Now it was time to wait. In total I filled the barrel about half (2.5 lt) and I was expecting a loss of 40-50% from my calculations on the loss during seasoning steps. The aging would continue around 2 to 3 months and every Saturday I rotated the barrel a quarter in diameter in clockwise direction. Thanks to Covid-19 period, I was home and could take care of it.
It was really hard to wait in the first weeks. I wanted to experience what was happening and I took samples every two weeks, writing tasting notes. The following photo is from Week 1, which brought out toasted oak qualities with some savory notes that is coming from the Marsala wine.
It took me 2.5 months to dump the barrel. Finally, this week I thought that the taste was at its optimum level and it even had an extra touch of oak quality than I imagined. However, the whisky passed the test from a lot of friends, who I can also call my Greedy Angels!
I ended up with more loss than I calculated too. The angels (both living and imaginary) took about 60% of the volume, which is also the indicator of staves being penetrated by the spirit.
I am also sharing my final tasting notes.
Nose: Sandalwood, cola, lavender, nutmeg, floral notes, orange zest, nuts
Palate: Savory and balanced, stone fruits, quince dryness, shaved oak, white peppers, peach
Finish: Long, star fruit, juicy with high minerality.
Aside from the process, this experiment gave me the motivation to continue with further barrel experimentation. That’s why I called this post ‘The New One’. Right now the barrel is resting for a few days and then I will start the second experiment.
To be continued…