Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Treatment and handling of your distillate.

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SaltyStaves
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Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Post by SaltyStaves » Sat Aug 15, 2020 8:37 pm

I've dabbled with finishes/maturation for my brown spirits with mixed success. I've tried conditioning oak with small volumes of high quality fortified wines (Sherries/Ports etc) and I've tried using cheap 'Cooking' wines too. Neither have given me great results.

Recently I caught a Q&A https://youtu.be/0oUHHR-84ds?t=3040 with Andrew Russell who is the GM at Speyside Cooperage (the largest cooperage in Scotland who supplies the Scottish distilleries with preconditioned barrels). He talked about how their Sherry barrels are prepared and it makes sense as to how they break in the new oak and get it ready for secondary maturation. Not only are the barrels a combination of European and American white oaks, but they are using a sacrificial (young) wine to remove some of the harsh compounds and then using a better quality (older) wine to season the cask. No reason I can't follow that same logic at home....

Prepping my oak - Both my American and French oak are virgin wood. Seasoned and toasted to my preferred specification with a L-M or M-M+ toast.
I cut my woods differently so I can identify them later (as they will go on to be used multiple times in varying spirits.
AO_FO.jpg
Twelve dominos of each were added to a half gallon Mason jar with the sacrificial wine.
Apera.jpg
This was an inexpensive dry Sherry (Apera, cause you can't call it Sherry outside of Spain).

I alternated between the sunshine and the fridge and finally after two weeks, all the oak sank and was no longer showing signs of escaping air bubbles (important for the next step).
sunk.jpg
I then added them to my time machine viewtopic.php?f=44&t=55301 and topped it up with the left over wine.
This was heated up to 50C and held there for 3 days. I did not want to cook the wine. Cooked fruit flavours aren't a goal, unless they come from esters. A microwave would do the same job, but the wood/liquid temperature would need to be monitored and tested to avoid the same problem.

The sacrificial wine was then set aside and the wood was given a day to air dry.
Then I started splitting the pairs up into smaller groupings for the donor wines. These better quality wines only come in 750ml-375ml bottles, so there are limits to how much wood they can season. Fortunately the sacrificial wine can be used to prep the oak for a large varieties of different sherries/wines.
Oloroso.jpg
Oloroso is the most common Sherry found in single malt whisky maturation, so that was always going to be a starter. Next I picked Manzanilla, which is a coastal Sherry and a little bit salty, so, as my username implies, I had to have that.
Manzanilla.jpg
Both of these Sherries are fundamentally different from one another, but both are very dry. Not something I've spent much time with tbh. I can't sit and drink them like Port. In a sweet malty single malt though....

Pedro Ximénez (PX) is another commonly used in finishes, but its mostly found in smaller bottles. Its very much a dessert Sherry, so I only had enough to season two pairs of dominos. It is a very syrupy sweet Sherry (people pour it on ice cream), so when I make a Whisky that needs a sugary boost, I'll be able to reach for it.
PX.jpg
More to follow...

SaltyStaves
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Re: Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Post by SaltyStaves » Sun Aug 16, 2020 3:57 am

Madeira is also great for finishes, but like Sherry, its in decline. People simply aren't drinking it these days.
For the sacrificial wine, I'm using this cheap knockoff stuff that will be familiar to most Kiwis and Aussies as a 'cooking' wine.
Old Masters.jpg
For the donor wine, I'm using this
HandH.jpg
Malvasia (Full Rich) is the most common type of Madeira barrel used in Whisky maturation because of its sweetness. Sadly it has become a bit of relic now and I don't know how easy it will be to find in future. This bottle is one of the last of the stock locally and there won't be any resupply as the market simply doesn't want it.

Port will still be around though. I'll be doing that soon. Cheap Ruby for the sacrificial wine and better Tawny for the donor wine.

Once the oak has been treated with the donor wine, it goes into a jar and is kept in the fridge (which is generally where drinking Sherry is kept once opened).
Oloroso_seasoned.jpg

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Deplorable
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Re: Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Post by Deplorable » Sun Aug 16, 2020 6:08 am

Interesting process.
I get used oaking strips and cubes from the local winery after he pulls them from the barrels. Until I recently started this hobby, I was playing with them oaking white from the micro distilleries we'd visit on our travels. I like the character they give the spirit enough that it inspired me to have the winery fill a once used 5 gallon bourbon barrel with Malbec. Once the Malbec is bottled, Im going to refill the barrel will single malt.
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Re: Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Post by Expat » Sun Aug 16, 2020 6:55 am

SaltyStaves wrote:
Sat Aug 15, 2020 8:37 pm
No reason I can't follow that same logic at home....
So I like the methodology your using, and I'm interested to see how your results pan out.

Gotta ask the question though, why do you feel the need to conform with the Scotch whisky association rules? Seasoning casks with fortified wines casks is primarily a way of circumventing the rules on additives in whisky. In the hobby world we're not bound to any such limit, and we can add whatever we want, which yields some excellent results.

Or do you feel there is something additive about maturing the oak in flavors which cannot be achieved with the whisky being present?
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Re: Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Post by jonnys_spirit » Sun Aug 16, 2020 8:24 am

I have done this too but only with a single seasoning of the sticks. I do keep all my used oak dominoes though that i have used in wines and spirits. I’ll also use some over oaked sherry or port harvested from this process similar to a dash of bitters into a bottle of whiskey. Spent grape pomace is also a nice aging/macerating agent along with the various used and re-used oaks if you like that kind of thing and i’ll filter it through a coffee filter for a bottling or decanter.

I’m going to try this with the specific second soaking now.

How many of these primed dominoes do you use in say a gallon of spirits for finishing?

Cheers,
Jonny
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Re: Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Post by tombombadil » Sun Aug 16, 2020 9:41 am

Isn't the goal mainly to get the wine in to the spirit? Why not just dump in some of the wine while aging in oak like normal?

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Re: Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Post by SaltyStaves » Sun Aug 16, 2020 12:55 pm

Expat wrote:
Sun Aug 16, 2020 6:55 am
Or do you feel there is something additive about maturing the oak in flavors which cannot be achieved with the whisky being present?
tombombadil wrote:
Sun Aug 16, 2020 9:41 am
Isn't the goal mainly to get the wine in to the spirit? Why not just dump in some of the wine while aging in oak like normal?
Adding the wine to the spirit, whether its already aged or not, always ends up disjointed. The two don't seem to marry. Its like the spirit is wearing a coat of wine.
My most recent example would be those two dark Real Torsoro bottles. I emptied them, but didn't rinse them and filled them both with some ex-bourbon matured single malt. You can taste the presence of the Sherries, but its not integrated.

I'd speculate that with a seasoned barrel, the leftover wine in the wood would go through some necessary oxidative aging that wouldn't happen if the liquid is simply dumped into the spirit.
jonnys_spirit wrote:
Sun Aug 16, 2020 8:24 am
How many of these primed dominoes do you use in say a gallon of spirits for finishing?

Cheers,
Jonny
Four in a gallon, so around 60g dry weight. I haven't weighed them wet yet and I'm still playing with how long to let them come up to temperature and oxidize once they are out of the fridge (prior to going into the spirit).

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Re: Seasoning oak with fortified wines and other spirits

Post by SaltyStaves » Sun Aug 16, 2020 9:08 pm

A little side by side comparison with two single malts. On the left is the Oloroso (medium toast American and French oak) and on the right is once and twice used American white oak (Medium toast, Medium char).
Oloroso_vs_ExBourbon.jpg


The oak from the Oloroso did not go into the spirit dripping wet. It was allowed to stand for a few hours and the surface had no glossiness to it. It was only because the fruit flies were showing an interest that I decided to hurry things up and add it to the bottle. If it had gone in wet, the colour would have been a much richer copper red.

These are both from the same distillate and treated equally in all respects, so the different oaks and treatments are the only points of contrast. On its own, I wouldn't reach for the Oloroso. Its too dry and doesn't have the same vanilla as the other one. The French oak may be to blame it that regard and I may move to a ratio of 2:1 (American to European) rather than 1:1 like it was here. The Ex-Bourbon is nice enough, but blending the two allows me to make something that is greater than either. Which is the point of the whole exercise really. To be able to have blending options.

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