Over A Barrel w/ John Jeffrey from Bently Heritage – Minden, NV
Distilling Craft: Over a Barrel by Dalkita Architecture & Construction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
In this episode the chemical reactions inside the barrel are reviewed as a quick break from the fermentation series including what flavors the different woods and proofs will impart on the spirit. John Jeffery from Bently Heritage in Minden, NV is interviewed to talk about their process and the aging plans.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Bently Heritage: bentlyheritage.com
Headframe Stills: www.headframestills.com
CARL Stills: www.brewing-distilling.com
John Jeffery’s Thesis –>”Aging of Whiskey Spirits in Barrels of Non-Traditional Volume”
Check out other episodes of the Distilling Craft Podcast here.
Episode Identifier (00:00:00): Welcome to Distilling Craft. You’re listening to episode (19): Over a Barrel! Today, we’re going to be talking with Johnny Jeffery from Bently Heritage out of Minden, Nevada.
Dalkita Promo (00:00:15): Distilling Craft is brought to you by Dalkita, a group of architects and engineers who specialize in designing craft distilleries across the US. More information is available at our website www.dalkita.com
Colleen Moore (00:00:32): Hello everyone. Welcome to Distilling Craft, I’m Colleen Moore. Just a quick thing before we start today’s show. When we are hard at work, lining up new interviews and producing new shows, and you are so kindly waiting on us, we’re going to reissue a couple of our episodes from season one with some previously unreleased material mixed in. Johnny literally wrote his thesis about aging whiskey and barrels of nontraditional volume. Now, he’s making whiskey in the warm sandy locale of Minden, Nevada in a multi-year labor of love. Later in the show, our radiogenic part-time distiller, DJ, is going to take a break from the fermentation series and talk about the chemical reactions inside the barrel; what flavors, the different woods, and proofs will impart on your spirit. Welcome to the show, Johnny.
Johnny Jeffery (00:01:23): Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Dalkita DJ (00:01:25): You have a very interesting background, would you mind walking through it a little bit?
Johnny Jeffery (00:01:33): I am a food chemist. My background in distilling started at Michigan State University, where I did a master’s degree under Dr. Chris Berglund, who’s a chemical engineer. I was in the food science program by the distilling side of that program, had microbiologists and chemical engineers and ag-focused students, and our lab was cross-pollinated by that, where I was very much focused on the chemistry of things. We had people who were focused on everything from the origination of grains and fruits and other materials to people who thought we should be employing reactive distillation columns like, they use in big Pharma to try to do interesting and novel things with spirits. My fascination with the overlap of the multi-millennia-long history of fermentation and distillation with the state-of-the-art equipment that we had available to us, their analytical equipment and the chemical engineers, who are trying to synthesize flavors and reactive columns, that’s where I got my start. I’ve worked in a few distilleries around the country. I’ve consulted with a ton of distilleries around the country and have recently found my way to Carson valley where all of those things have come together and I have this pretty amazing opportunity to work on all ends of that spectrum, an interest of mine.
Dalkita DJ (00:03:45): Would you tell me a little bit about Bentley Heritage and what you are doing there?
Johnny Jeffery (00:03:51): We’re building in a state distillery. The owner, Chris Bentley, owns about 6,000 acres in the valley here. We’re going to be able to grow and malt roast, cook, and distill our own grains. We’re also working on greenhouses and hoop houses, so we can grow our own botanicals for gin. And at a big piece of what we do here is really try to get out into the environment, and forage, and look for indigenous analogs of botanicals that are used in gin, that we can collect seed or buy seed for, and use in our products, where most people are sourcing botanicals in particular from Europe because of the traditional areas where these things are grown. We’ve found things like Angelica root that is native to this area, growing up in the [inaudible] national forest. So, we’ll try to grow our own Angelica from an eastern Sierra native variety. So we have all of that. We’re building two distilleries, one of which will be focused on malt whiskey, American single malt, and an Armagnac style Great Brandy, where we’ll source as many of the grapes as we can from Nevada, but where we can’t, we’ll buy some line from California. We’re growing all the barley for our malt whiskey, But then the other distillery will be focused on bourbon and rye, gin and vodka. So, we’ll cover the whole gambit of what you can put into a still and make into a spirit. We have an orchard that we’re working on with pears and apples and peaches. That’s a bit of a struggle in the high desert climate cause we get late frost and in spring, an early frost, and fall. We’ve already had two weeks worth of frost here. So that’s pretty hard on the orchard. But, anything we can do, we will, and we’ve got great resources for that. That’s what Bently Heritage is.
Dalkita DJ (00:06:22): What separates out the two distilleries besides the products you’re trying to make? Is it just that one is focusing more on fruit, so you don’t need the mashing capabilities, mashing and milling? Or are there bigger differences between the grain distillery and the Brandy distillery?
Johnny Jeffery (00:06:40): Yeah, there are. When you’re calling the grain distillery, I’ll call the creamery. So the creamery building has German and American-made stills in it. So Christian Carl pots still and a Headframe still from Butte, Montana to do the grain whiskeys. That’s also where we’ll do the neutral and the gin distilling. That is also where we have a very small 400 liters still that we’ll use for experimentation and for trying out heirloom grains or botanicals that we’re not sure we would want to scale up into a product, so that’s the one building. It also has all of our barrel filling and disgorging, that whole process will take place there, in our bottling line. The other building, we call it the Mill Building. The mill building has four sites stills in it, so it’s focused on American single malt on the brandy. It’s really still types and the focus of the product. So the mill building, I guess the thing that I didn’t mention is that, both of these buildings have been restored. They’re historic buildings built in 1906 and 1919. And the mill building was a flour mill. So it has four huge silos that we’ve renovated into a distillery. And then the brick portion of that mill is where the customer-facing experience tasting room will be. And then the creamery was a butter plant. So that building has also been restored and rebuilt and we’re reusing materials, and we’re really trying to take these buildings that have this beautiful character and history and reuse them in a new way for something cool and beautiful that contributes to the valley. The products themselves will also incorporate this vision of focusing on this area in the history of this area.
Dalkita DJ (00:08:50): You said all the barrel filling and disgorging was in a single facility, so you’re making the brandy and a malt whiskey in one facility, then rolling it over to the other building. How does that process work?
Johnny Jeffery (00:09:17): Every other day, we will haul a tote of whiskey from one building to the other. So the Malt whiskey or brandy that we’re making at the time wll come into the creamery building for barrel filling. The bourbon, Rye, wheet whiskey, oak whiskey, those will be made in the creamery, so there’ll be pumped over. But, all the barrel filling happens in the one building.
Dalkita DJ (00:09:39): You’ve got to tell me about your oak whiskey.
Johnny Jeffery (00:09:42): Well, there’s not much to tell yet, but it’s an interesting area. We’re high desert, so we’re 4,700_4,800 feet. There’s lots of pivot agriculture here and lots of irrigation and lots of water coming out of the mountains. One of the things that happens to grow really well here is hulless oaks. And just in the interest of having a cool product line and using things that people don’t traditionally use, we grew a bunch of oaks, and have tested out a couple of oak whiskeys. We have a pilot plant that we’ve been running for two years to experiment with all the grains, because when you build something this big, it behooves you to know whether or not the grains are gonna turn out. And oat whiskey has been one of our cooler experiments
Dalkita DJ (00:10:36): Do the oaks mill differently or mashed differently? What is the process look like for oat whiskey as opposed to conventionals?
Johnny Jeffery (00:10:45): Like Bourbon and Rye, we have to add enzymes cause we don’t have any enzyme activity in the oaks. We may malt them in the future and try to get that activity. Here are the two big things for oak. You can’t run it through a roller mill cause it just crushes. So it has to go through the hammer mill and really get beat up. We’re using the hulless oats because unlike other grains, the hulless or the Schaff on the oats when it gets milled well is like fiberglass. So we were in breaking bad tyvek suits and breather masks and goggles when we’re mashing oats, because it’s really an irritant to the skin. Beyond that, now with these hulless oats, it’s much less of an issue. And mashing for oat looks a lot like mashing for corn in a lot of ways. You have your temperatures that you have to hit, you have your enzymes that you need to get in there. And after that it’s all the yeasts’ job.
Dalkita DJ (00:11:47): Very cool. I’ll be interested to see how that turns out.
Johnny Jeffery (00:11:51): Well, our neutral base will be oak, so our vodka will be made from oats.
Dalkita DJ (00:11:58): Why’d you choose that?
Johnny Jeffery (00:11:59): It has an incredible mouthfeel and sweetness to it. It’s really light but retains a lot of body in a way that you don’t get with most other grains. We played around a lot with wheat, but there are a lot of neutral bases on the market, a lot of vodkas on the market where they’re using wheat, and this just felt like a really cool way to differentiate. Oats are one of those grains that don’t get used a lot in distilling just because, they’re not traditionally used, I don’t know exactly why you don’t see much oat in neutral because it’s really pretty lovely.
Dalkita DJ (00:12:39): I think you may have just inspired some experimentation. So, how much are you producing in a day or a week? Right now?
Johnny Jeffery (00:12:52): Right now, the big facility isn’t built, so we’re running 300-gallon fermenters and 100-gallon potstill. But like I said, that’s our pilot plant, just to give a sense of scale. The mill building will have four wooden 2,500 gallon washbacks. So 2,500 gallon wash still, foresights wash still, and then 1300 gallon spirit still. The Creamery will have 5,000-gallon wooden wash backs. And the Headframe column is designed to run one of those in a shift. And then the pot still there is also about 1500 gallon functional capacity. So, when we’re running full bourbon, we’ll put away. Well, when you’re running single shift five days a week, we’ll put away about 3000 barrels a year. We have the capacity to double that if we need to. Should see our first whiskeys coming out in our fourth year of operations. So 2022_ 2023, something like that.
Dalkita DJ (00:13:58): Let’s get into your barrel program a little bit. How are you designing your barrel aging for these different spirits? What are some of the things you’re looking at?
Johnny Jeffery (00:14:10): Well, we certainly have some straight-up traditional, some traditional uses that we’re gonna put into place. Obviously, we need new American charred for traditional aging of bourbon and rye. But, we’ll be playing with local wood a lot. So we have some experiments that we’re doing toasting, for example, Manzanita wood and experimenting with its flavor characteristics as something that we could put into a barrel to flavor it. One of the interesting abilities that we have because we will be making so many different is, you can put bourbon in a new American charred barrel for two years. I mean, you can put bourbon in a new American charred barrel for 38 seconds and you have a bourbon. Not particularly well-aged one, but you can use the word you’ve met the standard. So, we can put bourbon into a traditional barrel for two years, pull it out and reuse that barrel for the malt whiskey, cause malt whiskeys very traditionally use used bourbon barrels. So, pulling a whiskey out of that traditional barrel early or quote unquote early for us doesn’t mean wasting that barrel. It means we repurpose it and put it into use somewhere else. At which point, we could take that bourbon and put it in a neutral barrel and add something interesting to it, like Manzanita, or pinyon which grows around here as well. Pine nut trees. We’re definitely experimenting with what we can pull from the environment. Again, that’s a theme in what we do. We are looking at anything from very traditional barrels. We’re lined up to buy a whole mess of sherry butts from all whiskey, but we’ll look at employing those barrels on the bourbon and rye side. We’ve done a lot of work trying to figure out how a traditional barrel aging program works in a malt whiskey in a scotch distillery or in a cognac or Armagnac distillery. So, we’re trying to cross pollinate those traditions back into that traditional American whiskeys as well as working the other direction and taking what bourbon distillers do and using it on the malt whiskey side. On the brandy side, they do all kinds of interesting things from making oak extracts and using those to adjust the flavors of products to aging their water in barrels. We’re taking all of these traditions and trying to pass around the best of what we find, and then take all of that traditional stuff and see what we can’t do to make it non traditional as well by pulling from our environment and doing interesting and new things.
Dalkita DJ (00:17:20): The aging of water is starting to become a theme on this show for something, a whole variety of distilleries or are working on. I think you were maybe the fourth or fifth one we’ve talked to about it. With that in mind, what do you see is the flavor extraction that the water is getting from the OCO? How does that work? Are we extracting different chemicals at that point, or is it just a matter of leeching in some tannins? How do you think that’s working?
Johnny Jeffery (00:17:53): Totally. Well, now we’re wandering into chemistry. So the extract in oak is made up of a very complex array of compounds and polymers. Some of them are preferentially extracted in ethanol. Some of them are preferentially extracted in water. So if you barrel it 65% or you barrel at 50%, you’re going to get very different types of extraction. The way that that extraction is laid out when you go looking at the is primarily sort of characterized in tasting notes. But, down in the water extraction you get, you get a tremendous amount of tannin being pulled. Again, speaking to cross pollinating in wine production, you look to 10 and to help build the structure of your wine. And by structure essentially what they mean is mouth feel and body. So they’re sort of increasing the viscosity of the liquid and making it thicker on the pallet. And what increasing the viscosity and thickening on the pallet does is it elongates the tasting experience. So, there’s this thing that people will say when you’re talking about tasting a whiskey for instance, and that’s that a well matured, a well aged product. You’ll be having the experience of tasting it 20 or 30 seconds after you put it in your mouth and you’re able to really savor it for a long period of time rather than if you think about the experience of tasting, quote unquote a vodka for instance, which not many people outside of a distillery do. But basing of vodka by in large means, you get a sense for the body and the mouth feel. You get a sense for how clean or how how much it’s been rectified or filtered. And you’re pretty much done at that point. You’ve got your two to three things that you’re looking for there and the experience’s over. If you tasted 25 or 30 year Scotch whiskey from space side, you might put that taste on your tongue and savor it and taste it in 20 and 30 seconds later. Additional compounds are popping off into your nose and into your palate. That experience has drawn out. And one of the ways that you can look to draw that experience out is to add something that builds the structure of the liquid because structuring that liquid changes the volatility of all of the compounds in the liquid. You put 45% alcohol on the human tongue and it’s at your body temperature, which means much of what’s there just wants to boil off. But, if you’ve decreased the volatility profile, those things are going to volatilize a little more slowly and you can extend the experience of tasting that thing. So that’s one of the things that you’ll hear a lot about in a cognac and Armagnac when they’re talking about what their oak extracts do. They’re building structure there, including tannins, and then giving those tannins or those structural elements time to incorporate into the spirit by arresting them together in order to change the way that the experience happens. I’m really glad to hear that lots of people are doing that. It’s an amazing, an awesome tool that hasn’t really been used in this country, in distilling because, the standards of identity say a couple of things about how you need to make things. And those rules have monopolized the attention of producers, and the perspective that I’ve seen taken as well this is what you have to do to make this product. So this is what we’ll do to make this product rather than how many different traditions can we go looking into to see what they do to make their products more complex and beautiful, and what are their perspectives on how you nurture one of these products from birth to completion. And how many of those traditions can I pull pieces of in order to really develop a style in this country rather than sort of continuing to express the same kinds of things in these products. And let me put my hands in the air and saying, I’m not trying to diminish anything that’s out there cause they’re beautiful, world-class, incredible bourbons and ryies on the shelves. But, speaking from the standpoint of someone who’s about to start up a distillery next year to make something that I want to put on the shelves next to those world-class products, one of the things that I am looking to is, how can we differentiate and how can these other traditions help us do a little whiskey jazz.
Dalkita DJ (00:23:04): That’s a great perspective. When you’re looking at the barrels you’re using, you already talked about doing some different kinds of wood, but inside the oak family, have you done any experimentation with French oak, Hungarian oak? In the wine industry, certain oaks are going to give certain flavor profiles, but because of the bourbon requirements, everybody just reaches for American oak, in general, for whiskey. Are you getting to do any playing around on that end?
Johnny Jeffery (00:23:37): Yes. We’ve got sitting in my little barrel room back there. I’ve got American Oak, French oak. I’ve got some Russian oak. I’ve got Spanish oak. We’ve got sherry barrels. We have a whole parade of types, and like I said, we have to do some traditional American oak aging, but we will be looking to these other oaks particularly since we can recycle our own barrels to try to bring some of those different wood profiles into the spirits, and not only that, but different toasts levels and heat treatments. We’re working really closely with our Cooper, potentially all the way back to stave selection to how long and what style of seasoning we’re allowing them to supply us with for the oak staves. It’s a lot of things that try to keep organized, but that the upside to that is we have many tools and these other oaks are absolutely part of that as well as the the local wood, that we’ll use to riff with as well as potentially smoking some grain with some of these local woods or a little bit of everything. We’ll have 5 million experiments in our Rickhouse and, hopefully, we don’t discover that the one that we put only one barrel level way because, we thought it was too outlandish is the angel tears.
Dalkita DJ (00:25:25): That was just going to be my next question is, how are you organizing such a breadth of experimentation? Is it just make one of everything and see how it comes out in five years, or do you try to design a spirit profile based off- of I’m gonna Choose Hungarian oak, so that it’s not quite so tightly grained, and I can get a little more extraction and that’ll balance with a wheat whiskey, or how are you coming up with the barrel profiling?
Johnny Jeffery (00:25:54): Well, there’s certainly some of that. There’s looking at what’s known, looking at the known profiles of the wood, what the extract looks like, the chemistry of that extract, what different aging effects we can expect from different densities in the grain. We can’t even necessarily expect the tradition to hold true because we’re not sourcing grain from one of the major grain suppliers, or one of the major malt suppliers. So yes, there is an element of pre designing and sort of pre conceptualizing what we want to come out. But I make no pretense to to knowing exactly what is going to come of all these things. We’ll take our heirloom corns that we’ve grown up here in the desert and we will make Bourbon Mash bills that we have already tested out. So, we know certain things about their flavor profiles. We will put them into barrels that we know a lot about. We’ll put them into a Rickhouse, where we’re controlling some of the environmental factors because we shore camp put barrels into 15% humidity for four years and expect to pull anything out. Essentially, the way this works is we have the bulk of our production at 50_60%, which is making use of known quantities. And then, we have the rest of our production, which is experimental stuff. The idea there will be, the known quantity production will sit in Rickhouse and do send me traditional aging, and we’ll test it once a year and we’ll pull samples and make sure that we know what we know. The experimental stuff will be checking in on much more often because, if we see something really remarkable happening, then we may move that into a higher level of production before we’re ready to pull it out, because we can see that there are beautiful things happening there. So the first couple of years will be experimental whether we like it or not. Hopefully going into year two, we’ll be getting a sense for what some of these experiments they’re doing and putting them into more of a production focus track.
Dalkita DJ (00:28:29): What kind of controls are you putting in your Rickhouse? Obviously some have humidity control, what else are you doing?
Johnny Jeffery (00:28:37): It’s humidity and temperature. The temperatures swings in the high desert here are, even in summer, we’ll get 40_ 50 degree temperature swings. What’s funny about that is, we can use the sun; the sun heats the space up really well. If you’re swinging 50 degrees, fall somewhere in the middle, which is a pretty mild temperature unfortunately. So, it will be heating and allowing to cool temperature and humidity, and some will have a couple of different environments. We have one space where we really just want to do traditional long aging. So, we’ll have one space full of malt whiskey and potentially other products. But brandy, that’s just sitting in a cool human environment and it’ll take 10_12 years for those products to be ready to pull out of that space. Then, we have a couple of other spaces where it will be playing with the variables more aggressively.
Dalkita DJ (00:29:46): So, when you’re playing with them more aggressively, there’s a couple of different theories out there on what the temperature swings do. Are you looking at it more as trying to force the spirit into the wood and using that expansion and contraction method? Or, are you looking at the heat is exciting the chemical reactions that are occurring? What is your thought on what the temperature is doing to the barrels?
Johnny Jeffery (00:30:13): I would never use the word force for my products in any way. We are not trying to force anything to happen. We might try to encourage some things to happen. We’re using temperature to catalyze reactions and the methodology behind that. I won’t go into, but there’s a reason that bourbon whiskeys are coming out of barrel at seven years, and our beautiful and our wonderful expressions of what bourbon is, where Scottish whiskeys are coming out of barrel at a minimum of 8, 10, 12 years. And there are a variety of factors that play into that. We’re definitely going to be using the temperature to encourage things to happen as well as the barrel selection, and the proof of the whiskey as it goes in the same way that certain extracts are preferentially pulled out of the wood at 50 or 55% versus 60 or 62%. Certain reactions preferentially happen at different proofs, so you can put these barrels into the same environment. Again, the same whiskey distilled in the same day, same grain, different proof, same type of barrel, and you’ll get a different style of whiskey out at the end. So that’s another factor. We have a pretty great lab set up, so we’ll be tracking over time what is happening in these barrels, not just by sensory and by pulling samples and nosing them over time. But we have GC-MS, that’s a really sweet piece of lab equipment for looking at what is actually being produced in these environments. The way that I look at this is that, we’ve got a great big snowball and a great big mountain and a really great ramp building team, so we will drop the snowball at the top of the mountain, and if halfway down the mountain we need to take a turn, we can build a really quick ramp and shift directions or pull barrels out of one environment and put it into another environment, or focus on certain grains rather than others, or focus on certain barrels rather than others. And there will come a point toward the end of the second year of operation, where we’re all really sitting and evaluating everything that we’ve done and what it is becoming, what it’s evolving toward, and what that third and fourth year of production needs to look like in order to be playing to our strengths in order to be taking the things that are really working well and focusing on them, because of what we’re able to see in the lab and, and taste and smell.
Dalkita DJ (00:33:10): Are you going to be doing any playing with the humidity and trying to get relative evaporation, so you’re extracting more water on a given day, or forcing a little extra ethanol out of the barrel on a given day, or you’re messing with that in any way?
Johnny Jeffery (00:33:29): Of course, we’re playing with temperature and humidity, so we’re making use of that the natural process, the natural sort of desire for certain things in the barrel to migrate through the oak. You said on a day to day basis, I would say more on like a quarter to quarter basis. The changes that you need and the shifts in the way that the barrel and the spirit are acting don’t happen quickly necessarily. We’re not setting up a Rickhouse to hold thousands of barrels that we can force the temperature and the humidity to change over the course of a day or two. We’d take weeks to make those adjustments in the Rickhouse. It’s a gradual process. We’re implementing gradual changes. In a funny way, I think that anything you ask me, the answer is going to be yes. Because, we’re trying to play with just about every piece of this puzzle. I’d never say that we’re looking for like an ideal condition. What we’re looking for is an ideal expression. So, when we find the set of conditions that produces the thing that is the most beautiful to us, then we will have succeeded.
Dalkita DJ (00:35:05): Makes Sense. One other leverto help with your expression can be oxygenation. Are you playing with that either by letting the barrels naturally drop in volume or by purposely keeping them full? Are you doing any exterior oxygenation- anything along those lines?
Johnny Jeffery (00:35:25): That’s no, actually. That’s something that that we’ve talked about MicroOx systems. If we were to use something like that, I think down the line, it might be something that we’d try to put into place on a marrying that, even in wine production. When they’re doing MicroOx, they’re taking multi thousand gallon tanks and putting in fractions of a leader of gas per month. So, there’s a point at which in a barrel is a pretty small vessel. That sort of natural evaporation and exposure to oxygen up above does the job. But, honestly, there’s gas migrating into the barrel anyway through the wood. So that ideal a little vessel can manage that for the moment. Down the line, like I said, we might do some experiments at a marrying tank, where we bubble it after we combined some barrels. And I’ve gotten to a point where we’re relatively happy with the blend we’re working on.
Dalkita DJ (00:36:44): The main reason I was asking is, I’ve just read some theories that one of the effects of elevation on barrels is actually lowering the amount of oxygen present at the higher elevations to create some of those oxidation reactions. And I was just curious if you’re gonna try to mess with that. I don’t know anybody who is, it’s just a theory I’ve read at this point.
Johnny Jeffery (00:37:07): That’s an interesting thought. I got nothing on that. I won’t set in a distillery and had someone tell me that the reason their spirits were so wonderful is because they distill it at elevation and it lowers the temperature of the distillation and their products were lovely. It’s not as we’re operating in a vacuum. So yes, there’s less oxygen available, but there’s plenty around
Dalkita DJ (00:37:42): Certainly enough to do the job.
Johnny Jeffery (00:37:44): Yeah.
Dalkita DJ (00:37:45): The one last thing to go over with the barrels and barrel aging is, the actual interactions inside the barrels with the different components that you put in, and then that are extracted from the wood. Do you have any philosophy on what you look for as an input on your whiskey? Are you doing any testing to, say in the rum world, you want to have a higher fusel oil count when you put it in the barrel, so that those have a chance to dissolve? What do you doing along those lines?
Johnny Jeffery (00:38:16): When we distill on any given day, we have a sense for how long we’re going to leave that product in the barrel. So, we’re adjusting our distillation style at any given moment for what it is that where we think the timeline is. Similarly, a yeast selection will play into that. So a younger whiskey will have potentially particular style of yeast that we know are going to produce the kinds of compounds that will be conducive to a faster aging process. Where if we’re distilling that month, call it, cause we’ll have production cycles, to put barrels into 130 gallon sherry butts into a Scotland zone, that spirit is going to sit there for 10 years, 12 years. So you can let more of the cats and dogs into the party, cause they’ll have much more time to be wrapped up in the chemistry of aging and what might tast. I don’t like the word flawed, but what my tastes sort of heavily dosed with congeners. On day one, we’ll certainly have had time to incorporate by year 12. So yeah, we’re distilling for what we think we’re doing with that product. We’re not using any sort of, so-called small barrels, but 53 gallon barrel is a small barrel compared to a sherry butts, or hogsin. So, there’ll certainly be different distillation styles depending on what we think our timeline is.
Dalkita DJ (00:40:05): How does your back end program work with the barrel blending? Are you going to be trying to taste your way through the warehouse and to determine the perfect blend? Or, are you going to be more saying, like you said earlier, the Scotland room will be ready at approximately the same time and we’ll just pull from there and create a blend of this section of the warehouse?
Johnny Jeffery (00:40:29): I will have to know every barrel and run analytical on every barrel, when we’re ready to blend. We know what our our sales forecast is, what we want to be pulling out when we’re ready to start pulling products out. Basically, the way it’s going to look as myself and my team, we’re going to have an apartment set up in the Rickhouse and we will live and breathe those here, one and two whiskeys when we’re ready to start making blends. We’ll nose through them and we’ll look at analytical. It’ll be a process of course, but we’ll build our sort of blend drafts. We’ll build our drafts and put those barrels into marrying tanks and let them rest there and figure out what we think we need to add. But, certainly, preliminarily, at the beginning, there will be a whole lot of nosing going on to really what we’ll have to do is build our internal standards. If you look at it as a multivariate analysis, you’ll be looking at what are the categories that we want to call our master categories for nosing profile, for malt whiskey. Is it multi and woody and vanilla and sweet and yhigh tannin, and those five categories are the ones that we pull into balance for the base of the blend, and then we go looking for the highlights and the top notes or whatever it is. We’ll spend a whole bunch of time building that internal map. Once we have an internal map, of course, it becomes easier because then, when you go back for your 7th and 8th blend, your 7th and 8th release, you already have a sense for what different barrel types and areas of the Rickhouse are doing. And you can say, we know that we need to pull these five elements into balance, so let’s go looking for our high tannin and our high maltiness or sweetness. Let’s identify those barrels and get those all into a marrying tank, and then we’ll go looking for our accents so to speak.
Dalkita DJ (00:42:58): How does that going to play with some of these more experimental batches you’re running? Are they going to be large enough to do that as well, or is it going to be more of a single barrel note that you’ll then be using to either grow a program from or to act as a highlight on the bigger programs?
Johnny Jeffery (00:43:17): Well, we have a tasting room, so there will certainly be single barrel releases from the wackier experiments. Then, we’ll have our base expressions. We’ll have our Bentley Heritage Bourbon which will be looking to keep consistent. But then I suspect you’ll see a whole lot of neck hangers on Bentley Heritage bottles describing how a release is unique. And probably different colored bottles or something along those lines, that’ll describe this is our bourbon delving into the smoke realm. This is our malt whiskey where we experimented with some indigenous woods from this region. It’ll just be a ton of fun to have these releases that they’ll always be smaller, of course, than the base products unless they really are truly spectacular. There will be lots of smaller batches that are released.
Dalkita DJ (00:44:18):
Very cool. Well, I appreciate you coming on the show and spend them a little time with us.
Johnny Jeffery (00:44:24): My pleasure. You ask great questions, you know your stuff, which is fantastic.
Dalkita DJ (00:44:28): Thank you.
Dalkita Promo (00:44:30): Today’s interview is brought to you by the team of architects and engineers at Dalkita. Dalkita has been serving the craft distilling industry for over 13 years, and committee to production facilities that work. Now, let’s get back to the show.
Colleen Moore (00:44:45): A special thanks to Johnny Jeffery from Bentley Heritage, for talking with us on our show today. Up next, star field reporter, who might want to be a distiller one day, and his monologue on chemical reactions inside the barrel. As we take a quick break from our fermentation series, we’ll go over what flavors different woods impart and different proofs impart on your spirit.
Dalkita DJ (00:45:09): With barrel aging, there’s all kinds of things going on. I’m going to try to focus a little bit more just on the barrel and some of the chemistry going on inside the barrel right now. We talked a bit more about the Rickhouse and some of the factors going on there in one of our early episodes. So I wanted to try to do something a little bit different this time out. So let’s start off with,
Dalkita DJ (00:45:32): “What does the barrel do for us?” Basically, the distilling controls all your volatile compounds. By the practice of distilling, we’re basically getting some chemicals to evaporate and then capturing those, and then we’re not allowing others to evaporate and dumping those. So that’s the volatility index of it. Then once we’re in the barrel, we’re actually going to be forming longer chains and extracting some esters and stuff from the wood, that will give us the complex base of the spirit. We’re also going to be converting smooth, volatile compounds into longer chain, more stable compounds. It’s also a byproduct of barrel aging that naturally the more volatile compounds will be the ones that evaporate the most. That’s not to say that in all the methanol is going to evaporate out of your barrel before the ethanol does, but more methanol will evaporate out of the barrel then ethanol given relative concentrations and a couple other things. So, the first thing to look at when we’re talking about our barrels is, the wood that it’s made out. There’s two thoughts on this. One is that coarse-grained wood is better. Coarse-grained wood is typically European oaks, although Oregon oak here in the US is also going to have a little bit coarser grain. Coarser grain allows for more permeability for oxygen and easier extraction of flavors. A tighter grained oak is going to be more dense and harder to get that flavors out of. This is one reason that American oak tends to be charred because that allows for some of the lignans to be converted on its own rather than needing to get though ethanol up into the barrel to do that extraction. What you’re going to choose is going to be based off of what you’re planning on doing with your spirit. If you’re looking at doing a really longterm aged spirit, it may be better to go with that tighter grain and let have the time to soak in there rather than getting a really huge extraction with the coarse-grained. Of course with those coarse-grained barrels, where a lot of people do is, a short time in a new barrel. And then your longterm aging coarse barrel that has already had a lot of that flavor extracted. In the longer term, coarse grain barrels will have given up a lot of their flavor early on, so they will have less flavor to give after about year three for, let’s say, a 20 year spirit. So that’s a couple of different ways to look at what would you’re selecting. It’s always important if you have the ability, mainly money, to try to do some parallel testing with your spirit and say, with my bourbon, I really do prefer the traditional say Missouri White Oak than trying to go out there and look at a Hungarian oak that may be a little bit coarse-grained. But they’re both going to give different flavor characteristics based on where they were grown, how the barrels are made, thickness of the staves. And if you have the ability to do that parallel testing, you can say, well, my Bourbon does taste better based on how I’m aging it in these different barrels. Maybe I’m not going to do it, but normal way. It’s important to remember, particularly for Bourbon, it does need to be new oak, but it does not need to be new American oak. That being said, finding people who are doing the right toast and charr on European oaks is certainly harder to do, but they are out there.
Dalkita DJ (00:48:59): So, why do you want more oxygen into your barrel? Oxygen is great for aging. It’s one of the primary things that is going on. Oxidation of the spirit is basically going to turn ethanol into acetic acid. And what’s going on there is that, acetic acid is both going to affect the Ph of your spirit. A lower Ph is going to make it a less volatile spirit, and then also enable some other flavor compounds to form. When you’re trying to focus on that ethanol to acetic acid conversion, we need a barrel proof about 45_55%. A lot of these different reactions I’m going to talk about today, take place at different barrel concentrations, and so this is one reason that you’ll see people who have proof increase in their barrel warehouse. Maybe you start your proof a little lower, and then allow it to grow over the life of that spirit, the aging life of that spirit that is, and then you’ll get different reactions to occur and your spirit will be more complex. On the other hand, if you just set a a middle range, you have a warehouse that everything stays plus or minus constant ethanol and water evaporating at the same rate, then it’s good to pick a middle point and you’ll get a little bit of the high end stuff to get a little bit of the low end stuff. You can also start high, dilute your spirit down if you’re not in a region that will naturally drop proof over time.
Dalkita DJ (00:50:25): Going backwards a little bit there. So, what that acetic acid does for us? Is it going to drop your Ph in your barrel? Typically, new make spirit is gonna run right about a five Ph over time, particularly long periods of time in 1520 years, that Ph is going to drop all the way down to three and a half. Like I said, that’s gonna make everything slightly less volatile and give you that kind of you get a warm the brandy in the glass to get those aromas to pop out at you as opposed to say a younger whiskey that you sniff it, and you’re getting a whole lot of stuff going at the same time. Also over time, those acids are going to get converted into esters, which then that’s what gives you all the additional flavor. So the pathway is ethanol acid, ester plus or minus, there’s certainly some big caveats to that. So we want to try to get all those esters and they to make the most complex spirit we can. Generally speaking, your tails, your longer chain ethanol’s aren’t going to be changed as much as methanol. Those are easier molecules to modify. Typically by modify, we’re stacking more things onto them. And that’s what allows things to become more complex over time. And that base you start with is really gonna maintain.
Dalkita DJ (00:51:45): Let’s go back real quick and talk about the different ranges. When we’re talking about the optimum range, typically optimum is defined by what spirits you’re trying to make. Most people aren’t too far off, whether you’re trying to make a whiskey or a brandy– rums are a little bit different. Rum likes really high ABV. But whiskeys and brandies, your longterm aged spirits, if you’re just going to pick one proof and run with it, typically we’re looking that 100_110, that’s going to give you a little bit of everything and not too much of any one thing. For example, vanillin is going to be best extracted between about 120_140 proof. Basically what that reaction is, is our ethanol is bonding with the lignin in the wood and that’s creating aromatic aldehydes. When we charred barrel, we’re breaking down that lignin and making it a little bit easier for that ethanol to bond. Obviously, vanilla is probably the easiest aromatic Aldehyde to pronounce, so I’m just going to run with that one. There are a bunch of other flavors that are created at that point, but that’s the one that’s easiest to talk about. Now, there are natural sugars in the wood. Those are extracted between about 45_50% ABV. The method for sugar extraction is the hydrolysis of hemicellulose, and what that’s going to do is create monosaccharides, glucose being the easiest one out of those. Having that sweetness to your spirit is what’s really going to give you that little bit of boost. We definitely see it in both brandies and in Bourbon production, how the older spirits are going to have a natural sweetness to it. I’m not talking about back sweetening, but this is actually coming from the wood. Phenols, on the other hand, come in about 50_60% so we can see that. Basically, you get sugars on the low end, 45_50 phenols in there, 50_60 vanillas at 60_70. And that 50_55 range covers everything. You’re going to get a little bit of the Vanilla in, you’re gonna get a lot more of the sugar. You’re in the sweet spot for phenols. Phenols are similar to sugar in that it’s a hydrolysis reaction. This time, it’s with the tannins. And those tannins are going to go through the process and they’re going to create phenolic acids, which again then go back to the beginning and acids get converted to esters and again, that’s all good in flavors. Something to keep in mind when we’re picking proof is that, sugar plus phenols is what actually removes the astringency in your spirit. So, very young spirit will burn less if you do it down in that lower range. If we’re targeting say 50% ABV, you’re going to get the best sugar production, you’re going to get the best phenol production and your spirit is going to lose that young burnines the fastest. This is a great idea– If you’re doing a straight bourbon or straight whiskey, hit that hundred proof in the barrel, let it sit there, it’ll taste more mature, quicker doing that. Although one thing to keep in mind, particularly when we’re looking at those lower proofs, is that methanol can actually be extracted from the wood as well. And this is typically occurs at low proofs. So, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40_45% ABV, we’re actually going to be extracting a little bit of methanol. So if you are doing a spirit where your proof is going to step down in the barrel, stop at 45%, move over to stainless, move over to an old barrel that has already had everything extracted out of it. Try to watch that last step down to bottle proof, If you’re doing it in the barrel. Sometimes, it can end up creating some negative things for you. So, when we start talking about all this extraction from the barrel, most of it occurs in the first three years of barrels life. So that means that if a barrel is less than three years old, generally it’s considered a new barrel. And then over three years old is where we start talking about old barrels. But that’s all relative. So, if we say that if you put something in a new cask, in the first 12 years that it’s in that cask, it’ll actually pick up three times more flavor than if you started in a cask that was, say four years old, and left it in there for 12 years. If we’re doing a spirit that can be transferred into older oak, we start off doing new oak for that first six months, eight months, 12 months, and then we can transfer it an older oak barrel that will allow it to mellow and age instead of continuing to really get hammered. So this will minimize that oak impact on a spirit that say 12 years old, 10 years old than what you’re going to get, and say a bourbon that has to be a new oak the entire time. Just a way to think about your maturation process.
Dalkita DJ (00:56:48): I was talking a little bit there about hemicellulose and tannins. Let’s talk a little bit about what oak is. Generally speaking, a barrel is going to be about 40_45% cellulose, 20_25% hemicellulose, 20_30% lignin, and then 8_15% tannins and other extractable flavors. This is where the sugars are. This is where some of the fatty oils are. Those are all extractable compounds run in that final group of tannins plus other. Generally speaking, that’s what we want because that’s what we’re going to extract the most of. European oak tends to have higher concentrations of tannins, lower concentrations of lactones and other flavor molecules. So, use barrels of American oak are actually going to retain more flavor than used barrels of European oak. So if you’re trying to get something that’s going to not affect your spirit a lot for a longterm age and you are transferring to a a second barrel or even starting at a used barrel, used European oak is going to affect your flavor the least as opposed to an American oak. Another thing that’s going to affect the flavor coming out of the barrel is, how those wood staves are aged. Traditionally, we’re talking about three years of air dried wood. This allows a lot of the cellulose to break down, just do the natural molds and bacteria is in the air. Commonly what we’re going to see is Kiln-dried. So, basically, we’re sticking it in an oven and baking it. The Kiln-dried will get us to the same moisture content and usable barrels, but it has a tendency to retain a little bit more of that cellulose, which means you can get a little more woody flavor in your spirit, particularly in short term ages.
Dalkita DJ (00:58:36): The last thing to really talk about is the size of barrels. Obviously a lot of people are using smaller barrels both because they’re less expensive to buy and they’re easier to get ahold of right now. All those, the suppliers, started to become a little bit more available. One reason people are digging smaller barrels is that the surface to volume ratio on them is much higher, so you’re getting more wood to less spirit. An easy way to look at this is our traditional 200 liter 53 gallon barrel. You get about 123 square inches per gallon. On the other hand, a five gallon barrel is going to get about 261 square inches per gallon. So despite 10th of the amount of spirit, you’re going to end up with almost or more than double the wood contact. So in theory, you can get the same extraction in a quarter of the time that you could with the bigger barrel. So now a two year spirit can be achieved in about six months. The downside of smaller barrels is tha,t while you’re getting more extraction from the wood, you’re also going to see more evaporation because again, that surface area is larger. So what that means is that, you’re going to see a greater angel share. Now, if you’re in a place that preferentially evaporates water to ethanol, that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world, you still are going to end up with sellable product. If you’re the other way around, this can really hammer you and you can lose the little bit of booze you have in that five gallon or 10 gallon, even 25 gallon barrel, much quicker than you would if you had a bigger barrel. So that’s just something to think about. Other things that affect the rate of maturation are going to be the temperature of the spirit. If you’re on a hot climate or have a hot barrel house, the chemical reactions are going to occur quicker. We’re also going to see more of evaporation. The two tend to go hand in hand. On the other hand, if you’re going to be in a very cold climate, you’re going to see everything suck out of the wood, slow down the chemical reactions, it’s going to be better for longterm aging. This is one of the reasons that, you know, you see that sweet spot for bourbon 7_12 years where Scotch is in a colder weather climate are going to be closer to that 20 year mark. So temperature and humidity, both affect how those chemical reactions are playing out.
Colleen Moore (01:00:58): Are you interested in filing a report with us? Well, we’re actively seeking professionals to give us the lowdown on the technical aspects of distillery operations for our listeners. Contact us via our website with your pitch. Do you have feedback on this show? Well, send us an email to ([email protected]). Of course, if you want to find out more about this specific episode, go to our show notes on our webpage, that’s: dalkita.com/shownotes. Remember, you can subscribe to this podcast at Apple podcasts, or however you get your podcast. Our theme music was composed by Jason Shaw, and is used under a Creative Commons attribution 3.0 license. And finally, a special thanks to the Dalkira team behind this production, and the man that puts it all together, our sound editor Daniel Phillips of Zero Crossing Productions. Until next time, stay safe out there- I’m Colleen Moore..
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