The Idea is, that since alcohol does not age in glass, to use charred wood chips in your bottled spirits, to enhance the flavors of the spirits. This can, if done carefully, have the same effect as aging the spirits in a barrel
This Instructable will explain how to make your own chips, how to use them, and how they are supposed to effect your spirits. You may even pick up a few pointers on spirits from the information I have researched.
I came across this idea, and forgot where I found it, so I can not give credit. It was not here - I am pretty sure. It seems to be getting fairly popular, as more people are making fuel alcohol. They must not be claiming some of that fuel on their taxes.
This is a wordy one. I did not have any personal photos on this yet and tried to publish it and it was sent back for that reason. I did some searching on the internet tonight and came up with some pretty good shots of stock photos. Hope this is OK.
Step 1: Materials
The things you will need are:
Some pieces of scrap wood
a sheet of foil wrap
Head out to the work shop and find yourself some scrap pieces of red oak (traditional). I will mention a few personal thoughts on this topic at the end.
Cut the pieces into good solid 1/2 dollar coin size (area wise) pieces that will fit into the neck of your glass spirit bottles. This step is really up to you, as far as the shape goes. What am I saying everything is up to you. This is just a guide.
You can cut the pieces in any shape you like, but it is advisable to tell you to set a standard for yourself so that you can better judge the amount to use from your experiences. So, if you use small pieces you can add more if you have to next time. if you use large pieces you can add half a piece next time. It will depend on your personal results. So, try to make a standard size for yourself.
Pre-heat your oven to 200F. I believe it was 200F (they did not specify) - 200C seems pretty high for the length of time recommended.
Step 2: The Preparation of the Chips.
The pieces that you have chosen to char are then wrapped in foil wrap. The foil wrap is then perforated with a some holes to allow steam to escape. The package is then placed in a 200F oven for two (2) hours.
This is 200C - There was no scale in the information I had, but I did try it at 200F and the wood did not char. At 200C it does char and the aromas given off are great with the cherry I used. I think this should be a good indication of what effect the chips will have on your spirit.
There are no notes on why this is, but IMO it is to sterilize the wood, as well as dry it out and slightly char it. At 200F everything in the wood, that could be harmful, will be killed, and the temperature would run right through the wood in that length of time.
I would also like to try this on the BBQ as you normally get a couple of hours of low heat from the coals after the main event is over. Save some power and use some normally wasted heat. You might even try putting the foil off to the side of the bon fire, since the pit party season is coming up.
After the chips have cooled in a safe place - away from contaminants - you can store theme in a glass mason jar, plastic air tight, or ziplock bag. Whatever way you prefer.
Easy as pie.
Step 3: Using the Chips
If you buy a bottle of aged spirits, chances are that it was aged in a barrel made of charred oak. This is the traditional method.
I will talk of high content spirits here.
Once the distiller transfers the spirit to a glass bottle the aging process stops dead. The flavor that is there is there and that is the way the spirit will taste in 30 years, if you keep it that long. You can open it and reseal it and the high alcohol content will keep it safe and it will not change.
If you through a new freshly charred chip or cube into the bottle, on the other hand, it is like putting the spirit back into a new barrel. The aging process starts over again. I say starts over again because it does literally start over again.
Here is how the process goes.
When the alcohol is distilled at the distillery it is usually quite high in alcohol content. This can be watered down then or after aging depending on the distillery. Usually after to save space. The alcohol will have none, or next to no color to it. (See the end step for more on this.)
The alcohol is placed in a barrel of charred oak. The oak does a couple of things right off the get go. First it will absorb some of the residual nasties out of the spirit. The bad tastes and the like. The char does this. Second the color of the spirit will change to the beautiful clear amber we all know so well. This color change has its main effect in the first couple of weeks, then is a gradual slight change as the years go by.
After the first week the flavors start to come out of the wood of the barrel. The spirit will get hints of vanilla, maybe fruit, or nuts. It all depends on the barrel and the wood it was made out of. Each tree is different just like humans. For this reason the master distiller will blend batches prior to bottling to get the right flavor for their product. Also, if he spots a barrel with a exceptional flavor, it goes right to the big house for the vintage products.
Now, back to us.
The chips we have produced are going to do to things they will first add color (or darken the color), and add flavor. The color change will be in the first week or two weeks with some flavor change, then things will settle out and the more subtle flavors of the wood will come into the spirit.
Let talk about the spirits and decide what to deal with.
Step 4: What Are the Spirits
IMO this is what the spirits are going by what they are made from:
These are your barley, wheat, rye, potatoe.... high in starch content.
These starches are converted to alcohol by use of emzymes blaa blaa blaa.
Fresh brewed you end with a beer - mash - wine.
Once distilled you you have a vodka.
When the distilled product is aged you have a whiskey.
Bourbon is a special recipe of at least 51% corn meal and aged minimum of two years
Any fruit pretty well.
The fruit sugar in the juice is converted to alcohol by the yeast.
Fresh brewed you end with a wine.
Distilled you have a liqueur.
If the liqueur is aged it is a brandy.
Cane sugar and beet sugar. (Beet sugar may not fall in here but it should)
Sugar is converted to alcohol by yeast.
Fresh it is considered a mash - normally fermented for the sole purpose of distilling.
Distilled (and filtered) you have a light rum.
Aged (and possibly colored) you have a dark rum.
Step 5: The Test.
How to test your chips, or cubes, or sticks.
The suggested amount for a 750ml bottle is 2 chips about the size of a half dollar each.
So, if you really want to test your chips make them all out of the same block of wood.
Buy yourself a bottle of vodka ( get a 40oz.er of the good stuff - Absolute is pretty good )
If you don't have a good memory, take a 1 oz. sample from the bottle and save it.
Add 3 chips or the equivalent.
After a week take another sample from the bottle and save it.
Every week after that take a sample and save it.
I would say, 10 weeks would be plenty of time to see if you like where the chips are going with the spirit.
Sit down and sample the samples. Try to write down what you thought at the time so you will have it the next day to read and remember, because you will likely be pretty wiped by the end of it.
Write down any flavors that you notice. Any smells that you like or dislike. When it hit the best spot, the "Sweet spot".
Do you think that the best has past? Take not at what week that sample was taken and you know that is the number of weeks to keep those chips in the vodka.
Would you want to restart the aging process of a whiskey or brandy with these chips?
Some whiskeys, rums, and brandies go for 30+ years, only getting better. GOOD OAK.
Incidentally, rum is aged in used bourbon barrels. So you may wish to try aging some good light rum with the used chips. But remember, bourbon is at least 51% corn meal mash. Who cares you will be close.
Step 6: Note on the Wood.
I know the traditional wood is oak. Why I do not know for sure. History, abundance, quality, flavors, and now tradition? Maybe.
I would like to try something different.
What about chips made of black walnut, beech, cedar, ash, cherry......
I have heard that saki is made in vats lined with aged cedar. If the cedar is new it will impart a flavor to the saki. They do not like to serve it, as it is not the traditional flavor, but I have heard nothing about it being unpleasant.
Something to think about.
Hope you enjoyed this Instructable, and I hope you learnt something along the way.
And, remember to recycle.
Step 7: On-going Reasearch and Experiments
Cherry Wood Chips
I made up some chips from an untreated piece of cherry flooring I had laying in storage. What a surprise! By the time the chips had finished baking in the oven the whole house smelt of baking muffins vanilla cup cakes.
I look forward to using these in some strawberry wine. If I could distill legally, I would make a strawberry brandy, and age it in glass with these chips. I would leave the bottles for a couple of years at least, in corked bottles. I would also have one or two control bottles which do not have chips so that I can see the actual difference in the two types of aged spirits.