I’m always interested in innovation with bourbon when it results in a product that’s good to drink. First, let me tell you the wrong way to do it: cheap, small barrels. Most of the time these barrels don’t state the quality of the wood (hint: because it’s poor — see the image below). So how did we go about our Michter’s Toasted Stave Project?
What you end up with is bad flavors seeping into your bourbon. According to Chris Harrigan, founder of Beyond Barrels:
All real barrels were made with wood that was seasoned for a minimum of 6 months. No quality producer would be caught dead using wood that didn’t season at least 6 months. Even Maker’s Mark goes over 9 months. 99.999% of small barrels marketed to consumers skipped this crucial step completely and are using swill quality wood. Unless it says in writing how long the wood was seasoned for, 99.99999% it wasn’t, and you shouldn’t use it for anything more than decoration.
Thankfully, there’s a much better way to have a little fun with your bourbon that’s backed by solid science. I partnered with Chris Harrigan to test five toast levels of American White Oak staves in Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon.
Methodology: Michter’s Toasted Stave Experiment
We’re using five different toasted staves in Michter’s small batch bourbon to see which may come closest in flavor to their 2018 released Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon. To start, I would recommend reading our reviews for:
- Michter’s US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Tasting [Review]
- Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon Tasting [Review]
All the staves are four year plus open-air seasoned American white oak (nonkiln dried) with five different toast levels. All five bottles were batched in a 5-gallon water jug (emptied) then transferred back to bottles with individual staves. We checked back after 7 to 10 days for the first tasting then weekly for 4 to 6 weeks then bi-weekly from there.
The experiment started Aug 31, 2019, and the staves were removed Dec 5, 2019, so just north of 3 months with the staves.
Tasting Notes: Michter’s Toasted Stave Project
One of the most interesting parts of this experiment was tasting these bottles week after week. Week 1 produced strong oak notes in almost all the bourbons but by the second and third note, you start to see the flavors develop along with complexity. During the first half of the experiment, the first two toast levels seemed to be rounding out with additional complexity.
However, once we hit the middle of the tasting, toast level 3 was running away with it. It was by far the most complex and developed and tasted closest to the Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon. But without a doubt, it was my clear front runner.
Below you’ll find my video tasting going through each of the five toast levels after over 90 days of finishing with the toasted staves as well as almost three weeks without the toasted stave in the bottle at all.
Now You Can Experiment
The wood I will be selling is: open-air seasoned 3.5 years, non-kiln dried, the same ratio of wood surface area to liquid volume as a 53-gallon barrel, very low amount of end grain. Five-step heat-treating process that is similar to a medium toast.
The medium toast:
- Nose – fresh, cream of wheat with cooked down red berries and maple syrup.
- Taste – subtle savory, stewed fruit, baking spice, and middle oak
More from Beyond Barrels:
Beyond Barrels™ – Bottle Aging Staves™ let you continue the aging process of alcohol at home with multiple types of wood. Patent Pending Bottle Aging Staves™ are designed to simulate a barrel, and they take over where the original aging barrel left off. You purchase your own 750ml bottle of alcohol from any liquor store. Bourbon, Whiskey, Scotch, Rum, Moonshine, Tequila, or Cocktails, you call it. You chose the type of Bottle Aging Stave. You chose how long to age it. Place the Bottle Aging Stave in your bottle of alcohol, and let it rest for 1 week to 3 months. It’s that simple. Plus, each stave can be used multiple times.
Written by Matty Sims
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