Make your own ‘finished bourbon’ at home in the bottle.

As part of my drinking for science projects, I decided to test if I could recreate a bourbon that was finished in a secondary barrel by just adding a small portion of that finish directly to a bottle.  I will start by saying these products are NOT bourbon. We all know by federal code bourbon can’t have added colors or flavoring. Placing a bourbon in a secondary barrel that previously held another type of product adds both color and flavoring.   Bourbon by code is class type 101 for straight bourbon or 141 for bourbon.  Finished American whiskies by federal code become class type 641 – whiskey specialties. The catch is the TTB allows producers to state Bourbon on the front label if they also state what was done to it.  So ‘KY Straight Bourbon with added yellow food coloring’ could appear on a label.

My theory is I can replicate, or even surpass, these whiskies by just adding small amounts of the secondary product directly to a bottle and allowing it to marry for at least 30 days. In many cask finished bourbons the secondary cask finishing times are often very short.  Also, producers have been known to recharge their secondary barrels – after emptying they add some additional port/sherry/etc. back to the barrel before refilling with bourbon.

For the test, I made 3 ‘finished bourbons’ employing my method starting with standard available bourbons.  I added my secondary finishing directly to the bottle and let this marry in the bottle for 30 days. I have learned from previous testing that allowing time for flavors to meld together is an important step in the process.  I purchased 3 well known secondary cask finished bourbons. I also limited my costs to around half the retail cost of their commercial counterparts. I had a group of 11 testers blind taste and score each whiskey.

In the past for scoring I employed a 100-point scale.  The issue with a 100-point scale is 0-60 is not used. After discussing scoring systems with a NASA scientist friend I decided on a 5-point scale.  This time, and going forward, I will be using this 5-point scale:

  • 1 – off putting with flawed notes
  • 2 – meh – would work good as a mixer
  • 3 – sipping whiskey – good everyday pour
  • 4 – Good whiskey, above average with little to no flaws
  • 5 – OMG, my mouth is having multiple orgasms – the best of the best

I debated how much to add on percentage basis to each bottle.  How wet are the barrels when producers add whiskey to them? I came across an interview on the K&L blog with Alexandre Gabriel of Maison Ferrand in which he said “Back to the Port barrel analogy, we have done tests and found that when you empty a barrel there is still roughly 3.5% of the previous liquid in the barrel. If it’s a wet barrel, then you’re now up to 5%.”  Of note, the TTB says if over 2.5% of wine flavoring is added, then the product must be stated as Flavored Whisky with the type of wine listed. This makes me wonder if some of the commercial products really should be labeled something like Port Flavored Whisky.  Perhaps producers elect to use secondary barrels to finish rather than add directly to the bourbon barrel to avoid the requirement of calling the final product a flavored whiskey. I elected to keep my additions under 3%, which is a very small amount per bottle and calculated out to 0.75 oz per bottle.  I’ll list my exact recipes at the end of the article.

The test was in 3 rounds.  Each round the testers tried 2 whiskies side by side; my version and the commercial version.  The testers did not know the whiskies selected or the finishes.

Round 1  For the first ‘finished bourbon’, I selected Angel’s Envy, which was the first widespread release of a bourbon finished in a port wine barrel.  For my version I used a base of Old Grand-Dad 114 proof, some water to reduce proof, and Tawny port.  The cost of my version was $21.50 whereas the cost of the Angel’s Envy is $47 in my market. While they don’t disclose who they source the base bourbon used in Angel’s Envy, it has always been KY Straight Bourbon.  They do have their own distillery, but as of now their own distilled bourbon is still aging. I saw Wes Henderson from Angel’s Envy recently and he mentioned they had sourced KY bourbon from 12 different KY distilleries. So who knows, there might be some Beam distilled high rye bourbon in the mix.  The result of the tasting panel:

My bourbon with port added scored 3.04

Angel’s Envy Port finish scored 3.14

The result was close, but Angel’s Envy won this round.  5 testers scored the AE higher, 4 testers scored my version higher, and 2 had it as a tie.

Round 2  For the second ‘finished bourbon’, I elected to go with a brandy finish.  I selected Belle Meade Bourbon finished in a Cognac Cask. For my version, I started with Wild Turkey Rare Breed, some water to reduce proof, and Armagnac.  My version cost $41 whereas the Belle Meade was $75.

My bourbon with Armagnac added scored 3.0

Belle Meade Bourbon Cognac Cask Finish scored 2.59

The testers clearly favored my version.  8 selected my version as better, 2 preferred the Belle Meade, and 1 had it as a tie.

Round 3  For the third ‘finished bourbon’, I went with an Orange Curacao finish.  The commercial whiskey was Parker’s Heritage Collection 12th Edition. For my version I used Elijah Craig bourbon including both the standard and the barrel proof versions to match the 110 proof of the PHC 12.  I added Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao to the bottle. My version cost $43.50 whereas the PHC cost was $90.

My bourbon with Orange Curaçao added scored 3.14

PHC 12 Bourbon finished in orange curaçao barrels scored 1.85

This was not even close.  10 of the testers scored my version higher and 1 had it as a tie.  

 

My conclusion is if you are a fan of ‘finished bourbons’ you should definitely try making some at home.   I have open bottles of all 3 of my ‘finishes’, where as you might have to purchase a bottle. A bottle of ‘finish’ will go a long way as I used only 0.75 oz each time.  Below are my exact recipes used, but I would encourage others to play around with their own versions. Be sure to let the blend marry for at least 2 weeks or preferably 30 days.

My bourbon with port added:

  • OGD 114 – 23.5 oz
  • Reverse Osmosis water – 2 oz
  • Kopke 10-year Tawny port – 0.75 oz

My bourbon with Armagnac added:

  • WT Rare Breed – 21 oz
  • Reverse Osmosis water – 4 oz
  • L’Encantada 13-year-old Armagnac – 0.75 oz

My bourbon with orange curaçao added:

  • Elijah Craig standard – 15 oz
  • Elijah Craig barrel proof – 10 oz
  • Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao – 0.75 oz

Drinking for Science – 2019 Projects

In past ‘In the Name of Science’ experiments I’ve tested how long an OWA/W12 needs to marry and if a bourbon really changes in the bottle once opened.  In 2019, I plan on testing some other theories:

-First on the testing block will be secondary cask finished ‘bourbons’.  Angel’s Envy was the first widespread release of a bourbon finished in a port wine barrel but now the shelves are full of such products.  These whiskies are no longer bourbon but are class type 641 – whiskey specialties. The catch is the TTB allows producers to state Bourbon on the front label if they also state what was done to it.  So ‘KY Straight Bourbon with added yellow food coloring’ could appear on a label.

My theory is I can replicate, or even surpass, these whiskies by just adding small amounts of the secondary product directly to a bottle and allow it to marry for at least 30 days. In many cask finished bourbons the secondary cask finishing times are often very short.  Also, producers have been known to recharge their secondary barrels – after emptying they add some additional port/sherry/etc back to barrel before refilling with bourbon.

For the test, I will make 3 whiskies employing my method starting with standard everyday available bourbons.  I will purchase 3 well known secondary cask finished bourbons. I plan to also limit my 3 to half the retail cost of their commercial counterparts.  I will have a group of 10 testers to blind taste and score each whiskey.

-Second test, does leaving a glass of whiskey out for 30 minutes change the taste?  I often hear friends say they like to leave a pour sitting out before drinking. For this test we will compare a pour that sits out vs a fresh pour from a bottle.  Like my prior tests this will be a 3-sample triangle blind taste test. Glasses used will be Glencairns. I have not picked the bourbon for the test but it will probably be something with a little higher proof, possibly between 110 and 120.  My guess is tasters will be able to tell a difference as I believe enough alcohol will evaporate to a point that it is perceptible.

-Third test – Does the water used to cut a bourbon to proof noticeably change the taste?  Most producers use as pure as water as possible post distillation to cut to proof prior to barreling as well as before bottling.  However, a few are starting to tout their water source used to cut proof for bottling as a key part of their process. For the test I will choose a high proof bourbon and cut it to proof with some different waters.  Distilled water will be the control water that should have no effect on flavor. There are a couple of waters being used I’d like to obtain samples for testing.

What other drinking for science projects would you like to see tested?

Labels that tater too far

Having a name for a private barrel or store pick goes back a long time.  Doug Phillips, who picked among the very first WFE barrels in 2006, had the label information filled in with green ink.  A second pick was done in black. Over time, these bottles became known simply by Doug’s Green or Black Ink. In 2014 the Facebook group T5C upped the ante by naming a Smooth Ambler Old Scout pick FS/FT, an acronym meaning For Sale/For Trade.  More creative barrel pick names followed. For the most part, the producers allowed a certain amount of characters and this was applied to the bottle label on the producer’s bottling line. Certain bottles have empty areas and groups/stores learned they could take advantage of this by placing a graphical sticker there and no longer be bound to the producers character limitations.  These would typically be applied after the store received the bottles.

This trend quickly caught on as many saw taters clamor for bottles with these new additions. The sticker game was on full force.  Secondary sales on bottles can be easily manipulated, some groups used stickers to engage in pump and dump schemes. They hyped up the latest pick, adorned with a creative sticker, as the best.  Because many taters have an irrational FOMO (fear of missing out) they are easily conned into believing the hype and paying 10 to 20 times original cost of these picks.

In 2018, a new trend emerged – labels that covered up the original producers label.  Unfortunately, most stores aren’t aware of federal labeling codes that stipulate certain information is mandatory on liquor labels.  Federal codes even specify where on the bottle certain information must be located. Here is one example:

This is the front label of a Knob Creek 120 proof bourbon pick.  The TTB BAM Ch. 1 on mandatory label information states that front label has the brand name and the class/type.  In this case that would be Knob Creek and Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This label covers up both.

Here is an example of a store applied label that covers up the mandatory government alcohol warning along with the required producer’s statement.  

Naming a barrel pick with a good or funny name or applying a sticker in a blank area is fine.  Covering up required labeling information is going too far.

This post inspired by these 2 you might be a whiskey tater reasons:

59.  Hype up any barrel pick you bought bottles of only later to flip a bottle on secondary

76.  You have an irrational fear on missing out by thinking this ‘limited’ special release or that single barrel pick is the ONE.

About Tater-Talk

This is my blog to discuss all kinds of whiskey tater behavior.  I’m a long time whiskey geek, certified specialist of spirits, whiskey consumer advocate and even sometimes a tater.  I worked shortly in the industry as a Bourbon Evangelist, aka salesperson, for a Texas craft distiller, Garrison Brothers.  I’m currently involved with the Texas Whiskey Association as their Compliance Officer.  I have been a seminar speaker at Tales of the Cocktail as well as at other Whiskey festival events. At least one company with improperly labeled whiskey proclaimed me public enemy #1 and banned me from their facility.  I have been on forefront of a grassroots effort to educate all on the US federal labeling laws regarding spirits.  This blog will cover topics ranging from: blind tasting reviews, spirit experiments/projects, spirit labeling issues, food/cooking or just about anything else I feel like discussing.  It will avoid all politics and religions.

If I post any type of spirit review, it will be from a product bought in normal retail channel.  I will not review any samples provided for free from the producers or the media companies.  I will not be riding the free sample whiskey blogger circuit. Therefore I will be free to give independent reviews without worrying reviewing a honey sample or being cut off for negative reviews.

What exactly is a whiskey tater? It just a term to describe some of the funny and weird things folks do when they become spirit collectors.  The term’s origins mysterious but rumor is a secret Facebook whiskey group was involved.  Some whose opinions I don’t entirely distrust pointed out that the original person that coined the term Potato, later shortened to tater, was Patrick Luebbers.  The list has evolved over time with much input from the whiskey community.  And it’s a long list which will be discussed in future posts.

The complete list: Whiskey Tater Reasons

If you stumbled upon this site looking for some awesome potato recipes, here you go:  http://www.seriouseats.com/2016/12/the-food-lab-the-best-roast-potatoes-ever.html