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They Blinded Me with Science: Booze Now Aged in Days Not Years

Bryan Dent
Written by Bryan Dent
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Mad genius Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery claims to have invented a chemical reactor that ages spirits to the chemical signature of 20-year-old booze — in just six days.  Copies of the reactor will be deployed to five distilleries for beta-testing this summer.  Patents are pending.

If you’re interested, Aliza Kellerman of VinePair thoroughly explains the science behind this apparent masterstroke:

Unaged spirits have short-chain molecules called carboxylic esters and short-chain fatty acids. When these chemicals interact with oak, extraction and esterification occur. Extraction strains new chemicals – aldehydes and phenols – from the barrels. One of these chemicals includes vanillin, which gives whiskey its (you guessed it) characteristic vanilla flavor. However, extraction also gives way to aromas that aren’t entirely pleasant, like lumberyard. Extraction is less difficult than the next process aged spirits deal with, esterification.

But of course.

His Model 1 reactor goes through three steps in order to boost esterification. Raw spirit and oak chunks are put into the reactor. The reactor first forces esterification of short-chained fatty acids in the raw spirit, turning these acids into short-chained esters. Next, polymer molecules in the oak are split, yielding the compounds needed to finish the esterification. What are these compounds? Aldehydes needed to complete the process, but also undesirable medium-chained acids. However, the reactor’s final step forces those medium-chained acids, along with phenolic compounds, to esterify. The simple esters are turned into long-chained esters normally found in an aged spirit.

Yeah, it’s so obvious when you think about it.

Whatever this geekery may mean in practice, it has major implications for the booze industry.  For one, Davis hopes his invention will help resurrect “lost spirits,” defunct brands that would otherwise require years of expensive maturation to reproduce.

More importantly, it raises the bar for bottom-shelf booze.  Could vile hooch like Ten High be made to taste like it’s been barrel-aged for 20 years?  If Davis’ process is legit, I don’t see why not.  It would also be a boon to small, up-and-coming distillers who can’t afford to let their products mature as long as they might wish.  Finally, it would encourage experimentation and creativity.   A master distiller musing over a new expression would only have to wait a week to learn if the idea’s worth pursuing.

Lost Spirits Distillery has already come up with one product on its own, released last December:  Lost Spirits Colonial American Inspired Rum, a 124-proof rum designed to mimic what pre-Revolutionary Americans would have made.  Despite the ponderous title, by all accounts the rum was a hit.

If Davis’ invention is all that he says it is, the booze world may be on the verge of its own revolution.

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Bryan Dent

Bryan Dent

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