Today, after making a cup of coffee, I decided to check my email. And OH WHAT SURPRISES IT HELD. Normally, I get a metric shit-ton of press releases that I generally don't post on here. If it's interesting enough, I'll inquire about it a bit more to get information to keep me up to date with beverage portfolios...but usually you don't see press releases in In With Bacchus. But today...I got a gem of a press release that I can't help but share with you fine folks. Fresh from Buffalo Trace's mouth:
BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY ANNOUNCES
SMALL BARREL EXPERIMENTS ARE FAILURES
Apparently, Size Does Matter!
FRANKFORT, Franklin County, Ky (Aug. 22, 2012) Sometimes, not all experiments are successful. Buffalo Trace Distillery learned this the hard way with its small barrel experiments started in 2006.
Using 5, 10, and 15 gallon barrels, the company filled each small barrel with the same mash bill (Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #1) around the same time, and aged them side by side in a warehouse for six years.
The results were less than stellar. Even though the barrels did age quickly, and picked up the deep color and smokiness from the char and wood, each bourbon yielded less wood sugars than typical from a 53 gallon barrel, resulting in no depth of flavor.
While Buffalo Trace is NOT releasing these experiments, the Distillery did feel it was important to release their findings. The company hopes others can learn from such an experiment, just as they have.
“As expected, the smaller 5 gallon barrel aged bourbon faster than the 15 gallon version. However, it’s as if they all bypassed a step in the aging process and just never gained that depth of flavor that we expect from our bourbons. Even though these small barrels did not meet our expectations, we feel it’s important to explore and understand the differences between the use of various barrel sizes,” said Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley.
Each of the three small barrel bourbons were tasted annually to check on their maturation progress, then left alone to continue aging, hoping the taste would get better with time. Finally, after six years, the team at Buffalo Trace concluded the barrels were not going to taste any better and decided to chalk up the experiment to a lesson learned.
“These barrels were just so smoky and dark, we just confirmed the taste was not going to improve. The largest of the three barrels, the 15 gallon, tasted the best, but it still wasn’t what we would deem as meeting our quality standards. But instead of just sweeping this experiment under the rug and not talking about it, we felt it was important to share what we learned, especially in light of the debate about usage of small barrels. It’s one experiment we are not likely to repeat,” said Wheatley.
These small barrel experiments are part of the more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery. Each of these barrels has unique characteristics that differentiate it from all others. Some examples of these include unique mash bills, type of wood and barrel toasts. In order to further increase the scope, flexibility and range of the experimental program, an entire micro distillery, named The Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. “OFC” Micro Distillery, complete with cookers, fermenting tanks and a state-of-the-art micro still has been constructed within Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Jesus, where to begin on this one. I think this is the first time I've had to make a list to accurately and orderly summarize my complaints. So here we go.
"aged them side by side in a warehouse for six years"
It is a relatively easy exercise to calculate the volume of a barrel. In fact, the great Johannes Kepler managed to extract a formula to accurately measure the volume of a barrel. The Kepler Formula for the Volume of a Barrel (in "Nova Stereometria doliorum vinariorum", written in 1615) states that the formula of a barrel is as such:
|Courtesy of Wolfram Mathematica|
C = 2 * pi * r
C / (2*pi) = r
Why am I going through this lengthy mathematical explanation? To prove a simple point. Anyone that's not an idiot should be able to tell that the surface area to volume ratio of those barrels, barring ANY internal tampering (such as woodpeckering, honeycombing, grooving, what have you) is higher than your standard barrel. And...as such...LEAVING IT FOR SIX YEARS IS A DUMB IDEA. This is the equivalent of cracking eggs into different size glasses and then leaving them on a hot window sill to see if they'll be fine to eat in six weeks. Of course they won't. That's dumb. I find this incredibly ironic that the study of over-oaking whiskies is coming from the company that makes probably the most polarizing, oldest commercially available bourbon in the US, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old.
Ideally, if following the same "egg in glass" parallel, you'd want to see when the egg turns bad during the course of the experiment. Not just reporting what happened at the end. Which brings me to my next point...
"..Announces Small Barrel Experiments Are Failures."
Okay...let's chat about science. For a company that used to have one of my idols behind its analytical chemistry labs, Truman Cox...this is kind of a slap in the face. If it's ANYTHING like the "Small Barrels Make Bad Whiskey" piece done in collaboration with Chuck Cowdery...then there's nothing scientific at all. When I worked at Tuthilltown, I did stuff like testing barrels every day. Yet you don't see me sending out PR things about it claiming that it's science. Where's the data? Where's your scientific method? What methods did you use to reduce / eliminate inconsistencies. Seriously, where is your CONCRETE data. If you presented the world with sheet after sheet of GC / MS chemical make-ups of the whiskies as they aged and compared to older products...I'd be curious. If you followed that up with double blind tasting studies with a 10,000+ tasting panel for consistency...I'd be more intrigued. If you could chemically prove WHY its bad using all of this data in a nice, neat, summarized paper...I'd take you seriously. But when you blast out emails saying "Yeah, we tasted it every once and awhile until we hit 6 years and it was so foul we couldn't drink it. So small barrels are bad."...I cannot take you seriously nor respect you. At all. AT. ALL. If I may borrow from Patton Oswalt here...
"You have to acknowledge everyone's beliefs and then you have to reserve the right to go "that's fucking stupid."...I have an uncle that believes he saw Sasquatch. We do not believe him NOR do we respect him."
Look, you can't call something like than an experiment and have it carry weight. When I was young, I thought that I could make something that would protect screws from rusting by mixing talcum powder with soap. I'd experiment by spreading that on the screws of my bathroom door and, son of a bitch, they'd rust every time. So if I state that it was impossible to make screws rust proof using that as my data...I'd be an idiot. Which is kind of what you're doing right now.
Why did they feel it was important to send this out? What motivated them to send out a press release that contains no scientific back-up to everyone on their PR list? What are they hoping to achieve? Are they seriously thinking that, by sending that out, every small distiller out there will go "WHOOP, BETTER SWITCH TO BIG BARRELS." And "release their findings" is very strong wording, frankly. More like "tell you what we think in a very vague and non-clinical way." If it's because of this:
"...we feel it’s important to explore and understand the differences between the use of various barrel sizes"
I don't believe you. I mean, if they want to take pot-shots at small distillers that are using smaller barrels to make product quicker...fine. Go for it. You've got the right, frankly. You've been doing the distilling thing forever and you make fantastic product. I would climb a mountain of slaughtered foes for a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old. I might even throw my own mother in front of a train for a bottle of the 20. I'd literally have to sit down and discuss it with her. But this press release will not just do nothing...it will make you look bad. I'm already seeing it make its way through the craft distilling community. They're not particularly happy.
Look Buffalo Trace. I love you. Hell, if you offered me a job working on small barrel maturation...I'd totally do it. Maybe inject some REAL science into this. I love your products and I love you. But please...don't do this. It just infuriates me.