The Mouthful: Against the Grain

If you think waiting for your 21st birthday is hard, try waiting for whiskey to age. Most top-shelf whiskeys sit in oak barrels for at least 10 to 20 years before being bottled and sold. Some whiskeys have been aged for up to 70 years (granted, they’ll run you around $15,000).

Photo by Matt Pritchard
Photo by Matt Pritchard

Tidyman and Kassis flaunt their flannels and firewater.

But to enthusiasts, it’s worth the wait. A culture of craft distilling has taken root in Seattle following a 2008 bill that granted distilleries the right to provide samples and sell their own products. We even have some award-winning distilleries on our own backyard—Oola Distillery on Union won a MicroLiquor triple gold medal for its gin, and Sun Liquor on Pike has a gold medal from the San Francisco World Spirits competition. But professionals aren’t the only ones leading the pack. Home brewing and aging has caught on in a big way, with an entire network of supply shops and informational forums just a Google search away. Junior Humanities for Teaching majors Carson Tidyman and Mason Kassis are two who have caught the bug. After learning that some hobbyists were foregoing the costly barrel method in favor of oak chips, they started aging a handle of whiskey in mid-April. I’ll be following them throughout the process, which could end anywhere from now until December (thanks to the higher surface area of the wood chips, they wager that theirs will taste similar to a four-year-old barrel-aged whiskey). Here I sit down with them for a preliminary interview, where we discuss favorite cocktails, dwell on their boozy aspirations, and speculate about how this stuff will taste going down. Tidyman has an underage roommate. Tidyman and Kassis are doing their project entirely in Kassis’s apartment.

Could you briefly describe your project?

MK: Carson’s the man for that. He just showed up with all his knowledge and I’m just like, alright, let’s use my oven! CT: So last quarter we got to talking about aging some whiskey together. You get White Dog whiskey, which is un-aged whiskey. It’s just the distillate; it doesn’t have any whiskey flavor, and it’s clear. You can age it yourself at home. Some people sell expensive little barrels that you can use, but I decided to go the cheap-o route and get oak chips and do it in a mason jar. Whiskey barrels are toasted and charred on the inside, and that’s what helps the chemical reactions that make all the flavors. So we got oak chips and toasted them in the oven, and we found on a graph what temperature yields what flavors, so we were able to customize it to our palates. We figured out that we have about five times as much wood exposure to the White Dog distillate than we’d have in a 53-gallon whiskey barrel, which is the normal size. We don’t know if that means it’s five times faster aging, or if it’s exponentially faster, or logarithmically faster. But it’s faster. Does that impact the flavor or the quality at all? CT: Yeah, actually. It gets flavor faster, but what people haven’t figured out how to do faster yet is smoothing. You know how when you drink alcohol it can be kind of sharp, or burn? Smoothing is the process by which that diminishes. So the finished product is gonna put some hair on your chest. CT: Right. Smoothing is, in alcohol culture, a sign of quality. But we tried it—I thought it was fine. MK: I thought it was totally fine. CT: It didn’t seem particularly harsh. It’s barreled strength, so it’s actually a higher proof than you would get if you were to buy already-bottled whiskey. The higher alcohol content makes more flavor come out. Do you know what the proof is? MK: It’s 110-proof. Sh**. CT: Yeah. Anyway, you can’t smooth it. But we can’t really afford very smooth whiskey in the first place, so it’s all good. Where did your interest come from? MK: Carson

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and I just started talking last quarter, and we figured out that we both really like whiskey. And then Carson brought up this idea—he had done all this research about white dog whiskey and aging it ourselves, so we just decided “let’s do it.” Carson really figured it all out, and then we done did it! CT: My interest in home-aging came from my dad. We got our White Dog from the Woodinville Whiskey Company, a local craft distillery in Woodinville. My dad got their little aging kit, which came with two bottles of White Dog and a swanky barrel. I can’t afford the swanky barrel. My primary interest is making whiskey for my dad for a Christmas present or a Father’s Day present, depending on how long we need to let it sit. What’s up next in your hooch-making schedule? MK: I thought brandy would be really interesting to make. Brandy’s tasty. What’s your favorite brand of whiskey? MK: Bulleit. CT: When we went to the Woodinville Whiskey Company over spring break I got to sample it their bourbon. How do you take your whiskey? MK: I like whiskey gingers and Manhattans, which have whiskey and brandy. Straight is really good too. CT: I like mine almost neat, with maybe three drops of water. It helps bring out the flavors.