A fascinating piece in the latest Malt Advocate (Q4 2008, page 18) still has me reeling and thunderstruck. It concerns efforts to thwart evaporation of whiskey, a natural part of the aging process. Evaporation is a huge expense for distillers: Conventional wisdom holds that 2 percent of a cask vanishes each year as it evaporates. This is known as “the angel’s share,” for obvious reasons, and it’s been a respected part of whiskey making since the start.
Now the solution. In a nutshell, Diageo says it is experimenting with, well, wrapping wooden casks in plastic wrap in order to keep the spirits from getting out. Per the story:
At this early stage of the research, the results have “astounded” the researchers, and the taste of the whisky “is not thought to be affected.” The technique is “not proven,” said a Diageo spokesman. “We are continuing our research.”
A warehouse full of plastic-wrapped casks sounds awfully lowbrow (imagine the eyebrows raised on the tour!), but if it really does let producers create twice the amount of whiskey with virtually no extra expense, imagine what it could do for supplies of older whiskeys as well as to prices.
Though I suspect tradition will win out in this research, it’s certainly a trend to keep an eye on. Maybe the future really is “plastics,” even in the booze biz.