The Experts Speak: My Wine Is a Winner

wine

Some eight years ago I received the craziest gadget I’ve yet to review: The WinePod, a giant urn that helps home winemakers craft their own vino. I ended up spending six months fermenting grapes, aging the wine in oak, and bottling it, and chronicled the process in a six-part series for Wired.

For years the wine (four cases were produced) has sat in my cellar, occasionally cracked open for kicks or given away as a gift. This year I finally got the idea to see what the pros thought about it, and I entered the wine into my local Marin County Fair.

The results: A blue ribbon, first place for winemaking in the “Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 or older” category. The big ribbon came complete with tasting notes: “Great balance of fruit, acid and tannin. Very well made. I really like it. Commercial quality.” Another critic said: “Very nice. Smooth, balanced, nice fruit to tannin ratio. Slight eucalyptus.”

Eucalyptus, folks!

Anyway, that’s a long way around of patting myself on the back, and giving serious praise to the WinePod. The WinePod never became a massive success, but it is still being sold — I’d love to see more folks experiment with it. Here’s a toast to the WinePod and a strong vote for its revival!

How to Build a Better Bourbon: The Science Behind Buffalo Trace and the Lessons of the Single Oak Project

What better industry could you hope to work in today than the bourbon business? America’s official spirit has never been in better shape. U.S. bourbon sales have risen from 118 million liters in 2000 to 174 million liters last year, and bourbon is increasingly beloved on the global stage. Plus: Free bourbon.

Across Kentucky, quite a few distilleries are taking full advantage of the boom times, doing away with “age statements” on bottles that promise the whiskey inside is, say, “8 years old.” This lets them squeeze out a little more hooch by releasing a younger and younger spirit. As long as the customers don’t revolt, anyway.

So far they haven’t. Prices are going up. Sales show no signs of stopping.

MarkBrownIt’s in this comfortable position that one curious man is finding himself increasingly in the spotlight. Mark Brown is the CEO of the Sazerac Company, a mammoth distilling operation that owns 250-some brands, all the way down to bottom-shelf rotgut like Kentucky Tavern and Crown Russe (slogan: “Finest Vodka Made”). It’s junk that pays the bills for Brown’s passion: Buffalo Trace, a beloved, high-end whiskey operation that produces some of the most noteworthy brands in the bourbon business, including the now feverishly demanded Pappy van Winkle.

Unlike most distillery bosses, Brown isn’t a seventh-generation southerner with a century of bourbon in his blood. He’s not even from America at all. Brown was born in 1957 in a tiny town south of London. After a stint behind the bar at his parents’ pub, he moved here in the ‘70s and worked his way up to the top of the 165-year-old Sazerac. He became Sazerac’s CEO in 1997 and a U.S. citizen in 2006.

The lanky, bespectacled, and wildly energetic CEO now oversees an empire of filled whiskey barrels patiently aging in Buffalo Trace’s many rickhouses in Frankfort, Kentucky (and wherever else it has been able to grab some land). Only four years ago, the company had an aging capacity of 350,000 barrels. Now it has space for nearly twice that – and growing – which has Buffalo Trace buying up land and building new, 50,000-barrel warehouses at a rate of one every five months.

harlan_wheatleyBrown should be coasting, but he’s using Buffalo Trace’s growing coffers not to pad his pockets but to launch one of the industry’s most ambitious scientific investigations into how whiskey should be made. About two years ago, Buffalo Trace formally opened Warehouse X, a tiny brick building with four climate-controlled chambers that the company is using to age whiskey in an environment where every imaginable variable is under the company’s control. Temperature, air flow, humidity, air pressure… everything is monitored by computer and controlled by Buffalo Trace’s master distiller, Harlan Wheatley, the man who convinced Brown to invest over a million dollars into what amounts to an insulated brick shack housing a grand science experiment. Even Brown seems like he’s still talking himself into it, invariably wringing his hands and visibly clenching his teeth when the cost of all this work mentioned (which is often). But he clearly has the bug, confessing to “a nagging doubt that if you aren’t continually improving, you risk someone catching up to you. You can’t rest on your laurels.”

The first experiment being undertaken here is an inquiry into whether light impacts the way whiskey ages in the barrel. Two of the Warehouse X chambers are in 24-hour darkness. One offers full sunlight. One is shaded to 50 percent brightness. (Control barrels sit in the “breezeway” and essentially mimic sitting outside.) It sounds silly. Can a little light shining on an opaque barrel seriously have an impact on the whiskey inside? Just eight months in, Wheatley says that differences between the chambers have already begun show up in the whiskeys – both the changing alcohol level inside and how the spirits taste. The light experiment will run for a total of two years. The results will impact the size of the windows Buffalo Trace builds into its future warehouses.

And that’s just step one. Brown and Wheatley have 20 years’ worth of experiments lined up for the space so far, designed to answer questions like whether a longer fermentation makes for better whiskey years down the road. Or whether staves cut from very old trees make for better barrels (and better bourbon). “I believe the perfect bourbon has not yet been made,” Brown says flatly.

One Bourbon to Rule Them All?

Scientific inquiry isn’t a new idea at Buffalo Trace. An even bigger experiment got its start over a decade ago in the form of the company’s Single Oak Project. At the time, the duo identified seven major variables that might impact how finished bourbon turns out. These range from whether the whiskey uses wheat or rye as a flavoring grain, whether newly-distilled white dog goes into the barrel at 105 or 125 proof, and even whether the wood used to make the barrel was crafted from the bottom half of a tree or the top half of a tree. Buffalo Trace laid down 192 barrels, each one unique, and it has been releasing the finished product to the public over the last four years.

Consumers were invited to weigh in on each bottle’s quality via a website. Over the years, Buffalo Trace amassed more than 5,000 consumer reviews, along with professional critics’ ratings. Last June, the company crunched the numbers – the most delightful big data project ever – and took the five highest-rated whiskeys (excluding bottles that didn’t get enough votes to be statistically valid) through a competitive tasting. A panel of 11 whiskey pros (including this writer) were almost unanimous on the winner. Barrel #80 will be recreated precisely to that barrel’s unique production specifications, then branded as it becomes part of Buffalo Trace’s permanent lineup. It will be ready for release in 2023.

In the meantime, Brown will have to occupy himself with his distillery’s continued, breakneck expansion, plus the mountain of data he’s collected about the SOP. I’ve done some of the work for him in the sections that follow, but Brown is already looking ahead at multivariable analysis of the data, how significant randomness is in an experiment like this, and the daunting concern over whether barrel #80 was a fluke. “I have to forecast eight years’ worth of sales of a new whiskey brand before one bottle is released. How much should I make in year one? 10,000 cases? 20,000 cases?” he asks, and not quite rhetorically.

Such questions don’t have easy answers, but Brown at least has plenty of lubricant to help grease the wheels of inquiry. 25 million gallons of it, actually, all sleeping quietly in his backyard.

What Difference Can (Half) a Tree Make?

Ready to dig into the data of how various production factors impacted consumer opinions about the finished whiskey eight years later? Get ready for some serious number-crunching…

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Average ratings weren’t much impacted by tree cut – whether a barrel was made from the top of a tree or the bottom of the tree — but its impact can be seen at the edges of the chart. Good whiskeys were improved by being aged in barrels made from the bottom of the tree, while otherwise lesser whiskeys got worse. Brown hypothesizes that nutrients are more concentrated in the lower parts of trunks and thus have a bigger impact on the whiskey, for better or worse.

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On the whole, the grain of the barrel wood had no real impact on the average score, but the trendline shows some interesting results for tight-grained barrels. Lower-scoring whiskeys saw a significant improvement from the tight wood grain, while higher-scoring whiskeys saw their ratings dampened.

The Best Little Warehouse in Kentucky

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Warehouse design is a hotly debated topic. Newer designs favor buildings largely made of concrete, which have better fire and spill containment features, but older wooden rickhouses – breezier and more susceptible to temperature swings – are still commonly used. While a few top barrels were aged in concrete warehouses (including the winner), by and large, the wooden rickhouses turned out better whiskeys – with an average 1.7% improvement in tasters’ scores. This was the largest single factor affecting average ratings in the entire experiment.

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But it turns out even identical warehouses can turn out different spirits. Warehouses M and N are constructed identically, face the same direction, and are situated about 50 feet from each other. But whiskey ages differently in these two environments. After four years, barrels in Warehouse N average 127.9 proof, while those in Warehouse M hit just 124.8 proof. And this spread gets wider with each passing year. The company has yet to explain why this is happening. (This wasn’t a factor in the Single Oak Project, as all the barrels were aged in the same warehouse, but it remains a key issue when you’re dealing with tens of thousands of barrels that, by necessity, have to age in somewhat different places.)

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It’s commonly said that higher floors of any warehouse – no matter the design – age whiskey faster than lower floors, thanks to those blazing hot Kentucky summers and the fact that heat rises. Most cult whiskeys, like George T. Stagg, are high-alcohol beasts that can spend over a decade at the tops of these warehouses. But it turns out this isn’t always a linear function. In its nine-floor Warehouse I, Buffalo Trace found that the highest rate of proof increase took place on the 6th floor, followed by the 4th. The company posits that increased air flow on those floors is the reason for the discrepancy. Floor number was not varied in the Single Oak Project. (The prior two graphics are courtesy of Buffalo Trace.)

What’s in a Grain?

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Bourbon is made primarily from corn, but rye and wheat are the two most common “flavoring grains,” used to give bourbon a unique personality. Rye is increasingly popular in the market, but some of the most popular bourbons, including Pappy van Winkle, are wheated. While the top whiskey in the Single Oak Project was made with rye, the trendline shows a surprising, general preference for wheat among consumers.

More Than a Sum of Its Parts

Now here’s an interesting conundrum. We know, for each of the seven categories tested, what the average rating for the various bourbons made using that specific production method was. For each variable, one factor outscored the other(s). For example, we know that wheated bourbons outscored rye bourbons by 0.67%. We know that 105 entry proof bourbons outscored 125 entry proof bourbons by 0.46%. In theory, we can take all of those aggregated, winning attributes and make a theoretically perfect bourbon, which would look like this (the level of improvement over the alternative is in parenthesis for each favor):

  • from a wheated recipe (0.67% higher rating)
  • aged on wooden ricks (1.67% higher rating)
  • stored in a barrel from the bottom of the tree (0.13% higher rating)
  • the barrel staves should have 12 months of seasoning (1.04% higher rating)
  • the wood should have average grain (0.03% higher rating vs. both tight and coarse grain)
  • the barrel should be a #4 char (0.14% higher rating)
  • 105 entry proof (0.46% higher rating)

This exact whiskey was in fact produced in the Single Oak Project: Barrel #124. Winner it was not. Its composite score was a 6.45 out of 10, which was the fourth-worst-rated whiskey in the entire experiment. That’s a key lesson to be drawn from the data: These variables may interact in ways far more complex than a few spreadsheets can describe.

In contrast, here’s what the winning barrel, Barrel #80, looked like:

  • from a rye recipe
  • aged on concrete ricks
  • stored in a barrel from the bottom of the tree
  • the barrel staves had 12 months of seasoning
  • the wood had average grain
  • the barrel had a #4 char
  • 125 entry proof

Of the seven “ideal” variables, Barrel #80 complied with just four of them.

The ultimate lesson from the Single Oak Project may very well be, just like the old moonshiners used to tell us, that whiskeymaking is more art than science after all.

Experimenting with Beyond Barrels Bottle Aging Staves

cherry_1024x1024Beyond Barrels doesn’t exactly have a new idea: Take whiskey you don’t quite like as is, add a small piece of wood to the bottle, wait a few weeks, then presto, you’ve got extra-aged whiskey for just a few extra bucks. So-called “whiskey sticks” are everywhere these days.

Sounds good, but does this all work quite that easy in the real world?

To find out, I tested a wide range of bourbons with both of Beyond Barrels’ whiskey aging staves, and I’m here to tell you the blunt truth about how well it went.

For starters, the staves arrived without a whole lot of instruction. There are two varieties: French oak and cherry oak. They are remarkably different products that have a much different impact on your whiskey, so purchase very carefully.

I charged ahead with only a bit of guidance from the company, starting with a bottle of Wyoming Whiskey, a spirit that I felt could have used a bit of extra time in barrel when I first reviewed it. Experiment #1 involved trying out this whiskey with a French oak stave and a month of bottle time. (All experiments were tasted against a control; details follow.)

Wyoming Whiskey @ 1 month French oak stave – This was a bit of a disaster. The oak is extracted to the hilt, giving a youthful whiskey that is already redolent with wood so much more of it it has no idea what to do with itself. The oak stave handily also destroyed any nuance left in the spirit, washing away the fruit and grain notes in short order. In Beyond Barrels’ defense, I was (later) told that the French oak staves are best used to age bottles for only 1 to 2 weeks and that a month is likely too long. C-

Whoops. OK, back to the drawing board. This time I took a bottle of Amador Double Barrel and tried the French oak stave for just one week, then sampled it again at the two-week mark.

Amador Whiskey Double Barrel @ 1 week French oak stave – After a mere 7 days, the whiskey is immediately lumber-heavy on the nose, with a huge note of raw wood and sawdust, significantly overpowering anything else on the palate. The delicate cinnamon character in standard Amador DB (which is already wood-forward) is washed away here, replaced by a dusky clove note and, of course an epic amount of wood. C

Amador Whiskey Double Barrel @ 2 weeks French oak stave – Still on a steep decline, with overpowering wood notes that taste like chewing on freshly cut lumber. No fruit left at all except for a hint right on the tip of the first sip. D+

OK, those didn’t go so well, so what about the cherry staves? These rods have a more subtle influence on your whiskey, imbuing it less with raw wood and more with fruity overtones. Beyond Barrels was kind enough to supply me with five samples of cherry stave-aged bourbons that it had doctored itself. I tasted all five of these blind, then compared them to the closest analogue I had by way of a control. I didn’t always have a perfect match, but you can check out my comparatives in each writeup below.

Blanton’s @ 3 months cherry stave – Quite fruity on the nose, very sweet on the tongue. Cherry notes are prominent, along with some bubblegum notes and baking spice. A bit sweet for my tastes, but not a bad sipper. B

Vs. Blanton’s Single Barrel Private Selection – I had no rack version of Blanton’s available but pitted it against a private selection we recently reviewed. I had a pronounced and dramatic preference for the standard bottling, which was less hot, more balanced, and much less candylike on the finish.

Four Roses Single Barrel @ 3 months cherry stave – Strong wood influence on the nose gives this the first impression of age. As it develops on the palate it reveals significant spice (cloves and allspice), some caramel corn notes, and a sweeter side. A bit out of balance, but also worthwhile. B

Vs. Four Roses Single Barrel (Distillery Bottling) – The wood is much too harsh on the doctored bottling, which throws this delicate whiskey out of balance, numbing its spice profile.

Four Roses Small Batch @ 3 months cherry stave – Restrained on the nose, with only some rough alcohol notes to show. On the palate it feels youthful and dialed back, without a lot going on. A slight chocolate and barrel char influence are about all I get from this one. Mostly harmless. B

Vs. Four Roses Small Batch (Distillery Bottling) – I have a standard bottling of this that we dip into from time to time for comparative purposes, though oddly we’ve never formally reviewed it (hence no link). 4R Small Batch has always been “entry level” Four Roses for me, and here I found the two samples closer than any of the others in this experiment. I nonetheless prefer the undoctored version, which has more prominent (and fun) chocolate notes. The stave deadens those a bit in the doctored sample.

Evan Williams Black Label @ 4 months cherry stave – Popcorn is heavy on the nose (perhaps it’s quite young?), with burnt caramel and significant barrel influence underlying it. A touch vegetal on the tongue, it opens up with time to reveal a mingling of cotton candy and cloves. Caramel is huge, but there’s lots of wood influence on this one. B+

No comparison bottle – I had no EW Black Label on hand to compare to here, and pitting this against one of the Single Barrels would be unfair to the point of cruelty. Surprising though that this cheap bottling was my favorite of the bunch. Or, perhaps not surprising.

Maker’s Mark @ 2.5 months cherry stave – Initially rough on the nose, heavy with alcohol influence and a big punch of wood. The palate is milder and moderately sweet, with notes of tobacco, spearmint, and cloves. The finish is a bit of an unfortunate letdown, though. B

Vs. Maker’s Mark – Again, the standard Maker’s is considerably better, its spice elements are more present and the various flavors are more in alignment and better balanced. Maker’s is a soft whiskey and while Maker’s 46 is a fine product, Maker’s is not a whisky that I would normally think additional wood influence would improve. Seems to be the case here.

So, what did I learn in all of this? Well, the quick and dirty takeaway is that in every comparative review I undertook, I preferred the original, non-doctored version of the spirit to the stave-aged one. Now, perhaps I never struck on the perfect combination — and some of my preferences were only slight. That said, it seems to me that if I were to continue down this road, doctoring a relatively cheap (mass-produced, not craft) bourbon with a cherry stave for a few months might very well be the best way to go. After all, there’s no point trying to touch the sun and improve a whiskey that’s already at the top of its game. However, when faced with a budget bottling and a low level of investment, I wouldn’t mind dropping a few cherry staves into bottles just to see what comes out the other end. (Note: These can also be used to make barrel-aged cocktails.)

Have you played with aging staves? Sound off in the comments!

$11 each (staves are reusable) / beyondbarrels.com

What To Do with Leftover Whisky? Blend Your Own Bottle

null whiskey blends

Whiskey samples are a way of life at Drinkhacker HQ, and when you’re in this business for awhile (we’re approaching 9 years and 5000 posts), those samples start to stack up.

Sometimes samples come as full 750ml bottles. Often they arrive in the form of 50ml or 100ml minis. I give away more mostly-full bottles of hooch in a year than you will probably drink in your lifetime. But what do I do with the miniatures that are largely empty, but not quite gone? The mediocre stuff gets thrown out, sure, but with 20-plus year old spirits that cost four figures, I feel bad pouring the leftovers — even if it’s just half an ounce — down the drain. The result: I have had hundreds and hundreds of largely empty vials of whiskey sitting around, though I know I’ll never consume them. When would I ever have the chance to do so?

A few months ago storage space was becoming an issue so I made a decision I wish I’d made at the start of Drinkhacker: To make my own bespoke blends, drawn from the best of the best of my leftover stock, just for kicks.

It didn’t take long to fill a bottle, to the point where I now have three of them going, in various stages of fullness — two vattings of single malts and one bourbon blend. I did not keep track of what went into each bottle; that would ruin the fun.

These have all been marinating and marrying for awhile, with each bottle having room for 30 to 40 whiskies in it. Today, I finally decided I’d give them all a semi-formal review as if they were actual releases.

Without further ado, let’s see how good various blends of a bunch of random — yet all very good — whiskies can be. Most of the whiskies in these blends are cask strength releases, but I have no formal proof data, of course. All, of course, will continue to evolve as new samples find their way into the mix.

Drinkhacker Single Malt Blend #1 – This contains lots of SMWS castoffs, Diageo Special Releases, Exclusive Malts leftovers, and other high-end single malts. The malts are heavy on the Highlands, but there’s a bit of everything in here, including a significant amount of Islay malt. I didn’t think there was that much peated whisky here, but the solid smoke and iodine on the nose showcases how just a bit of Islay can go a long way. The palate offers honey and caramel notes, but it’s hidden beneath considerable peat. The finish folds sherry and chocolate with a bit of maraschino cherry character, but ends up squarely on the smoke. Water helps coax out more of the fruit, and while it’s not a bad dram, on the whole the blend is a relatively unbalanced disappointment. Hopefully as old whisky goes out and new whiskies go in it may find its footing. B

Drinkhacker Single Malt Blend #2 – Similar to blend #1, except there’s almost no peat in this one (save for incidental peat in Highland whiskies) — and going forward this will be my “non-peated” blend. This is a younger vatting of only about 20 whiskies to date, but it is already drinking better, likely thanks to the closer homogeneity of the components therein. Lots of honey and nougat give this blend structure, but it’s also quite restrained — with sweet vanilla and some lightly savory spices offering nuance. Baking spice and citrus notes hit on the back end. I’d say it was a classic, sherry-finished Highland malt, if I didn’t know better. By far a better blend, it isn’t entirely complex, but it offers balance, exuberance, and drinkability. I’d put this up against almost any 16 to 18 year old Speyside bottling. A-

Drinkhacker Bourbon Blend #1 – Mostly composed of various Buffalo Trace experiments (only really good ones) and Antique Collection leftovers, which means there’s a bit of rye in this. Immediately odd: Lots of licorice up front, plus cloves and barrel char (though not so much lumberyard/sawdust). As the body opens up (water isn’t wrong here), it showcases more of a salted caramel character with the dense wood notes underpinning it. The ultimate impression is one of surprisingly old bourbon — which goes to show how a splash of very well-aged stuff like the George T. Stagg in this blend can go a long way. That said, it’s still worthwhile and fun to sip on. In fact, it’s especially fun because I keep it in a novelty decanter that Jim Beam sent me with my name and photo on it. Nutty Kentuckians. B+

Here’s How To Make 20 Year Old Rum in One Week!

My piece on Bryan Davis and Lost Spirits just hit Wired this morning. Check it out!

Davis has come up with a method of producing spirits that taste like they’ve been aging in the barrel for 20 years, but his process only takes six days. Davis doesn’t accelerate the aging process like so many of the methods that have been tried in the past. Rather, he shortcuts it by taking new distillate and running it through his proprietary chemical reactor. Davis’s device forces the creation of the same key chemical compounds that give a well-aged spirit its unique character. Give him a week, and Davis says he can create a booze that tastes decades old.

Whisky From Space?

Space whisky? Not exactly, but Ardbeg is releasing an homage to a grand experiment going on with space-based whisky maturation in this limited-edition bottling. Read on for the full press release.

Ardbeg Galileo launched to celebrate Scottish distillery’s “world first” experiment in space

Limited Edition of legendary Islay Distillery pays tribute to Galileo, the father of modern astronomy

NEW YORK, Sept. 1, 2012 — Ardbeg Distillery on the island of Islay today announces the release of Ardbeg Galileo, a limited edition 12 Years Old Single Malt Whisky – a special celebration of its “world first” space maturation experiment, previously announced at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April 2012.

Ardbeg Galileo is a special vatting of different styles of Ardbeg laid down in 1999, all married together to give a sweet, smoky texture. The heart of this limited edition Ardbeg is spirit matured in ex-Marsala wine casks from Sicily that is combined with hallmark Ardbeg matured in first and second fill ex-Bourbon casks. The ex-Marsala casks add fruity aromas and textures to Ardbeg’s famed peaty, smoky house style. Bottled at 49% and non chill-filtered it is being made available on allocation to Ardbeg’s focus markets.

The whisky, named after Galileo, the father of modern astronomy, celebrates the first ever experiment undertaken by Ardbeg Distillery (or any other distillery for that matter) when Ardbeg was invited in late 2011 by US based space research company NanoRacks LLC, based in Houston Texas, to take part in a two year experiment to test micro-organic compounds drawn from the distillery’s production on Islay. This maturation experiment (the inter-action of these compounds with charred oak) between normal gravity on Earth and micro-gravity in space, is currently taking place far up in space on the International Space Station.

The vials that were launched by Soyuz rocket from Baikanor in Kazakhstan in late 2011 contain a class of compounds known as “terpenes,” a set of chemicals which are very widespread in nature and often very aromatic and flavour active. The experiment could explain the workings of these large, complex molecules as they will remain on the International Space Station for at least two years and help uncover new truths about the change that these molecules undergo in this near ‘zero gravity’ environment. It also should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum.

The experiment will have applications for a variety of commercial and research products, including, one day maybe, future generations of Ardbeg.

Working in close collaboration with the Ardbeg Distillery team in Scotland, NanoRacks will closely monitor the experiment against control samples here on earth; both in Houston, Texas at the NanoRacks’ facility and more familiarly, in Warehouse 3 at Ardbeg Distillery on Islay!

Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stocks at The Glenmorangie Company said:  “So far so good – the experiment went live in January when the scientists broke the separating wall between the two components; Ardbeg new make spirit straight from our still on Islay and shards of charred oak cut out of some of our barrels from the warehouse. We will not know the results for another year or so but in the meantime we thought we would celebrate the experiment by the introduction of Ardbeg Galileo – our own earthly tribute to the scientific experiment taking place far up in space!”

Ardbeg Galileo will be made available to Ardbeg and Islay whisky aficionados in specialist malt whisky shops and liquor stores in Ardbeg’s focus markets.

Hamish Torrie for Ardbeg commented: “Each year we have brought out a limited edition of Ardbeg as a supplement to our core range – and although Ardbeg Galileo in no way resembles the actual experiment going on in space nevertheless we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the experiment, and our partnership with NanoRacks in Houston, with a whisky which Bill and the team on Islay laid down way back in 1999 shortly after we bought Ardbeg Distillery. There are only a few thousand cases available and as ever with Ardbeg we expect demand to be brisk.”

The Angel’s Share, Illustrated

Last year I filled a 1.5-liter micro-barrel with Woodinville’s white whiskey, all part of its “age your own” whiskey kit. I’ve sampled it every couple of months but largely it’s been left untouched since July 2011.

Today I bottled what was left. The photo below illustrates what two full bottles of white dog turned into after 13 months in cask in chilly San Francisco.

(For the record, the company says you should probably bottle your hooch after a couple of months or a bit longer.)

angel's share in action