Whisky Magazine Issue 96
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Science is a mind-bendingly complicated enigma. There is a cause that engenders every effect, response and reaction, but even the most basic everyday causalities can elude us. The stimuli that provoke our sensory reactions are lodged deep in microcosmic domains that are seemingly inaccessible,incomprehensible even, to the human mind. That is why Buffalo Trace Distillery's Single Oak Project is a ground-breaking, historic endeavour.
Mark Brown, president and CEO of the Sazerac Company, and Harlen Wheatley, Buffalo Trace master distiller, have orchestrated an experiment of epic proportions to isolate the effect that key variables of aging and barrel production have on a whiskey's flavour profile. Brown explains the undertaking as the quest to age and bottle the perfect whiskey, or the Holy Grail. “Grail is said to possess magical powers,” he said, sparing no whimsy.
The mission started 12 years ago when Brown and Ronnie Eddins, Buffalo Trace's celebrated longtime warehouse manager who passed away in October, wondered if and how the factors that differentiate one tree from the next, thus one barrel from the next, affect an aging whiskey. From 96 hand-selected trees in Missouri Ozarks, 192 barrels were constructed. Some were made from trees with coarse wood grain and some from fine wood grain, a quality determined by the number of age rings. Staves were cut from the trees' top half or bottom half. The staves were air dried for either six or 12 months. Then the barrels rec...