What's Going On Inside that Barrel?

It's been an interesting problem, trying to show what's going on inside a barrel with our technology. The Wizard, like The Symphony before it, agitates the contents inside a barrel. How do we know? Well, we've shown what it can do in a carboy, and so it can be inferred (sorta). But that's really never been good enough for us. You can put your hands to the outside of the barrel and feel it, but that still leaves it to the imagination about what's happening on the inside.

The problem? It's dark in there, and it's plugged with a bung, and it's liquid tight. So. Yeah. Good luck seeing inside. We've seen some barrel-heads replaced with transparent plastic, and that's actually really cool, but turns out it's not the most affordable thing to pursue (like, not at all). Jameson uses a few "see-thru" barrels to show different stages of aging (to good effect, I might add).

We know that color change is only one of the characteristics indicative of maturation, and that color change itself is largely driven by extraction processes between the spirit and the wood. We've also shown through experiment that agitation is very effective at driving color-change (extraction). That being said, color has no flavor. And I don't know anybody that has bought a 2nd-bottle of anything because they loved the color alone. 

Extraction is only one of the processes involved in maturation, the other two are reaction(s) and evaporation. One of my favorite finds on Google of the last year is the very excellent "Chemistry of Whisky" poster provided by compoundchem.com

The poster shows the key flavor compounds present in a matured whiskey. A quick review of our older blog posts would show that these compounds are also in higher concentrations as a result of agitation, quite substantially actually.

But the question remains...what's going on inside that barrel? Well, we finally caved. Destroy a barrel for science? YES! Actually, we just drilled another hole by the bung, a peep-hole of sorts, so that we could see inside without altering the Wizard's operation. I suppose we can just stick a cork or #3 stopper in that hole and use it again.

We filled the barrel up about an inch from the top and stuck a barrel-Wizard in, plugged it in (unlike our previous technology, The Wizard is simply plugged in. Genius, right?), and hit record. Here it is.

And why does that matter? Because in addition to wood extraction, spirits maturation also includes reaction(s) and evaporation, both of which can be heavily influenced (and even driven) by the amount of surface area at the spirit and headspace interface in the barrel. And as you can see in the video, an agitated surface has substantially more surface area than a flat, still surface. And manipulating this interface promotes the many good oxidative reactions and evaporative losses that occur during the barrel maturation processes.

Extraction? Check. Reactions? Check. Evaporation? Check.