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These Cutting-Edge Distillers Are Pushing the Limits of Spirit Aging. Story courtesy of Departures Magazine.

Beyond the Barrel: These Cutting-Edge Distillers Are Pushing the Limits of Spirit Aging

Old-school methods meet innovative new techniques.

02/10/2021,
By: Jake Emen
Straight Rye

The beginnings of spirits maturation, particularly with whiskey and rum, were by happenstance. Shipped long distances down rivers or across oceans in wooden barrels, the spirits held within not only gained color, but also new and enhanced flavors. In recent decades, that layman understanding has gained an ever-growing scientific footing, culminating in a scene today with numerous exciting projects underway, some of which take the concept of maturation back to its roots.

Bringing the Barrels Back to the Water

Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon first made waves in 2012, after sending barrels of whiskey on meandering oceanic voyages, in which the whiskey being transported aboard its vessel sloshed within the casks, agitated by the constant movement of the ship on the tides. The liquor within the barrels matured, as the barrels on board were exposed to the elements. This singular product represents a portion of what Jefferson’s produces, but at newcomer O.H. Ingram River Aged Whiskey, maturing whiskey on the water represents their core ethos.

“My family has been working on the river for more than 150 years—it’s our lifeblood—and Ingram River Aged Whiskey is the latest evolution of this relationship,” said founder Hank Ingram. He sources distillate from MGP, and fully matures it on a specially designed barge floating on the Mississippi River, moored to the riverbank in Wickliffe, Kentucky, and equipped with a rickhouse which can hold up to 2,000 barrels.

“Here, our barrels are constantly exposed to the climate of the river and its drastic rise and fall,” Ingram said. The impact includes a large diurnal temperature shift, constantly working the whiskey in and out of the wood, and the movement of the river itself, which also agitates the spirit held within the cask. This is in addition to an overall humid environment on the water, quite different from what you’d find in a typical warehouse.