It's that time again. I opened the spigot and drained the grape spirit out of my little aging barrel. The liquid had been in there for a little over 4 months.
If you recall, this time around I had "brandy" sitting in the barrel. In reality, it was actually a mixture of two spirits; in order to not ultimately have over-aged brandy on my hands, I originally mixed an aged Cognac with a young pisco and poured it in to age and mingle a bit more. What I had in the barrel was essentially a composite grape spirit.
The good news is that my "desperate swipe" at the Angel's Share was effective. And I don't know why. Before the aging, I topped off my grape spirit mixture in the barrel with a generous pour of high proof grain alcohol. I'm not sure why... perhaps I thought that upping the proof of the overall mixture would somehow slow the evaporation. Well, it seems to have worked. While I only aged the stuff for about 15% less time than I usually do, I ended up with over 150% of the expected end volume. Can someone explain this to me?
Well, the spirit's time in the barrel has yielded something for which I was thoroughly unprepared. The character of the end product is entirely different than anything that's been in the barrel previously. This is why aging at home is so fun and riveting. Here is a picture of the stuff housed in a beautiful re-used bottle from Tommy Bahama rum. I have another 750mL bottle that's half-filled with the rest of it.
Composite grape spirit, at-home aged
Its aroma didn't surprise me. It manages to have what is apparently my barrel's signature smell; it smells of wood and wood only. In fact, by its aroma, I could have mistaken this for the rum that was previously aged in this barrel. I had to ask myself "What bearing will this trend have on the development of the spirit's flavor?"
(The answer to the above question is "None at all.")
The spirit falls onto the tongue very dry, much like the previous products of this barrel. It's a characteristic dry/sweet combo that this wood has been known to develop. It spreads across to coat the tongue. Next I taste an ever-so-slight twinge of vanilla wafting up to my palate, if I concentrate hard enough.
Despite the fact that most of this product (in terms of volume) consists of Cognac, the mouth feel of the stuff is decidedly of a young spirit, like the pisco. (Perhaps because the Cognac used was on the bright and fruity side.) Despite the initial woodiness on the tongue, wood is absent from the rest of the tasting, instead replaced by a biting grassiness and spiciness. The swallow is peppery, as if it's refusing to be ignored, and I sense the slightest cinnamon aftertaste.
I'm at a loss for words as to what this "brandy" has become.
When spirits of all types are initially distilled and still clear and young, they often have flavor descriptors such as: spicy, pungent, peppery, grassy, rough, fiery, earthy, etc. The concept of aging spirits in barrels was designed to mellow these traits in spirits, while also building more complex flavors from the wood and evaporation. Well, it seems that in this case, the opposite was achieved.
Into the barrel was put a combination of fairly smooth, sweet, and fruity grape spirits and out of it has come something spicy, earthy, and more rough than before. This time around, the barrel imparted little to no flavor into its contents, but rather coaxed out completely different flavors that may have been hiding there all along. Fascinating.
I'm dying to see what's going to happen to the next barrel batch...
Into the barrel now is going a mixture of apple brandy. Yes, you could consider this a "seasonal" aging since the clock just struck "autumn", but don't forget that spirits keep almost indefinitely! The word "seasonal" has no power here!
Anyway, most of this new mix is comprised of Captain Applejack and Laird's Straight Apple Brandy, both 750mL, both bottled in bond, and both 100 proof. Frankly, it's my shoddy understanding that Captain Applejack is simply a Laird's product under a different label. In fact, they have the same bottling plant code in the fine print on the back of their bottles. Regardless, they are actually different products. The straight apple brandy is through-and-through an aged eau de vie of apples. The applejack is a combination of straight apple brandy and neutral spirit (vodka) distilled from apples. Their characters are different, and I wanted both in the barrel.
I topped the contents off with two more things: the grain alcohol that was so useful in combating the Angel's Share, and about 200mL of Chateau O'Brien apple wine, produced right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The wine is at the same time intensely sweet and intensely tart, and should liven up the other spirits.
After the grape spirit experiment, I have absolutely no clue what to expect on how the character of this apple spirit will change. Will its flavor get darker and deeper or will the barrel once again reveal some more feisty flavors? Will any wood flavors be imparted? Has the little barrel finally lost its ability to traditionally "age" spirits inside it? I'll let you know in a few months.