Fast Age Your Spirits with iStill!

Fast … what?

There has been a great deal of talking about flash aging or fast aging spirits lately. The idea goes like this: “Why store spirits for years and years, when there are other, more modern ways to speed up the aging process?”

To be able to “cheat” the aging curve and make drinks more palatable in a shorter time, would be a great benefit. Product could be released sooner and at better quality, speeding up the time to market while freeing up liquidity, both spirits and money wise.

This iStill Blog post (or Tuesday Tech Talk) dives into aging, how the process can be speeded up, and how we offer a unique solution to help you fast age your product, if you want to go down that route.

The theory

Simplified, the process of aging white spirits basically consists of two steps:

  1. Oxygen, meeting and mingling with your product, will oxidize your spirit, making it softer, easier on the palate;
  2. Molecules in your product, that meet and mingle, recombine to form new taste molecules (also called esters) again softening your spirit while making it more complex at the same time.

Oxygenation, the first aging process, is induced by adding an outside element (oxygen) to your spirit. More oxygen means faster oxygenation. Oxygenation is an aging process that especially benefits the late Heads that may have smeared into your Hearts cut. Oxygen develops the taste formation of Heads associated, fruity tastes.

Recombination, as I call the second aging process described above, does not need external agents. It’s an autonomous process, where molecules, inherent to your Hearts cut, meet, mingle and recombine into new molecules. It is a process however, that can also be speeded up. How? By creating a warmer environment. In warmer temperatures, more of the desired chemical reactions take place. Recombination concentrates its benefits on the early Tails faction that may have smeared into your Hearts cut. It’s the root-like, nutty, multi-dimensional tastes that get developed by adding heat.

The Arrhenius Equation teaches us that adding 10 degrees Centigrade of heat doubles the chemical reactions (recombinations) that take place. Turn that around and you get the following: “If we mature our spirits in an environment that’s 10 degrees C warmer, aging will go twice as fast.” Stay with me and compare this: a Scottish barrel room at 12 degrees … and a fast aging vessel at 62 degrees C. That’s a 50 degrees difference speeding up Tails related aging immensely.

There you have it. If you want to speed up the aging process, oxygenate and heat-up your spirits!

Adding wood flavors

Barrels are perfect for aging. The barrel room allows for warm temperatures that help the process of esterification via recombination of molecules. And, since part of the barrel contents evaporate, air is added to your product, enhancing oxygenation levels. Barrel aging enables both aging processes (oxygenation and recombination) to take place, but at a slow pace. Some whiskies and rums age up to 20 years.

Barrels do more than providing an environment for aging. Barrels also infuse your spirits with wood particles (tannins and vanillins and more). These wood particles give of tastes of themselves and allow for the alcohol molecules to form new esters again.

A fast aging approach

If you want to speed up the aging process of your white spirits, this is what you do: add oxygen and energy to it. A fruit brandy, that’s Heads (fruity tastes!) oriented will benefit from more oxygenation, while a rum or whiskey, that’s Tails (nutty, root-like tastes) oriented will benefit more from heating-up.

Are you into brown spirits? Then add wood chunks to your product, and proceed as above. Due to the warmer temperatures, the wood chunks will give off more taste and color faster.

How to oxygenize? By adding oxygen. Set your agitator high and you’ll cavitate air (and oxygen) into your product.

How to beef-up Tails-oriented esterification and aging? By putting the heaters on and heating your product up to 60 to 65 degrees C.

And here comes the fun part: both processes reinforce one another! If you heat up your product to 60 degrees C, many of the lower boiling point alcohols (right: Heads!) will evaporate and then condense. During the evaporation phase they oxygenate at a very fast rate, because they get suspended in oxygen rich air.

The reinforcement also works the other way around. If you agitate to introduce oxygen to your product, you will also force the Tails oriented esters and molecules to meet and mingle and recombine at a higher rate.

Agitation and heating, with wood chunks or without, that’s all that’s needed to fast age your spirits. The results? Please see underneath.

Results

Many now investigate fast aging techniques. And the claims they make are … ridiculous. Like this: “If you use our machine, our aging reactor, you can achieve 20 years of aging in just six days!” I know that’s ridiculous because I have tried and tested it. Heck, it may well have been my research into ultrasonic aging that (co-) created this hype!

Here’s why the statements made by others are ridiculous:

  1. Six days of fast aging gives you the equivalent of three maybe four years of aging, not 20;
  2. You don’t need a special machine, and you certainly don’t need to call it an aging reactor!

The iStill Solution

You know that our iStill NextGen boilers are incredibly versatile, right? You can use them to cook, to mash, to ferment, and to distill.

Now add this to your mindset: the iStills NextGen can also be used for fast aging. How? Very easy. Add your spirits to the boiler, choose the heat-up program, dial in a temperature of – say – 62 degrees C, set the agitation at 100%, and fast age your drink for six days.

No need to buy or lease so-called special reactors. The iStill NextGen boiler comes standard with fast aging technology and functionality. Standard as in “at no additional costs”!

Procedures

Here’s three procedures I developed and tested on the iStill 500 NextGen over the last year. They can be applied to the iStills 2000 and 5000 NextGen as well.

Fast aging fruit brandy:

  1. Fill the boiler with 400 liters of product;
  2. Set the temperature at 60 degrees C;
  3. Agitate at 100% agitator power setting (maximum setting);
  4. Fast age like this for five days.

Fast aging whisky or rum:

  1. Fill the boiler with 400 liters of product;
  2. Set the temperature at 65 degrees C;
  3. Agitate at 80% agitator power setting (that’s 80% of the maximum);
  4. Fast age like this for seven days.

Fast aging gin and vodka:

  1. Fill the boiler with 400 liters of product;
  2. Set the temperature at 62 degrees C;
  3. Agitate at 90% agitator power setting (that’s 90% of the maximum);
  4. Fast age like this for three days.

The higher temperatures create more early Tails related esterification (or molecular recombination). With rum and whiskey you are after the root-like, nutty tastes associated with those early Tails. That’s why it pays out to fast age at slightly higher temperatures. The more early Tails there are, the longer (or in this case: warmer) one needs to age them.

The higher the agitation frequency, the more oxidation takes place. With fruit brandy, you want to make sure your Hearts cut contains more late Heads and none (or for a brandy: very little) early Tails. That’s why fruit brandy benefits from higher agitator settings. The higher level of oxidation is needed to age out the bigger amounts of Heads related congeners.

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One thought on “Fast Age Your Spirits with iStill!

  1. I am going to be honest and probably sound stupid, but I still have am really curious about how this fast aging thing works. I do think the increased temperature, pressure, and then you can add more molecules that increase the rate of chemical catalyzation are likely the primary methods people use to make it happen (and you’ve proven a way similar to what I imagined was done). However, I am really curious to know if something as simple as this has been tried to fast age:

    Heat up a wooden barrel to ~55-60 degrees centigrade in an extremely humid environment so the wood expands. Then supercool it so the wood contracts, rinse/repeat.

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