DIY whiskey – some strong hooch

Beer enthusiasts often try their hand at brewing, and the homebrew community is alive and well in the craft beer world.  Whiskey, though, still seems largely magical to me.  I understand the basics of how it is made, but…  No, that’s a lie.  I totally don’t understand how it’s made. It’s pretty much magic pixie dust as far as I’m concerned.

I could say words that sound like I understand it, but I fundamentally don’t.

Here’s the part I understand.  Magic pixies make raw whiskey from various grains and then you put it in barrels and wait and that’s what turns it brown and delicious. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could just do that part?

Oh wait, I can.  Cool.

The Wasmund's Barrel Kit
The Wasmund’s Barrel Kit

For my birthday last year, I received a Copper Fox Distillery Wasmund’s Barrel Kit from a friend.  Because my friends are awesome. It came with a small 2 liter charred American Oak barrel and two bottles of 124 proof raw single malt (barley) spirit.

I am a little crazy, so of course I tasted the raw spirit.  It was pretty gross. Raw, white, harsh, very strong booze with no mellowness or sweet complexity.  Yuck.

Into the barrel it went on December 2, 2013.

Because the barrels are so small, they don’t require the same long aging that larger barrels do, so the instructions suggested it would be ready to drink after 4-6 months.  Well, here we are, a little over five months later.  Let’s see what we have, shall we?

OK, disclosure… out of curiosity, I did try a sip after about three months.  It was worse than the raw spirit. I made the face that people who don’t like whiskey make when they taste Islay Scotch. Blehhhh.

But now, after five months… how is it?

First impression: Holy crap on a cracker, that’s some strong hooch.

Look at that pretty color!
Look at that pretty color!

Now, I’m a cask strength kind of girl.  I love me some cask strength bourbon.  Love it.  But this stuff is too strong even for me.  Maybe it’s the sweetness of the bourbon that allows for the higher proof. I do like some cask strength Scotches, but in general I would say I like my barley spirits lower proof than my corn spirits.

Still, it’s not bad.  It’s a lovely coppery color, and the taste is very unusual.  Most single malts we are used to tasting are aged in old bourbon barrels.  This one was aged in a virgin charred oak barrel, one that had never contained bourbon or any other spirit.  So it has a bit of that new barrel intensity of flavor, but without the corn sweetness.

The nose is nicer than the taste.  Vanilla, turbinado sugar, toasted wood, and cereal from the barley.  There is a subtle off-note of kind of wet mossy wood in both the nose and mouth.  The taste unwatered is pretty potent.  I’m not gonna lie.  It will knock you on your butt a little.  The apple and cherry wood smoke from the malting come through very nicely.  There is a bit of vanilla and honey.  But it’s all pretty overwhelmed by burn and sheer booziness.

Adding water helps to make it more palatable, but as usual, takes a bit of the richness away.  It’s a matter of taste.  I think most people would want to water it.  I will probably gently water to about 110 proof.  What can I say?  I like the burn.

I will say, it needs some time to open up in the glass.  Straight from the barrel, it’s all boozy fume and has a certain rubbing alcohol quality.  After some time left alone (because I had to go cook dinner), it was much nicer.

Would I buy this again if it were a finished whiskey in a bottle?  Probably not.  Too rough for me.  Yes, even for me.  But it’s interesting.  Like I said, I’m not used to malted barley, unpeated, and aged in new oak, so I don’t really have anything to compare this to.  It’s a beast of its own, somewhere between bourbon and… well, not Scotch.  Without even a hint of peat, it isn’t like Scotch at all even though it’s made from barley.

Bottling up what's left after the greedy angels drank half of it!
Bottling up what’s left after the greedy angels drank half of it!

But now the fun begins.  I can bottle up my countertop-aged booze (in the bottles I saved from the raw spirit.  Save your bottles!) and start again, with something else.  According to the Copper Fox Distillery, the second aging is very different from the first.

Oh, and did the angels take their share?  Yes, yes they did.  The angels (myself included) left me with a little under one full bottle, taking more than 50%! Greedy angels!  I probably “tasted” about three shots, between a taste of the raw spirit, a taste at 3 months, and an unwatered and watered taste today.

Now that my barrel is nice and seasoned, I’m not sure what to age next.  A moonshine?  Another bottle of the single malt to compare first to second aging?  Go crazy and start playing with barrel aged cocktails?  Or give it to one of my homebrew beer friends and ask them to make me something yummy?

Decisions, decisions… oh, the good kind of decisions…