Aging Alcohol In 30 Minutes

Many alcoholic beverages are aged in barrels for long periods of time. The aim is to impart flavors from the wood of the barrel into the liquid, and allow a whole host of chemical reactions to happen, changing the character of the taste. However, this takes time, and time is money. There’s potentially a faster way, however, and [The Thought Emporium] set out to investigate.

Inspired by several research papers, the goal was to examine whether using ultrasound to agitate these fluids could speed the aging process. Initial tests consisted of artificially aging milk, apple cider, and vodka in a small ultrasonic jewelry cleaner for 30 minutes, with cognac chips for flavor. Results were positive amongst the tasters, with the vodka in particular showing a marked color change from the process. A later test expanded the types of wood chip and beverages under test. Results were more mixed, but with a small sample size of tasters, it’s to be expected.

While taste is subjective, there were definite visible results from the aging process. It’s a technique that’s being explored by industry, too. We’ve seen hackers brew up plenty of tasty beverages before, too – often with a little automation thrown in Video after the break.

38 thoughts on “Aging Alcohol In 30 Minutes

  1. As an experienced DIY distiller, I’d just like to say that aging process is a lot more than just replicating an oak barrel. I’ve made apple brandy that tastes like ###### when it has just been produced but ages very nicely in a glass bottle with no other added ingredients – takes at least 6 months. Also, there do exit professional tasters who can do more objective tests. It’s very difficult, but entirely possible. Sadly, A simple change in colour would never imply aging :( However, if ultrasound stimulation could be given thumbs up by professional tasters, or truly competent amateurs, then that’s great!

    1. This is a method being used (with some trade secrets added in) by several micro-distillers in the US. One guy is even renting out his equipment in 2-week time-slots for professional distillers. There is an interview with him somewhere on-line. Basically, with his proprietary technique using ultrasonic aging, he can exactly replicate the natural aging process (including ester and aldehyde transformations,) up to 20 years old. Tasters are unable to tell a difference. The effects experienced on an aged-alcohol beyond 20 years is not possible with his current technique, but he is investigating at the moment to try and get 30, 50, and 100 year processes mimicked.

  2. I’ve “aged” white rum successfully in the past, by adding spices and caramelized sugar.
    Needs a week, but tastes waaaay better than Captain Morgan.
    Might try the ultrasonic method next time, to save some time.

      1. Yea it is already patented already actually, several different ways, but the same idea, use ultrasonic waves to increase the speed of aging, either from scratch or increasing the aging process near the end of the process, etc.
        But yea, seems like it would make sense it is already being used…

  3. This isn’t aging. This is finishing. Aging takes time. The liquid is able to move in and out of the wood. All this is doing is agitating the liquid so that it moves over the surface of the wood. You’ll miss most of the aging process. When a spirit ages, the follow occurs:

    * Direct extraction of wood compounds (natural lower molecular weight components, including those generated during fungal enzyme attack on wood during seasoning and upon toasting and charring of the wood)
    * Decomposition of wood macromolecules (lignin, cellulose, hemicelluloses and tannins, etc.) and extraction of their products into the distillate
    * Reactions between wood components and the constituents of the raw distillate
    * Reactions involving only wood extractives
    * Reactions involving only the distillate components
    * Evaporation of volatile compounds (low boiling point compounds through the wood of the cask)

    The only person that has even come close to “fast aging” spirits is Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits, and his process is still limited in it’s success. (Though it’s successes are delicious.) See linked article above.

    Also worth reading:

    1. And the distillery is literally called Lost Spirits – I was just about to comment about them but you beat me to it.

      Their patent is definitely interesting, and it appears that you can likely get “close enough” with just heat alone.

      It isn’t 30 minutes, but definitely not years. And the heat component of the process is easy to do at home – just immerse whatever you’re aging in a sous vide bath.

      The history of even natural aging supports acceleration via heat – rum is traditionally not aged for nearly as long as scotch whiskeys – simply because rum is traditionally produced in much warmer climates and that makes aging happen faster!

      1. Or, it makes the alcohol evaporate through the barrel faster (the “angels’ share”) so they stop the aging process sooner to cut their losses.

        The barrel aging basically works by dissolution and filtration. When the air temperature, humidity and pressure all change cyclically, the alcohol and water is driven in and out of the wood and it dissolves whatever chemicals, while others are filtered by the cellulose matrix and trapped in the wood. The barrels are also typically charred from the inside, so the carbon acts to trap some kinds of molecules like a chemically selective sieve.

        1. Also, most scotch is made in used bourbon or wine barrels. The first bite of tannins and all the turpentine-flavored chemicals have been absorbed into all the Jack Daniels that’s made in the fresh barrels. The stuff that’s left behind in the wood is much subtler, mellower, and takes a longer time to dissolve out.

      2. In the Thought Emporium video he mentions that you should use a heated ultrasonic bath to further accelerate the process, but chose not to because it seemed like just another variable to control at the time.

  4. All that ultrasonic aging does is impart more flavor from the barrel. That’s not a good thing. Ever sucked on a popsicle stick? Aged spirits depend on chemical reactions in the spirit itself that slowly take place over time. The barrel is only one part of that equation. Ultrasonic aging will make a spirit taste like said popsicle stick from all the unwanted tannins absorbed. One company who had a patent on something similar was out of business in a few months. Someone else posted a article about a light reactor that assists in replicating the reactions that come with time. They’ve been trying to license their technology to distilleries for years with little or no success. I even had my own spirits tested on the reactor and it produced nothing remotely close to the aged products we already had. These gimmicks have been going on for years. There’s nothing new here. If they worked, they’d have taken over the industry by now.

  5. I’ve been wanting to do exactly this for some time now, need to finish fixing my ultrasonic bath…..

    I’ve also considered doing cold brew coffee with ultrasonics. Cold brew in minutes instead of overnight sounds like a dream.

  6. It really is all about taste, which is highly subjective, and open to suggestion as well. Not a huge spirits fan. But have been coerced int to sampling some fine aged stock, which I didn’t find much different than many of the more mass produced bar brands. Couple weren’t good at all, perhaps after a few samples, they mellow out some… Aging, ensures there is only a certain, limited supply, which effects price. Rapid aging, will just drop the price, unless you are selling it as aged for years.

  7. Looks like something to play with for creating different g flavors.

    Drinking spirits is definitely a personal thing- I loathe the addition of mixers preferring straight.

    Some cheap blends are pretty good others make paint thinners sound like a possible alternative. They have reguLar wine/beer tasting but spirt tasting is not something I’ve seen which is a pitty (but I gues understandable)

    1. We have a yearly Spirits Festival here in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada where you can attend tasting classes for a variety of spirits, usually put on by individual distilleries from around the world. I don’t attend regularly but enjoyed it when I have been able to go.

  8. Dogfish head did something along those lines (Midas Touch) a while back. IIRC they used fancy chemistry to sample the residue from clay jars. No doubt there are tablets with recipes on them.

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