I love scotch…scotch scotch scotch….rum too, oh and bourbon as well. Actually I’m partial to the entirety of the brown spirit family. On the rocks, mixed with coke, mixed with ginger beer, its all good to me. Actually my love for the dark spirit has pushed me at times, no I’m not talking about borderline alcoholism or constant partying. No I much prefer a quite one or two at home, where I can really begin to appreciate the merits and uhh, demerits of my fine brews.
This fun little past time however has made me wonder, made me think, almost forced me at times to seek out the best spirit I can, forced me to tinker and play with my spirits, developing and re-developing my favorite drink. It is a never ending cycle but one that I love and I feel it is almost my duty to pass on the things I have learnt.
Let me first start by saying don’t feel pressured reading this article, most people find that just using an essence is fine, so do I, its just on special occasions its nice to know you have something truly fantastic in the cabinet. I have come across many a skeptic in my time, the snobby nosed ‘high class’ citizen who hear’s home brew and goes yuck! Its just nice to know you have something really capable of changing opinions.
Apart from creating your own essence, there is basically two ways of modifying your spirit. Either oaking or tailoring with an assortment of extracts (profiling). Lets start with the most simple and better known of the two, oaking.
Oaking: Oaking is a relatively simple concept. It involves soaking your neutral filtered spirit on wood. But not just any wood, most oak chips come from old whisky or bourbon barrels, used by breweries for centuries to soak there own spirits on. In turn the barrels have absorbed the flavor from the spirit, this is what you are trying to obtain from them (except in the case of “American Oak” chips, which are simply from an American oak tree).
Oaking you spirit will not only receive the flavor and receive the colour from the chips, but as you might have guessed, that woody and sometimes smoky flavor that is so prized in some of the top quality spirits.
The method is simple but varies slightly depending on the type of chip and the brand. In general it involves soaking 10gms-50gms of oak chips for every litre of spirit for about 1-3 weeks (dependant on taste). The longer you leave it the more flavor and woodiness it will impart. You can often reuse the same chips once or twice after, just soak it for longer.
Some people use the flavour just from the oak chips itself whilst others use it in conjunction with an essence, in an attempt to add an build on the flavour profile already present in the essence. If, and it will probably happen eventually, you leave it for to long and you find its like drinking bark, you can use more neutral spirit (unflavoured) and an essence to dim it down and smoothen it out.
Using Extracts: The best way to go about using extracts and flavour profiles is to obtain a whisky profiling kit. These kits come with all the basics that you need, plus some instructions and recipes and give you an easily to follow guide on what to do and how to go about it. The kits come with 4 different whiskies base essences, which generally the 4 different major styles of whiskies (as reflected by the different regions of Scotland), Lowland, Highland, Irish and bourbon.
The also come with a range of adjunct flavours used for exentuating certain flavour profiles in you drink. These Are:
- Oak cask (the main flavour which is present in most whiskys)
- Sweet vanillin (a sweet vanilla flavour with a slight sherry flavour)
- Peat Smoke (A strong almost pungent peat smoke flavour, a very prominent note in Scottish Whiskies)
- Astringent Notes ( A sharp bitter astringent flavour that helps to add some bite to the whisky)
- Fruity Esters (more prominent on the nose then anywhere else, they add a lot to the whisky bouquet)
- Cereal notes( often described as grainy, these flavour notes are a part of any grain and are contained in the whisky bases)
- Carob Notes ( a chocolate grain flavour that results from the use of some mildly roasted grains)
- Cedar Oak ( imparts a distinctive drier oak flavour, often found in Irish whisky styles)
- Distillers Caramel (purely for colour, imparts a warm golden hue)
- Glycerine (contribute to smoothness and mouth feel)
Using just this small list of flavours you can create almost any whisky, bourbon and add to many rums. What you do with them is up to you though!
The only way your going to know what your spirit can be is to try it. It was with the best of intentions that we all started homebrewing. We wanted to save money, maybe we wanted drink something a littler healthier? But somewhere along the way our intentions have changed, no longer do I homebrew just to save money, I homebrew to make the best quality drink I possibly can and I am proud to call it my own.