Swill is our bi-monthly column dedicated to liquor, wine, beer, and every other delicious dram that falls under the broader umbrella of booze. But it’s more than just tasting notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin — Swill is about getting outside of your comfort zone, trying new things, and exploring the big, wide world of libations. One week you might catch us halfway through a bottle of single-malt scotch, and the week after that we might be buzzing on some Ugandan moonshine made from bananas. This column is just one big boozy adventure, so grab yourself a glass and join us for another round.
Ever have one of those awkward moments where you think she’s 18, but come to find out she’s waaay younger? I mean, I’m usually a pretty good at judging age, but a couple weekends ago I experienced this exact situation — with a bottle of bourbon whiskey.
I was at a trade show for Northwestern distillers, at a booth for a distillery called 2Bar Spirits. After a first sip that left me feeling weak in the knees, I asked the guy behind the counter how long it was aged for. His reply? Thirteen months.
I almost spit out my drink. Here I was, getting all googly-eyed over a glass of hooch that tasted old enough to vote, and this guy tells me it’s just barely over a year old. My mind was blown. What kind of black magic was this?
Turns out, it wasn’t black magic at all; it was just 2Bar’s unorthodox aging process. Not only do these guys mash, ferment, and distill their booze from the ground up using locally-grown grains; they also age it in smaller barrels — just 15 gallons instead of the usual 55 gallon variety that most distillers use.
What’s the advantage of aging in smaller casks? Well, aside from the fact that you can carry more of ’em on a forklift, smaller-volume barrels tend to speed up the aging process and help the booze develop flavors an accelerated rate. The reason bourbon makers leave their elixir in barrels for 8 to 12 years is because when you’re aging 55-gallons of whiskey, it takes a long time for the booze to extract tannins and vanillins from the charred oak. With a smaller barrel though, you get a higher surface-area-to-liquor ratio, so the chemical reactions needed to mellow the alcohol and develop the flavor profile occur more rapidly. Therefore, all those wonderful oaky flavors that would take years to achieve in a full-size 55-gallon barrel can be achieved in just a few months.
Now to be fair, 2Bar isn’t the only distillery that does this — but in my humble opinion they’re doing it better than a lot of distilleries that are decades older. The company is barely two years old, and already they’re making some of the best young bourbon I’ve had in recent memory. I can’t wait to see what they’re producing a few years from now.
Go find yourself a bottle. Immediately. You’ll be blown away.