the whisky lounge - a journal tracking a whisky maturation project involving a newly-acquired oak cask and a significant amount of patience

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Wellington Street Cellar

Since I haven't described the conditions under which I'm doing the maturation, I figured I may as well. Sadly, they're about as far from a quaint warehouse tucked into a bay by the ocean, gently swept with breezes tangy with sea-salt as one can get.

The cask is sitting on a side table in amongst my house plants. If you're the type who needs more detail than that, it's beside a Norfolk Island pine, some kind of palm I can't identify, a coffee tree (too young to produce beans yet, unfortunately) and a papyrus. If you're not the type who needs more detail, then sorry you had to read all that. The temperature in my living room will range from about 15 to 22 degrees Celsius, depending on the outside weather and what I've been doing with my thermostat recently.

One thing definitely worth mentioning is that I have set up a small humidifier right in front of the table upon which the cask has been living. For those who don't know, Ottawa is a city which gets long, cold winters, and it's the middle of winter as I write this. We have had several feet of snow so far this year, and there's always more on the way. We've just come out of a lovely storm that saw a bunch of snow, then freezing rain, then regular rain, then more freezing rain. One day in December we got 40cm of snow. We reached that same amount on a couple days in late January and early February. On a walk through my neighbourhood a couple nights ago, many driveways had snowbanks beside them that were taller than me.

Temperatures this winter have reached well into the -20's Celsius on more than a few occasions, and seem to hover around the -10 to -20 range at night. During the days it's warmer of course, but sometimes not by much. It actually managed to pop above 0 degrees today on account of a freakish weather system from somewhere down south, but they're calling for -21 Celsius by Thursday.

In short, we're a darned cold, wintery place right now.

With the winter weather, the air gets ridiculously dry here. I suspect readers from other northerly climes will understand. The humidity is so low that were I to leave a glass of water unattended for a day or two, it would evaporate. With the humidifier running, it's a lot better, but I still find myself pouring 1 - 1.5 litres of water on my papyrus every other day.

The dryness worried me quite a bit, since the cask, while watertight, is not completely hermetically sealed. Outside air gets in, inside air gets out, and the liquid inside evaporates. It's a much slower evaporation, but it is unstoppable. That's why I've got the cask sitting just about right on top of the humidifier: it is getting gently caressed by a moist breeze at all times. Hopefully this will keep the angels from taking too large a share.

In spite of the humidifier, I have noticed some effects caused, I think, by the dry air. First, every time I rotate the cask, there's a bit of spirit which leaks out around the edges of the staves against the lids, and around the bung. Don't worry - it's a matter of a few drops so the overall effect will be negligible, but it's interesting to see that the cask dries out just a little bit every week, and when it's rotated to expose the slightly dry bit to the whisky, a little leaks out every time until the wood swells again.

Maybe that would not have been the case if I'd conditioned the cask with water for an extra day or two, but perhaps not. Maybe I should be dabbing a wet sponge on the outside of the cask every day. Who knows? In any case, it's nothing to worry about so far.

I am curious, though, how different the final product would be if I lived anywhere near an ocean...


Anonymous said...

I am just back from Edmonton and it was pretty much -20 to -24 all week. Very dry air, though. Not what I'm used to at all here in Glasgow, Scotland.

Also, I've just ordered a 1L cask from 1000 Oaks, so I'm still here reading your posts to try and decide what I'm going to do with me. Keep up the good work!

Ian said...

Glad to hear you're getting a cask as well. Let me know what you decide to do with it: as more people try their own projects, it's interesting to keep track of everyone's experiments. Can you easily get new make whisky in Glasgow?

I hope Edmonton treated you kindly.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's particularly easy to get new make anywhere, as such, but there are plenty of young (3-8 yo) whiskies available which are cheap and useful for experimenting with.

Edmonton was wonderful, although I really need to go back in the summer when we can actually be outside for longer than 5 minutes at a time!

Ian said...

Part of me thinks that a trip to Scotland to visit a pile of distilleries would be a fantastic vacation.

Then my wallet starts to shiver in fear at how much I'd spend on whisky, and I think better of it.

Come on lottery winnings!!!!