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

Saturday, February 2, 2008

You Don't Know Jack

We have reached an important milestone here at the Whisky Lounge. Today we have passed from the territory of general experimentation and have now entered...

The Danger Zone!

You can cue the cheesy Kenny Loggins music if you like, but the Danger Zone we're entering today has nothing to do with Tom Cruise movies from the eighties. It has to do with a potential interesting casking project I could do after the whisky comes out.

Today, we're talking Jack.

Jack is a drink made from fruit that is fractionally frozen. You'll not generally see it outside of North America where it seems to have been born, and here, you'll find it only rarely. It's almost always made from apples and called Applejack. It starts with regular old alcoholic cider which is left to freeze. The water ice is removed, leaving an intensely-flavoured alcohol behind. It's concentrated cider: a poor man's Calvados.

Fractional freezing can also be used to remove the water from other liquors, commonly with vodka. The method to concentrate vodka in this manner is simple enough and could be done at home. It could also be adapted to concentrate whisky, which I find very intriguing. A 40% whisky could be reduced in volume and raised to 50-60%, matured in the cask at cask strength, then watered back down to 40% at time of bottling. Simple, right?

Well, yes, the process of concentrating alcohol by fractional freezing is very simple, but I'm not going to tell you how to do it. My reason? Also simple: it's potentially dangerous. The product of fractional freezing can blind you. It can even kill you.

Risky Business

There are toxic compounds called fusel alcohols in many of the drinks we consume. They're what give whisky and wine a thick, oily body. There's also a minute amount of methanol. At low concentrations, they're not really dangerous. At high concentrations, bad things start to happen. Distillation by heating can remove these nasty compounds, whereas fractional freezing can concentrate them to dangerous levels. Fusel alcohol and methanol can cause massive damage to your central nervous system, blind you and put you in a coma before getting around to killing you. So DO NOT just give fractional freezing a shot to see how it goes.

So why am I talking about this at all? Because it might be possible to do it safely. I'm going to try to track down a chemist or a person knowledgeable in the production of alcohol to see if it can be safely done. If I can do it with cider without a health risk, then I'll maybe give applejack a shot. If I can do it safely with whisky, then it might be a solution to the problem of not being able to find young cask-strength spirit to age in my barrel. I could concentrate a McClelland's or something. But I'm not going to do anything until I have learned a whole lot more about the process.

Oh, and one more thing: fractional freezing might be illegal where you live. This is just another reason to not run out and try it for yourself just yet. I can't think of too many less appealing ways to spend my time than blind, comatose and imprisoned.

I'll let you know what I learn as I learn it. In the meantime, however, there's 20 centimetres of fresh snow, and my snowshoes are calling my name.

Until tomorrow, when we unveil the first week of the Whisky Works spirit!



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