442888 Decreasing the Length of the Aging Process of Whiskey

Monday, November 9, 2015
Exhibit Hall 1 (Salt Palace Convention Center)
Alexander Kempf, Chemical Engineering, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA

Topic area: Food, Pharmaceutical, and Biotechnology

           Legally, straight whiskey must be aged for a minimum of three years in a new, charred white oak barrel at a proof higher than 120 proof. Typically whiskeys are aged for 4-8 years. Higher quality whiskeys are aged for even longer. This project examines multiple different methods of speeding up this aging process. During the aging process, a simple mass transfer occurs between the whiskey and the wood. Carmel, vanilla, cinnamon and several other flavors are transferred into the whiskey from the wood, while some unpleasant tasting chemicals, such as methanol, are transferred into the wood from the whiskey.

            This project examines the types of chemicals that are transferred between the wood and the whiskey during the aging process. The addition of agitation was examined to see if that could increase the mass transfer rate. Since there are some oxidation reactions that occur, the aging speed was tested with an increased level of oxygen gas mixed into the liquid. Temperature fluctuations were also examined in order to have the wood swell and unswell multiple times.

            All of these tests are being done in an effort to determine a simplified process where an individual could further age and improve the flavor of an inexpensive aged whiskey, and give it a flavor profile closer to that of a more expensive whiskey that has been aged for several more years.

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