While making whiskey may look easy on TV(I promise we’re nothing like those dudes on “Moonshiners”), there is an art to crafting a spirit that pleases discerning palates. And there is an even finer art in creating a product that is consistently excellent like our Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey.
The challenge is that every batch and even every barrel of whiskey is different. One batch of grain could be different from the last or themaltster might have smoked it slightly differently this time. The yeast might act differently in the fermenter. But more often than not, these variables are generally constant.
The biggest variance in the whiskey usually comes from the barrels it is aged in. Each barrel is unique. One may have slightly more char on the inside, or be slightly more porous than a barrel from the same facility. Each tree used to make the barrels is unique, as are people or snowflakes, so this is to be expected.
But this presents many challenges to the distiller. Out of several barrels of whiskey, each is unique after two-plus years of aging. Some barrels allow more evaporation (the famed ‘Angel’s Share’) and some impart different flavors. We can’t sell single barrel bottlings because the finished product would never be consistent. It would probably still be extremely tasty, but our fans want to know the bottle they buy this month is the same as the bottle they bought a few months ago.
What we do is combine individual barrels to match the flavor profile of previous batches of Colkegan. This is where the art comes in. Finding a blend that is consistent is no easy task. OK, it’s not unpleasant work, but it’s not easy. Essentially Johnny, our head distiller, and Noya, the assistant distiller, sample each barrel, looking (er, tasting) for the characteristics needed for a batch of Colkegan. They need enough smokiness to come through the aroma and initial taste. They need the sweetness of finish that we are known for with Colkegan. On top of that as our whiskey stock ages there is an evolution of flavors that we’re working toward, so it’s a balance of retaining what we love about previous batches while allowing it to continue to age. It takes a well trained, and sensitive, palate.
Some barrels smell amazing, but don’t have the finish we need. Some finish very well on the palate, but lack the aroma or smokiness to match our signature style. The most recent batch of Colkegan took almost three weeks to blend. It used nine barrels to get the flavor and aroma profiles just right. (To contrast, the previous batch used eight barrels and the one before that was four.) That was a lot of tasting and a lot of notes.