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The Angel’s Get Their Share


​Have you ever wondered about the overwhelming alcohol smell that hits you the minute you walk into a barrel aging room? If you don’t know what I am talking about, I highly suggest you make a visit to our Santa Fe Spirits distillery at 7505 Mallard Way, even if it is for the sole purpose of walking into the barrel room and breathing deeply. Although you really don’t need to breathe deeply. This smell is one of those ones that hits you full on, the kind that you feel not only in your nostrils, but all over your body. This smell is a force capable of knocking you right over. But of course, in the best way possible.

The truth is, all you are smelling is the evaporated alcohol present in the air. All liquids evaporate and alcohol is not exception, but in such a small and confined space, the results are far more obvious.

The whiskey (or brandy etc.) that is hanging out in the air above our barrels, and the barrels in any other aging room, has a unique name. It is called the Angel’s Share.

Now why this name has come into common use is not clear today, but the fact that barrels let out a fairly large amount of evaporated alcohol is very clear. Oak wood has many wonderful flavors and an incredible color that it brings to an aged spirit. The wood is also very porous. This allows for oxygen to enter the barrel, which is good, but also for alcohol to leave the barrel, which is not as good. While the oxygen will serve to improve the flavor and color of the spirit, it will also lead to a much smaller quantity of the finished product.

However, the story does not end there. All spirits contain a certain percentage of water and therefore some of the loss is not alcohol at all. At higher humidity levels, more alcohol is lost and less water. At lower humidity levels, more water is lost and less alcohol. In total about 2% of the liquid in the barrel is lost per year, which for a longer aged spirit, can mean up to half of the barrel will be lost by the time the whiskey is bottled.

In the very dry climate of Santa Fe New Mexico, our Apple Brandy as well as our Colkegan Whiskey risk a very high rate of evaporation. There are, or course, other quicker ways of aging a spirit but here at Santa Fe Spirits we believe that only years in an oak cask will lead to the perfectly smooth and rounded flavor that we want to provide to our customers. Now as for those angels… it is said that they spend their time watching over us. I suppose they could probably use a dram or two.