Wanderback Barrel Program
Wanderback Barrel Program
As a boutique distillery, Wanderback has the advantage of running a nimble barrel program. This means that we can source barrels needed according to what we think the whiskey asks for at all stages of aging and – as with all aspects of our whiskey making – we can experiment quite a bit.
We categorize our barrels into three groupings New, Neutral and Finishing Casks. Note that Neutral and Finishing casks are both previously-used barrels but they are used for very different purposes.
The new casks we use are made of american white oak. All our new cask wood is air dried naturally for at least 3 years outside. This ensures the wood fits the taste profile we strive for.
We prefer new casks with a heavy toast and light char. This is very different from a typical bourbon aging barrel that is almost always heavy char and light toast. Typically a heavy char barrel is used to enhance sweetness and we believed that our specialty barley malt recipe would deliver just the right amount of sweetness on its own.
We find a heavy toast cask, offers deeper, richer and subtler chemical reactions that give our single malt a unique unique spiciness and richness that complements – not overshadows – our specialty malt forward whiskey.
Neutral casks are barrels that have had multiple cycles of whiskey placed in them prior and hence have very little flavor left in the wood.
If you put whiskey that has a lot of flavor – but has some “sharp edges” – in a neutral cask, the effect can be amazing. The result is a whiskey that is far smoother with no reduction in the fullness of flavor. From an organic chemistry point of view, we have oxygen-dependent reactions – rather than extraction / subtraction – to thank for this rounding effect. Read more about wood science here.
We believe the neutral cask is one of the reasons why our single barrel, cask strength (ABV 58%) Founder’s Reserve American single malt whiskey is so delicious and easy to drink with just a touch of water or neat.
Our collaborative distillation methodology, creates a series of annual limited edition “Batches” from a specific run of whiskey. Using finishing casks for some of these Batches is an interesting way to explore more flavor profiles.
The most important thing we consider is whether the finishing barrel will add tastes that complement – not overwhelm – the whiskey. Each Batch calls for something different.
For example, let’s look at the finishing casks used for Batch No. 2 and No. 3 (part of the Evergreen Collection made in partnership with Westland Distillery):
- For Batch No.2, we believed the flavor from ex-rum barrels would complement the whiskey’s taste profile, bringing vanilla, banana, tropical fruit to the batch’s spice and malt flavors.
- For Batch No.3, we wanted to try balancing out the dry character of the prior Batches and hoped the sweetness from the dark red fruit remaining in the port cask would add a new kind of depth and sweetness to compliment the complex mash bill and velvety texture of the matured whiskey.
As with new casks, whiskey in Finishing casks needs to be carefully monitored to prevent over flavoring that may mask the underlying flavor profile. Time in the barrel depends on how many times the barrel has been used and the ABV of the previous spirit. Batch No. 2 resided in the our rum casks for 6 months whereas Batch No. 3 was in and out of the port casks in 6 weeks.