The world of whiskey is governed by rules. But if there’s anything we know to be true in this life, it’s that if you follow all the rules you’ll miss out on all the fun.
And fun is part of the reason Quadrant Bar & Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton Washington, DC launched a new-aged spirits program two weeks ago. Chris Mendenhall, the bar’s lead mixologist, uses a specially-made homogenizer (think fancy emulsifier) to apply vibrations of sound energy to create barrel-aged flavor in the time it takes to watch an episode of Friends (that’s what the kids are watching these days, right?).
Sacrilege? All bark no bite? The equivalent of baseball’s DH?
Well, no. As it turns out, consumers are barreling toward a world where the brown stuff is scarce. Thanks to aging requirements and surging levels of popularity, whiskey producers are having trouble keeping up with demand. It’s become a real problem with Japanese whisky, and an Irish whiskey shortage will soon dawn upon us. Keeping American whiskey on the shelves may well require creative thinking and processes like this.
Plus, it’s important to note what Mendenhall and Quadrant are not doing: speed aging whiskey (see: Cleveland Whiskey).
“There’s no replacement for time,” he says. Instead, the bar’s program, which took a year to test and perfect, is designed to “show what time does” by imparting its characteristics to aged whiskey (and soon, possibly, other spirits).
Today, Quadrant offers tastings of its four sound-aged whiskeys. Tastings are provided in two ounce pairs – the original “base” spirit with the bar’s aged variety, called the “change.” Pairings run approximately $18-$20. Plus, Mendenhall is available to answer questions about how time and science can transform whiskey (I highly recommend you pick his brain).
There are four whiskeys:
Bourbon Style #1: The “base” is a 120 proof, nine-year-old Kentucky bourbon, which the bar sound ages without adding any additional wood.
Bourbon Style #2: The “base” is a 107 proof, seven-year-old Kentucky bourbon, which is sound-aged with American oak chips soaked in a 10-year port.
Whiskey Style #1: The “base” is a 90 proof Tennessee sour mash whiskey (not Jack Daniels), which is sound-aged in French oak chips soaked in sherry.
Rye Style #1: The “base” is a 100 proof, four-year-old American rye whiskey, which is sound-aged with French oak chips soaked in cognac.
After trying both the “base” and “change” for each of the four varieties (it was a fun night), I can report a few things: One, the finishes are noticeable, both in color and in taste. Two, they’re good. After the bar’s aging, the whiskeys mellow and drink more smoothly (the change is especially noticeable in the higher proof varieties). Three, it’s a fun experience. Whiskey nerds will geek out, for sure, but non-whiskey drinkers have even more to gain.
They can learn to appreciate whiskey.