For the past year, if you wanted a taste of aged Wigle Whiskey, you had to take matters into your own hands: by aging the distillery's white whiskeys in novelty-sized barrels. No longer: This week, the Strip District distillery releases its first three batches of house-aged whiskey.
The whiskeys spent six months in 10-gallon barrels, which is a quick dip in the bucket. In America, whiskey is traditionally aged for at least two years in 53-gallon barrels. But quick, small-barrel aging is becoming common practice among micro-distilleries like Wigle. The process might make an old-school bourbon distiller flip his lid, but it's a smart move for a startup trying to get more products on the market.
"We see this as a bridge to when we release whiskey aged in larger barrels, but we also see it as a [spirit with a] different taste profile," says distiller Marc Meyer. "Whiskey aged in a small barrel will get a really quick and powerful extraction from the wood." The result is a punchy spirit, one that leans more heavily on wood flavors instead of the caramel and vanilla notes found in long-aged bourbon.
One advantage of quick extraction is that it gives distillers room for experimentation. For example, two of Wigle's aged whiskies are finished with honeycombed sticks of non-traditional woods; the wheat has a maple finish, while cherry is added to the rye.
The wood finishes aren't merely a novelty. Differences in aroma and flavor are noticeable when you taste the products side-by-side: The straight wheat is light, hot and straightforward, while the maple-finished wheat is slightly mellower, with a sweeter finish.
The cherry-finished rye is the most sippable of the three. It drinks nicely straight up, and evokes a nearly Scotch-like flavor. The two wheat whiskies, meanwhile, are more suitable for mixing.
Although Meyer has respect for the purists, he agrees with the old saying that age is just a number. "Aged bourbon can be incredibly good," he says, "or just incredibly old."