The effects of wood on whiskey are profound — mellowing it out, giving it color and imparting it with flavors such as caramel and cinnamon — but these influences don’t have to come completely from a barrel.
At least they don’t for one Fort Worth-area whiskey producer, which has developed a process to finish the aging of the spirit in bottles.
Inside each container of Oak & Eden Whiskey is a small, oddly shaped piece of wood that rests within the amber-hued liquid. Although it might not seem like much, the spire is crucial to both the flavor of the finished whiskey and the identity of the Texas brand.
The specially shaped spire, a 5-inch piece of American oak, is added after the whiskey has already been aged for two years in barrels. Oak & Eden’s founders, two brothers named Joe and James Giildenzopf, debuted a bourbon and rye this spring, and each bottle of both whiskeys featured the spiral-cut wood piece.
“We needed to replicate the quality of our whiskey each and every time, and we found the problem was that it was difficult to ‘finish’ it,” Joe Giildenzopf said. “Could we reverse engineer the finishing process that happens in barrels, having it happen inside the bottle instead? That led to this two-year odyssey” of creating the product.
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Typically, whiskey is aged for a certain amount of time in one set of barrels. Then, a producer might transfer it to another set of casks for a shorter amount of time, giving it a more diversified range of flavors. It was the second grouping of barrels, or some kind of worthy substitute, that Oak & Eden whiskey needed.
As the brothers noticed, the spire worked its magic. Acquiring the same kind of barrel from the same source at the requisite amount — to guarantee a repeatable result — isn’t easy, Giildenzopf said. Instead, he and James turned to the spire, shaped to their exact specifications from a designated type of wood.
Because it doesn’t ‘breathe’ the same way a barrel would, as it’s trapped within a sealed glass container, the spire only lends flavor for six weeks.
But oh, what flavor it is.
“The spire finishes the spirit in the bottle with very particular notes,” Giildenzopf said. “Put it to your nose and you’ll smell vanilla. Once you taste it, you might find it to be sweeter than other bourbons, and there are also notes of coconut. Those are all results of in-bottle finishing.”
By the time the bottles arrive at a store, the spire is no longer giving the whiskey any flavor, but the brothers behind the Oak & Eden brand — named as a biblical reference — leave it in the amber liquid because, let’s face it, the wood is eye-catching.
For now, Oak & Eden’s whiskey is sourced from another producer. The Giildenzopfs simply blend it, bottle it and add the spire. But they do have plans to open a full-blown distillery in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
Thanks to the spire, they already have ample opportunity to get imaginative and experiment. Oak & Eden’s first limited-edition whiskey, Cabernet Steep, debuts in September with a French oak spire that rested in cabernet sauvignon wine for four weeks before being introduced to the spirit.
“We can change the whiskey, we can change the wood, we can change the spirit it rests in before going in the bottle. We will be releasing unique expressions three or four times a year,” Giildenzopf said.
Projects are limitless, he said.
“The real fun has been to rest different types of wood with different toast levels in different spirits,” he said. “We're trying out wood in rum right now and might finish off a rye with that. We’re experimenting with beer, with coffee. Once you imagine what you can do, you have a whole world of whiskey variations and expressions.”
The suggested retail price of Oak & Eden’s bourbon and rye is $39.99. For more information — including cocktail recipes — visit oakandeden.com.