Creating A Sonic Aged Bourbon
There are many variables that go into the art of making a great bourbon. Among the most important include the oak character of the barrel that the bourbon ages in, and how long it ages. But there are several other important factors that impact the taste and feel of a great bourbon including temperature, location of the barrel in the warehouse, airflow, and movement.
While the time spent aging is an often-covered topic, the movement of a barrel while it ages can have a great impact on how a bourbon ages, as well. Ironically, bourbon barrels rarely move while they age. What would happen if an aging bourbon barrel had the benefit of consistent movement during the process? There are many ways to give a little movement to a barrel of bourbon. Through our partnership with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, we chose the art of Sonic Barrel Aging.
What Is Sonic Barrel Aging?
Sonic Barrel Aging introduces music or other sounds directly to the barrel in a way that creates sound waves and vibrations within the barrel. These vibrations agitate the bourbon and increase its interaction of the oak of the barrel – giving the mass of the liquid more exposure to the barrel’s charred staves. The result is a noticeably more flavorful whiskey.
Of course we could just roll a barrel around the warehouse and get a similar result. But that’s impractical and not nearly as interesting as some alternatives. Other distilleries have developed innovative ways to move their barrels to achieve their desired taste and feel. The Kentucky Artisan Distillery ages a line of their Jefferson’s Bourbon in barrels in boats at sea. The constant motion of the sea increases their bourbon’s interaction with the barrel as it rolls among the waves of an ocean journey. While decidedly more stationery, Sonic Barrel Aging creates a similar effect, minus the globetrotting.
Sweet Amber Distilling has become known for sonic aging its Blackened American Whiskey brand. A collaboration between distilling legend Dave Pickerell and the band Metallica, Blackened Whiskey touts its sonic enhancement process as the key to its signature flavor profile. By playing Metallica’s music at specific frequencies, their bourbon’s aging process is altered by increased wood interaction from the vibrations.
At Black Button Distilling, consider us to be a refined crew. Metallica, Pearl Jam and the Talking Heads are just a few bands that have serenaded other distilleries barrels over the years, but that’s just not us. Our partnership with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) adds an air of refinement to our farm distilled bourbon. As the RPO is celebrating their Centennial Season with a “Movement” theme, we knew we found the right partner for the project. We began by selecting a barrel that needed a bit more time to age and a little help to be ready to bottle.
“While other distillers have chosen music from the likes of Metallica and Pearl Jam, Black Button Distilling specifically partnered with the RPO to bring a more refined and complex character to our bourbon,” said Jason Barrett, Black Button Distilling Founder & Master Distiller. “We are excited for the local community to taste, listen, and experience the collaboration of our two great Rochester institutions.”
The Sonic Barrel Aging Process – Selecting The Right Music Composition
In order to achieve the results we were looking for, we sought out a performance featuring accents of brass and percussion, as well as great high notes to give the proper vibrations to the barrel. The final selection was RPO’s own performance of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, a recording made at its benefit Concert for Ukraine in Rochester’s Kodak Hall in 2022. A speaker was strapped to the head of the barrel and played the piece consistently for six straight months.
With the appropriate music chosen, we took our seats, dimmed the lights, and let the whiskey overture begin. When we tested the barrel in January of 2023, we sampled a most harmonious dram. The increased wood interaction had indeed enhanced the roasted oak overtones, while bringing great balance to the spice character and an all-around fantastic pour of whiskey.
“Composing and performing a great piece of music is not unlike producing and carefully aging a great bourbon,” said Barrett. Both take time, both take great care and practice, and both produce something worthy of a standing ovation. Black Button Distilling decided to meld both great arts through an experimental process known as sonic aging.”
The RPO Sonic Barrel aged for 4 years and 4 months in charred new American Oak, then Sonic Aged to Beethoven for an additional 6 months. As a Cask Strength Straight Bourbon, this release is a formidable 117 Proof.