I think the marketing industry is taking advantage of some of our “Joy Button” moments and push them a few times too many over the course of a year!
One of the most interesting trends of late has got to be the home aging of spirits. This is where a distillery will sell you a liter of their “White Dog” whiskey (worth no more than a $10 bill) and an aging barrel (Worth $30) for the low low price of nearly $100. You take the bottle home, dump it into the barrel and take a snort every few days to see how it is coming along. After a few weeks (or days) your barrel is empty, and after convincing yourself that it was just getting good, you head back to grab another bottle for a second try!
As a guy with a burning desire to “Create” things, I have almost fallen into this trap many times. I have had several oak barrels in my life, mostly for aging beer, but a few have had wine and a few have had spirits... None have been as orgasmic as I had hoped. I will also say that none have been as effective as a handful of oak cubes from the brew supply store.
One thing that a friend of mine, who has forgotten more about spirits than I’ll ever know, tells me, is that spirits don’t extract properly at lower proof (Percent alcohol).
We know damn good and well that an 80-proof spirit can blow the top off of your head if it isn’t properly cared for, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to do a good job of extracting the essence of your vanilla beans or the goods from an oak barrel.
I am not saying that it does no good to age an 80-proof spirit on wood, far from it. We know that a 10% beer or a 12% wine can become amazing from its time on oak. But to market as if you are going to turn white “hooch” into fine spirits in your living room is almost laughable, yet it does give a lot of people a hands-on experience that could help them understand the world of aging spirits.
I would LOVE to see a few companies producing a high-proof “white dog” for aging. Some rum companies make an “Overproof” Rum or 151, as some call it. I would say this is a severely under-served market, and would give my right arm for a few new ones to hit the market.... HELLO Hemingway Rum Company.....
The fact that a small keg, say, in the 1/2 - 2 liter size range has unbelievably high surface to liquid contact ratios, when compared to full-size oak barrels, helps to shorten the time frame for bringing flavor to the spirits. This also helps to make up for the inefficiency of a lower proof alcohol.
If you are looking at home aging of your spirits, I’d suggest making good friends with the head distiller and get him to pull you a bottle of the undiluted center cut from a run of his still. Since most of the companies offering these kits are very small and local, you should be able to talk your way into something fresh off the parrot if you have good timing.