A while ago we asked "Is this the end of oak aged whisky?" The answer was no. It was a reference to a technique, chemist Orville Taylor, had developed to artificially "age" whisky for 6 months in the space of a few hours. Now the technique has not been perfected and at the moment it is still being used to make bad whisky taste better, or to create bespoke flavoured spirits for bars and hotels.
I came across another technique, from Boston Apothecary, which is simpler and may actually prove more effective for many purposes. The technique goes…
The majority of sensory attributes (flavours) that a barrel transfers to a spirit are not volatile at the normal boiling temperature of ethanol and water. The means these attributes can be removed and turned into dried barrel essence or flavour. After this process a solvent can then be added, un-aged fruit brandy or aromatic bitter work well apparently, to re-create the same character of barrel ageing. We are yet to experiment with this however presumably the solvent can be any spirit you wish to have the characteristic of ageing.
Methodologies can range from the expensive and hi-tech rotavapor to a much simpler and cheaper version described by Boston Apothecary as...
"a comeau vacuum aspirator (acquired for $75!) attached to a vacuum flask ($15) heated by a hot plate (a stove on low with a double boiler might substitute well)."
The most essential part of the process is to create an artificial vacuum that can reduce the boiling point of water to the level that flavour compounds and volatiles will not be de destroyed during an evaporation.
Obvious advantages are the cost. The lab equipment comes to a reasonable £100 - £200 and the alcohol costs run at an equal ratio to each other i.e 700ml of Bourbon will artificially flavour 700ml of solvent.
Now, this is obviously not on the way to replacing the ageing process of a spirit. It does, in-fact, rely on that process for it to even exist. What it does do is describe a simple "hack" and a cheaper alternative to a system which is out of many people price range. Further from that it opens up doors for adding an aged flavour to products whose flavour profile may be undesirable in the base form and creates more opportunities for bespoke products behind a bar.