Back in January my friend Zak Schusterman of Sleepy Hollow Handiwerks gave me a toasted oak stick to use for aging cocktails. He had been over for drinks the week before and he sampled my aged Negroni. Since he does a lot of woodworking, I asked if he could give me some sources for buying untreated American Oak to make more staves of my own. Being the gracious guy that he is, Zak not only found some, he even toasted it for me.
Zak’s toasting notes: Wrap the staves in foil and toast in the oven for 1.5 hrs at 400F, then .5 hrs at 450F.
I knew immediately what I wanted to use the oak stave for: My Dad passed along some unaged homemade pear brandy made by a friend of his. It was too harsh to drink (almost like Everclear), so it had been sitting in my cabinet for two months. This was just the stuff that aging was made for.
Traditional brandies are aged in oak casks, which serves two goals:
- Integrating the vanilla overtones of the oak with the fruit flavors of the brandy.
- Allowing the brandy to breathe and expel alcohol, which concentrates the flavors as time passes.
The toasted oak stave will do the job of number 1. Since these are toasted instead of charred, they will impart vanilla instead of smokey flavors that charred stick would into the spirit they are aged with.
To mimic number 2, I read around on home distilling forums and found that the most common way to let a spirit breathe is to put it in a glass bottle with a coffee filter over the top, so I did just that. It has been aging in my bar cabinet for the past two months.
Here are some photos of the aging process, beginning January 26 and ending March 26.
I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome! After just two months, this spirit turn into something that is almost sippable. It is still a little hot, but the flavors have really opened up. I enjoyed the couple of ounces I had. The alcohol has toned down quite a bit and the pear flavors are shining through. The oak definitely imparted some very nice vanilla and caramel notes. I even taste some honey on the end of each sip.
For now, I’d say that it is still a mixing brandy. After a few more months, it will probably be a regular sipper!