We have completed phase one of our first Experiment investigating the effects of natural light on aging bourbon barrels.
This study started in 2014, and for the past two years, we have collected and analyzed an astonishing 3.5 million data points in our four chambers and breezeway.
The breezeway contained essentially the control barrels. These are barrels in the open air, exposed to any light, wind, and temperature fluctuation, etc. as the environment around them.
Chamber One held barrels at 50% natural light, and matched the changing temperature of the barrels in the outdoor breezeway.
Barrels in Chamber Two experienced 100% darkness, while keeping the barrel temperature at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chamber Three also had 100% darkness, but those barrel temperatures were kept the same as the fluctuating temperature in the outdoor breezeway.
Chamber Four barrels were exposed to 100% natural light and the temperature was kept the same as the fluctuating temperature in the outdoor breezeway.
Over the two years this experiment was conducted, the barrels in the breezeway saw a range of temperatures from -10 F to 105 F, possibly some of the greatest temperature variance any bourbon barrels have ever experienced. The pressure inside these barrels varied from -2.5 psi to 2.5 psi.
So what have we learned? A few things we will share, and a few other things we will keep to ourselves for more investigating. First, we observed an interesting correlation between light and psi, or pressure, in the barrels. Another observation the data showed was that when temperature increases, alcohol percentage by volume increases within the barrel. This lends evidence to an age old assumption held by distillers. Now we have evidence supporting it.
Conversely, another assumption long held by distillers was contradicted by our data. The amount of natural light by itself did not show an effect on the color or the proof of the bourbon inside the barrels. Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley articulates, “Even though we proved light doesn’t affect the color or the proof of the whiskey, that doesn’t mean that honey barrels (those next to windows in standard warehouses that are typically distiller’s favorites) don’t taste a little bit better. Perhaps because of other factors than natural light. We did prove factors like temperature, pressure, humidity and air flow all play a role in the end result.”
Now that the light experiment is complete, we have removed that first batch of 150 barrels from Warehouse X, marked them, and rolled them into one of our regular aging warehouses. What will become of them? To be determined! Now we are on to the next experiment - temperature. 150 new barrels have been loaded in. Over the next two years each chamber will undergo different temperature variations. Chamber One will be 10F above the temperature of the outdoor breezeway- fluctuating as the breezeway temperature changes. Chamber Two will be a constant 80 F, Chamber Three will be a constant 55 F, and Chamber Four will fluctuate at an exact 10F less than the temperature of the breezeway. The temperature experiment is expected to last at least two years.