The Importance of Barrel Entry Proof
There are a number of reasons a distiller may choose a certain barrel entry proof for their spirit. Tradition, economics & desired flavor all weigh in. Let’s look at a couple.Most whiskies have regulations regarding maximum distilling proof and maximum barrel entry proof. The distillation proof ensures that the whiskey retains recognizable flavor compounds from the grain, unlike a highly distilled neutral grain spirit. The barrel entry proof maximum is typically a little lower but still fairly high. The reason for maximum entry proof is to also ensure you’re getting something that resembles whiskey. Look at it this way, let’s say you put your whiskey in the barrel at 160 proof but plan on bottling it at the minimum requirement of 80 proof. Half of each bottle would be just the water used to bring down the proof, thereby diluting all of the flavors extracted from the barrel. From an economic standpoint, this is great, you’ve doubled your volume of production but maintained a smaller footprint and barrel investment. From a flavor standpoint, however, it’s complete crap. Thin and watery and lacking all those sweet sugars from the oak.Another factor that comes into play is more scientific. Without getting too deep into it, contrary to what you would think, lower proof pulls out flavor quicker. More water in the whiskey when it enters the barrel means flavors will be extracted quicker. If you stop and think about it, alcohol is a preservative, so it would make sense that more of it would slow down the degradation of the barrel. That’s what aging is after all, breaking down components of the barrel for the benefit of flavor. In the days before whiskey was bottled, barrels would be sold direct to taverns and then sold to customers who brought their own jugs or bottles. The whiskey in these barrels would be filled as close to a drinkable proof as possible, usually around 100 proof. Rarely would these barrels be aged for more than a year or two, often times only as long as it took to deliver and then continuing its maturation until the barrel was empty. Now that we bottle, it makes more sense to take up less space with barrels but the time it takes to mature is much longer. This isn’t a problem for big producers, but for us small timers, it’s huge. The other problem with the higher proof and slower maturation goes back to what I talked about earlier. Even if you barrel a whiskey at 125 proof you still have to add water to bring it down to bottling strength. So, the closer to that you are when it goes into the barrel, the less water, and less dilution of flavor you’ll have come bottling time. Lower entry proof means you’ll need more barrels to produce the same amount of bottled whiskey, but I think the benefits outweigh the cost. Taste and quality beat out maximum profit for me. It might not be making me rich, but it’s the only way I can make a whiskey I’m proud of. That’s why we barrel our whiskey around 110 proof and bottle at 90 proof.Now drink up! I’ve got puppies to feed and bills to pay!