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Aging Rum at Home

Barrel Aging Rum at Home

Solera Aging Rum at Home

Some of the world’s most revered rums are aged in different types of casks which previously held other liquids. Cask finishing highlights the blender’s art of moving rum among different casks to create the best combination of flavors possible.

Aged rum blends might begin by adding a portion of  old rum to younger rum, both of which were aged in barrels that used to hold Bourbon.  That blend might then be transferred to a re-charred Bourbon barrel for a time before being transferred to a cask that used to hold Sherry, and then on to a former Cognac cask. Throughout the process, the Master Blender checks the aging progress regularly and adjusts the blend as necessary. The end result can be nothing short of magical, but it takes time, space, patience, and a lot of rum.

When I received a two liter oak barrel for Christmas last year, I began making plans to age cocktails, but a tweet from Chuck Taggart changed my mind. Instead of a rum cocktail, Chuck suggested I age J Wray & Nephew white overproof rum. Apparently, Blair at Hale Pele was doing this already, using it in his rum Old Fashioned with great results.

J Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum

The idea of aging J Wray immediately intrigued me, so I grabbed two bottles out of the bar and poured them in (I had swollen the mini barrel with hot water the night before). A month later, I would have aged J Wray—something often mentioned in Tiki drink circles, as Trader Vic used to use J Wray 17-Year rum in his Mai Tai.

Aged J Wray & Nephew Rum

The result was fantastic. The new charred American oak rounded out the famously funky and raw J Wray, giving it big smoke notes and imparting a bit of vanilla. I made several rum Old Fashioneds and Mai Tais with the stuff, taunting folks on Twitter along the way, taking great pride in knowing that I was one of a select few people drinking aged J Wray overproof at any given moment.

Then I got greedy.

Knowing that I a variety of different cask-finished rums, I began wondering if I could approximate something similar on a micro scale by aging a variety of different spirits in a couple of barrels.

Soler'ish Napkin

Artist’s rendition of original plan

Not wanting to completely break the bank, I decided to go with good but less expensive finishing spirits. For the Sherry, I went with Harvey’s Bristol Cream. For the brandy, I chose a local product: Korbel VSOP.

While the aging part was easy, the blending would prove a bit more difficult. With a limited amount of each finish to work with, I made several different proportional blends before deciding on the optimal recipe for the two liter batch that would end up in a new, freshly charred oak barrel.

The winner ended up being 500 ml of charred oak, 750 ml of Sherry finish, and 750 ml of Brandy finish. Two liters went into the new barrel, and again I played the waiting game. After a week of aging in the new barrel, the color had turned from light to dark brown. Tempted as I was to empty the barrel, I decided to let it go another week. After two weeks, it was done, and it was magical.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting it, J Wray & Nephew Overproof White Rum, (or just “Whites” in Jamaica) is a beautiful beast of a rum. At 63% ABV (126 proof)  it is quite strong.  The defining characteristics are alcoholic heat, followed by Jamaican pot still funk, molasses, a hint of tropical flowers, and fresh cut grass. Whites is the best selling rum in Jamaica, and is usually mixed into a punch or combined with Ting, the ever popular Jamaican grapefruit soda.

The aged version of the J Wray maintains its trademark funkiness, but has clearly been tamed significantly by its interaction with the other spirits and the oak contact. There is still a goodly amount of heat, but a small angels’ share may have been taken as it sat in my bar for almost six months.

As the rum enters, the sweetness of the Sherry is evident, as is a hint of brandy. After the finishing flavors, a liberal dose of smoke appears and it’s delightful. Just after I notice the charred oak comes the heat, and I am quickly reminded of the spirit’s strength. Subsequent sips reveal a bit of chocolate, raisins, and ripe stone fruit.

I provided some samples to see what other rum aficionados thought of this crazy rum project. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

“Long, slow legs slide down the bowl. Nose is sweet with hints of sherry, cotton candy, cola, and a pleasant woodiness. Also detect some anise present. Though it’s high proof, the mellowness compensates for this and the warm woody finish is very smooth. On the palate there are hints of caramel and chocolate and, like the nose, the sherry adds a light touch. This is a home run.” -Paul Etter

“Oh my. My, my, my. “ –Chuck Taggart

“I like the oak and sherry up front with the brandy mid-palate in a supporting role that ties everything together. Wray & Nephew overproof is not something I’d normally sip, but you’ve managed to turn it into a decent and unique sipper!” – Jason Alexander

Want to create your own multi-cask-finished J Wray using my method? Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Two 2-liter barrels (I buy mine from Oak Barrels , Ltd.) ($70)
  • Six bottles J Wray & Nephew White Overproof ($128)
  • Two bottles Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry ($28)
  • Two bottles Korbel VSOP Brandy ($28)
  • Six empty 750 ml bottles (you can’t re-fill J Wray bottles because of the plastic pour spout)

Here’s what to do:

  1. When you receive your barrels, remove one from the plastic and tap the spigot in with a rubber mallet, then fill the barrel with hot water. Insert the top bung and allow the barrel to swell for a day or two until it stops leaking. Make sure and place it where you don’t mind a bit of water seeping out. Place the other barrel in a cool, dark place until it is needed.
  2. Drain the water and pour in two bottles of J Wray.
  3. After 30 days, drain the rum and place it in two empty bottles.
  4. Pour in two bottles of Sherry.
  5. After 13 days, drain the Sherry and return it to the original bottles.
  6. Pour in two bottles of J Wray.
  7. After 38 days, drain the rum and place it in two more empty bottles.
  8. Pour in two bottles of brandy.
  9. After 35 days, drain the brandy and return it to the original bottles.
  10. Pour in the last two bottles of J Wray.
  11. After 29 days, drain the rum and place it in the last two empty bottles.
  12. Prepare your second oak barrel as you did the first. Drain the water.
  13. Add to the barrel 500 ml of the oak-aged J Wray, 750 ml of the Sherry finish, and 750 ml of the brandy finish.
  14. After 14 days, drain the barrel and transfer to empty bottles.
  15. Repeat steps 13 and 14.

OK great, now you have all this rum but what do you do with it? Here are a few things I’ve enjoyed:

  1. Probably the most fun thing to do is to pour a small amount of the unaged white and sample it side-by-side with the aged. Only then can you appreciate what a huge transformation has occurred in that little barrel.
  2. Make an Old Fashioned. A bit of sugar, ice and bitters really helps you to appreciate this as a sipping rum. I also add ¼ oz of cold water to help it open up before the ice melts.
  3. Make a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. Combine the aged J Wray with Ferrand Dry Curacao and Small Hand Foods orgeat; you will not be disappointed.
  4. Use it as a float on top of your favorite tiki drink or rum punch.

Conclusion

With the project completed, I can sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor (After more than five months and $250, I’d better!). The process was certainly enjoyable, and I now have even more respect for the real Master Blenders like Joy Spence, the woman behind every bottle of Appleton Estate rum.

With a yield of more than five 750 ml bottles of aged rum, the cost worked out to about $48/750 ml.  Considering I could buy Appleton Estate 12-Year for $37, it’s not exactly a good deal along financial lines, but then again, you can’t buy what I’ve created which makes it worth a lot more. Factor in the fun and the experience of rectifying and blending my very own rum and it all balances out.

I encourage you to try barrel-aging at home, be it with white spirits or cocktails. It’s a lot of fun to see how oak and time can change your favorite drinks for the better. Barrels last several cycles, and once you’re done aging spirits, you can use them for barrel-aging cocktails. For example, after the rum project was completed, I made a batch of El Presidente cocktails in my first barrel that came out beautifully. The only barriers between you and rummy greatness are your wallet, time, and your imagination.

Have you tried barrel-aging spirits at home? How about cocktails? Please share your experience and ideas with us in the comments section below.

Cheers,
Josh

25 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2013 1:20 pm

    Great article Josh. I’m pretty sure I got every nuance you intended, but it’s so hard to tell without 10 or 20 more samples…

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      June 27, 2013 1:37 pm

      E komo mai, hoaloa!

  2. Jason Alexander permalink
    June 27, 2013 2:21 pm

    I infused some wray with coconut for about two weeks and it is currently sitting in the barrel. Gonna drain it and soak it in another coconut while barrel is full of cream sherry followed by another trip in the barrel of the wray. Hoping for a oaked cherry coconut rum. I love cocktail projects! Thanks for turning me on to the barrels! I’ll return the sample favor as soon as I’m done. Then it is off to another cocktail project!

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      June 27, 2013 2:28 pm

      That sounds great! Can’t wait to try it 🙂

      I wasn’t happy with my own coconut rum infusion, although it was a lot better after I added a bit of cane syrup and vanilla. The main problem for me and coconut flavor is that we have been conditioned to think coconut tastes like something it is not. The cognitive dissonance between the laboratory coconut and the real thing can be difficult to overcome.

  3. Jason Alexander permalink
    June 27, 2013 2:33 pm

    I see why you choose the shellback rum. I got a sample of it the other day and it definitely has strong coconut and vanilla notes. My bar temptress wanted to make her own coconut rum after reading your article. Wray was the only thing I had on hand that I was willing to sacrifice. I really like what you and the sherry did to the rum, so that is next for the coconut wray.

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      June 27, 2013 2:36 pm

      A fine plan! The Shellback silver is perfectly serviceable, but has to have been adulterated in some way. Serious cherry notes–the artificial kind.

  4. June 27, 2013 3:50 pm

    Josh, props for your blending experiment.! Stupendous! You’ve done what many of us dram, er dream of but rarely actually do. Your blend is actually one of briefly aged J. Wray, sherry-finished J. Wray and last a sherry/brandy finished J. Wray – all in roughly equal portions. This sure qualifies as an intriguing blend, which appears to have turned out rather well, no doubt based on your care in not over-aging (which occurs very rapidly in new oak).

    However it’s fair to say that “solera-aged” is one of the most abused and least understood terms that the marketing departments now throw around.

    Soleras have been around for hundreds of years, particularly for brandy. A true and classic solera is composed of a number of tiers of barrels. All the tier are filled with spirit, and at the end of say the first year, one-half of the bottom barrels is drawn out and bottled. The bottom barrel is then filled by the next highest barrel in the 2nd tier which is then filled from the 3rd tier and so on. The top tier is then filled with new make. The youngest rum is always in the top tier, and the oldest average age rum in the bottom. In a solera, no barrel is ever completely emptied.

    This is distinctly different than blending, where the barrels are completely emptied and reused for a different spirit. Many rums are finished in say used sherry barrels, and it is fair to call this a “finish” (but not a “solera”). Unfortunately, the marketing boyz of the rum world have misapplied the term to the point that few rum drinkers have any real idea of how a real solera works. The reason real soleras are rare in rum is that it ties up at least four times the number of barrels and product, with greatly increased angel’s losses.

    The most visible evidence of a real solera is the stack of multiple tiers of barrels, each filled from above, and never ever being fully emptied. For an excellent summary, just Wiki “Solera”…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solera

    Again, another lovely, interesting and successful experiment that makes your blog worth reading…

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      June 28, 2013 6:59 am

      Point taken! Thanks for your feedback. Cheers

  5. Gil Batzri permalink
    July 1, 2013 4:03 pm

    OK, I was thinking of doing a standard aged W&N, I take it from the brief mention that the results from aging in a new charred oak for a period worked pretty well.

    How long did you age the spirit in the new barrel? I get the impression is was a month or so, yeah?

    I have been thinking to go bigger 3L or 5L but I got scared because of the cost of filling (and the fact that you can’t get WN in Handles that I know of in the US)

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      July 2, 2013 5:57 am

      The first batch of J Wray in the new barrel was a cool 30 days. It’s a really nice product that works beautifully in Mai Tais and Old Fashioneds.

      • July 2, 2013 8:03 am

        A brilliant choice. JW&N was called the best overproof in the world by Dave Broom and for good reason. The Jamaican style is chock full of flavor and all it lacks is some aging, which you have so skillfully provided. Terrific experiment and thanks for sharing it…

  6. Pete permalink
    August 17, 2013 3:44 pm

    What did you do with the aged Sherry and Brandy? Were they made better through this process?

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      August 29, 2013 1:12 pm

      I kept the Sherry and brandy. Each ewas made quite a bit smikier/oakier. I haven’t really done much with either, but the Sherry does make a rather interesting cobbler.

  7. September 12, 2014 12:04 am

    I’m making an aged blend of rums since past December.

    I bottled one 500ml bottle at six months and i’ll bottle the rest when it has a year in the oak barrel.

    The blend of rums in a 4liters new oak barrel is: 70cl Plantation 3 stars, 70cl Saint James Royal Ambre, 70cl Appleton 8 years, 50cl Myers’s Original dark, 50cl Lemonhart 151 Demerara and 50cl Lemonhart Overproof Jamaican.

    It’s my first aged blend and what I could taste is a good powerful rum that could be great for make tiki drinks. Maybe it has too many rums and I have to think more the objective for next blends…but I think the next experiment will be adding Pedro Ximenez to the barrel and later age a rum on it for some months.

    • September 12, 2014 12:05 am

      That’s my real name…not the shortest version “Orio” of the other comment lol

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      September 14, 2014 8:52 am

      Sounds like fun!

    • September 14, 2014 9:21 am

      A good experiment, love to hear the outcome. One caveat though: I assume that like Josh you are using small barrels, and perhaps new wood. Please know that such barrels are EXTREMELY aggressive, so be sure to taste it every two or three weeks. Look for smoothing and perhaps a few extractives (depending on the wood).

      Be alert for the appearance of “woody” tastes, which can taste rather “raw”. At this point it may already be too late, so better to taste too often than not enough. When the blend begins to get interesting, you might want to save a small amount for later reference, as doing so will help you better judge the changes and when to stop.

      Please let us know….

  8. Rob S. permalink
    November 4, 2015 5:59 pm

    What a great experiment! I’m definitely going to give this a whirl! Unfortunately, the J.Wray isn’t readily available in my neck of the Great White North… could you suggest a reasonable alternative? Thanks for the inspiration Josh… Cheers!

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      November 4, 2015 6:47 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Rob! Any white rum with some flavor will do. You could try Appleton or El Dorado. The higher proof stuff ages more rapidly, so your aging time might be a bit longer if you use 40% booze. Let us know how it goes!

      • Rob S. permalink
        December 23, 2015 7:10 pm

        Hi Josh! Out of curiosity, what depth of color did you achieve with your initial charred oak batch? Is the lighting in the photos a bit deceptive? I’m about five weeks in to a blend of Appleton white and J.Wray, and it’s darkened to a light gold (I filled the entire 2 lt barrel). I used Appleton white to defray my costs a bit… J.Wray is outlandishly pricey here in Canada. I’m really happy with the result so far, but I want to be careful no to over-oak it. Cheers!

  9. Josh Miller permalink*
    December 24, 2015 9:52 am

    Hey Rob! Just taste as it ages and you won’t go astray. Different barrels have varying degrees of char inside, and that can have a big impact on the color.

  10. August 10, 2016 7:37 am

    Cool stuff. I ran an experiment in home aging rum exactly with W & N jamaican overproof rum.

    The difference is that I used european oak barrel, previously holding cream sherry. The barrel is 2l, and the rum spent 2.5 months in the barrel.

    The barrel was uncharred, but heavily toasted. So the smoke/peat is totally absent. Instead it’s heavy on sweet sherry notes and tannins (central european oak + longer time of exposure).

    I also did move the barrel to the hot balcony and then after to cool fridge for a night a few times. This seem to speed up maturation significantly.

    At the moment I’m aging some cachaca in one barrel, and I’m thinking about blending that with the W&N to get some more floral notes and dissolve the tannins (I slightly overoaked the rum, I think).

    And I also keep another barrel soaking in Port wine, and I got myself third one that currently holds some high class Polish moonshine with addition of few linden tree leaves. That’s the traditional recipe for starka (Polish aged vodka).

    • Josh Miller permalink*
      August 10, 2016 7:39 am

      Very cool! Sounds like some great experimentation there. Cheers

Trackbacks

  1. New Article: Solera Aging Rum at Home | Inu a Kena
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