346 – Stave Science with Andrew Wiehebrink of Independent Stave Company

Every few months we find a guest that scratches that itch when we want to get into the science of bourbon, and today we’re talking about wood. Everyone has a different answer when it comes to the question of “how much influence does the barrel have on the whiskey?”. Is it 20%? 90%? 70%? Our guest today is going to help us get closer to finding that magic number. Andrew Wiehebrink is the Director of Spirit Research and Innovation at Independent Stave Company and his job is to get real deep and nerdy into wood and the millions of permutations you can have that affects the taste of your whiskey. We ask all the questions you want to know about the effects of char levels, toasting, stave seasoning, and storage on a hypothetical and scientific level. His role at ISC has him working on multi-year experiments with wood varietals and aging conditions to see what hasn’t been discovered yet. He has worked directly with Maker’s Mark to create the finishing staves used in their private barrel program and we try to figure out why they would even consider getting rid of the mocha stave.

Show Notes:

  • Above the Char with Fred Minnick (@fredminnick) talks about union strikes.
  • Talk about your background and journey
  • Why seek out wood science vs mechanical engineering with distillation?
  • What was oak R&D like 5 years ago?
  • What was the wine industry doing to start making the bourbon industry look at alternatives to just Char 4?
  • What made Char 3 or 4 the gold standard?
  • What’s the highest char level you’ve tested?
  • Was there any bookkeeping to see what barrel experimentation has been done through ISC’s history?
  • What are your key metrics you’re trying to hit? Flavor? Faster aging?
  • When you start an experiment do you have a hypothesis or just wait for data?
  • Any experiments when it comes to sustainability?
  • Any experiments with the same oak grown in different locations?
  • What is the average age of a harvested oak tree?
  • How does stave seasoning play a role in this process?
  • Talk about the process of figuring out the stave profiles at Maker’s Mark
  • What do you think about them getting rid of the mocha stave?
  • Do you have a special day set aside for tasting experiments?
  • Is it easier to work with Maker’s Mark because they have a more consistent product?
  • When you use a toasted barrel once, is its lifespan over?
  • Can you name one experiment that was a mistake?
  • Do you feel that consumers take the barrel for granted?
  • Say I have bad distillate, what barrels can you suggest?
  • Has a customer ever asked you for something so off-the-wall that you had to decline them?
  • Are mizunara cask trends here to stay?
  • @independantstavecompany
  • Support this podcast on Patreon

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