There is a long history of ageing liquor at sea. Starting in the 16th century, brandy and later whiskey was often transported in barrels on ships to its final destination and the movement of the ship on the waves were believed to have accelerated and improved the spirit.
But ageing whiskey on the road has been a far less common occurrence … well, until now.
US whiskey brand, WhistlePig has just released their Roadstock Rye where barrels were placed on what could best be described as a rolling rickhouse and driven along Route 66 across America.
To better understand the journey, we talk to blender Meghan Ireland and distiller Mitchael Mahar about taking whiskey on the road and what changes that makes to the flavour of the blend.
For more information, go to whistlepigwhiskey.com or connect with the brand on their social via @whistlepigwhiskey
Tiff: There is a long history of ageing liquor at sea. Starting in the 16th century, Brandy and later Whiskey, were often transported in barrels on ships to their final destination. And the movement of the ship on the waves was believed to have accentuated and improved the spirit.
But ageing whiskey on the road has been a far less common occurrence … until now.
US whiskey brand WhistlePig have released their Roadstock Rye, where barrels were placed on what could best be described as a rolling Rickhouse and driven along route 66, across America.
To better understand the journey, we talked to blender, Meghan Ireland and distiller Mitchael Mahar about taking whiskey on the road and what changes it makes to the flavour of the blend.
Thank you both for joining us.
Meghan: Thank you so much for having us.
Mitch: Thanks for having us
Tiff: What gave you the idea of taking your barrels on a joy ride?
Meghan: Yeah, so that really started ... came out of COVID actually. So during COVID everyone had to stay home, no trips anywhere. So we were stuck at home for over a year, so we ended up making a variation on our Farm Stock called Home Stock. That allowed a group of our fans to blend a whiskey from home. And then some of the COVID rules started to let up and people were able to travel again. It was more within the United States, and road trips became so popular that our next idea or our next concept was ' why not try and send the whiskey on a road trip'. We figured it'd be a really cool time to test and see what a road trip would do to our whiskey.
Tiff: Take us along and tell us where the barrels actually went.
Mitch: So the barrels started in Shoreham, Vermont at our distillery. And the day they got loaded in, it was a overcast chilly day. I was in a sweatshirt and pants and was pretty chilled even while wearing that.
And then from there they started to drive along route 66 and then continued past route 66 to drive to Paso Robles, California to Firestone Walker brewery. And then from there started the return trip back to Vermont.
Meghan: So cross country both ways that would really cool trip that we actually were able to have Mitch go on.
Tiff: So you went with the barrels part of the way, Mitch?
Mitch: Yeah I didn't get to leave Vermont with them, but I caught back up with them a little bit for Arizona and then from Arizona through California and then out of California
Tiff: How many barrels actually made the trip?
Meghan: So we were able to load 80 barrels on the truck. So 40 of them were Jordan wine. They had a great red wine barrel that they sent to us. We were super excited to finish in and it ended up making a big impact on our final product. And then we also sent 40 barrels of our Rye five-year-old rye over in the truck as well.
Tiff: And they were just in the normal American oak.
Meghan: Yes, correct. I believe it was a char one American Oak barrel.
Tiff: Now when the barrels actually got to California that changed up a little bit, didn't it?
Mitch: Yeah. So when we got to California, we actually took the whiskey out of the Rye barrels themselves and then Firestone Walker was so kind as to give us barrels that they had aged beer in. And so we put the Rye whiskey right back into those barrels and so the return trip was the Jordan wine barrels and the Firestone Walker beer barrels to finish the whiskey in.
Tiff: And how long was that entire journey? How long did it take to do the round trip?
Meghan: It was about two and a half weeks. The longest part were the couple of stops, so we stopped in Paso Robles at Firestone and then also at Radford racing.
Tiff: Now talk to us about the Radford racing. What made you think to do a pit stop there?
Mitch: So that whole part was just because part of the whole idea of just like alcohol and being on the road, took us back to a like prohibition era mindset where, it was really the birth of modified cars and fast cars. So we actually bought ourselves a Dodge Hellcat and took it one step further by ageing or taking age whiskey and using it to make racing fuel for the Dodge Hellcat.
Tiff: What made you think to do that?
Mitch: It was just just like a natural progression of almost 'in for a penny in for a pound' where if we're going to really take this to the next level, then like we should use whiskey to fuel the Hellcat.
Meghan: For sure. It was just one of those things where, okay we're taking a road trip, we're stopping at a race track. We're trying to involve whiskey and cars together as much as possible. So why not try and fuel a car with whiskey.
Tiff: Has anyone ever filled the car with whiskey before, that you know?
Mitch: .Not that I know of. People have used or like fuel companies have used like ethanol based fuels, but we're the first ones that I know of that have used aged whiskey, especially to make that happen.
Tiff: And I'm assuming it worked.
Meghan: It did work. So it was a mixture. It wasn't pure age whiskey that allowed it to run, but we were able to make it run. And I wasn't personally there. I did hear the smell of the car …
Mitch: Yeah the exhaust actually had a pretty cool, unique smell to it from the from the whiskey fuel.
Tiff: That would have been quite amazing. I imagine. Yeah,
Mitch: It definitely was. I'm glad I was able to get there. It's pretty hard to describe though. Picture like a more floral exhaust. It's interesting
Tiff: Now, have you guys kept the Hellcat? Are you going to race it?
Mitch: So I don't know about race it, per se, but we still have the Hellcat and you can see a drive around the country from place to place.
Meghan: yeah. So I was able to see it. We had a sales retreat in Las Vegas this year that I went out to, to go talk to the sales team a little bit. And the Hellcat made an appearance there. So I know it's working its way around and we definitely still have it.
Tiff: I imagine with a lot of your customers, that would be a very cool thing for them to go and see.
Meghan: Yeah. What better than race cars and whiskey.
Tiff: And were you guys aware of any whiskeys or bourbons that had done a similar style of trip before?
Meghan: Yeah, so we kinda, we haven't heard of anyone who's done a road trip like this. There's been a lot of what we refer to as dynamic ageing, that's been going along in the industry. So there's some people have put it on boats again and different styles of dynamic ageing, but we hadn't heard, or we haven't seen anyone who has taken a road trip such as this one. So it was a really cool experience to be the first people to try this.
Tiff: Now, were there any special modifications that you needed to make to the truck to ensure that the barrels were stable
Meghan: We didn't have to make any modifications to the truck. We definitely took some precautions. All of the barrels were palletised and then strapped onto their pallets, but also then strapped to the sides of the truck. So while we didn't format the truck to hold barrels. We took some precautions to make sure the whiskey would get there safely and also back.
Mitch: Yeah. It's precious cargo. You've got to make sure it can make the entire journey.
Tiff: What did you think would happen to the whiskey when you did this?
Mitch: I think part of it was really just, we weren't entirely sure. We have an understanding of like how temperature swings affect whiskey, how barometric pressure affects whiskey different humidities has that the other, but, we weren't exactly sure what's going to happen. We expected like a more advanced ageing profile that we couldn't replicate in a lab.
Meghan: Yeah. It was cool for us. We're going into it as the first people doing this, really trying it. But we did know that from those temperature changes from those pressure changes and just from the shaking of the liquid that we were going to be pulling flavours out of the wood faster than normal. We just weren't sure exactly if that meant specific flavours would come out faster or how it would work.
Tiff: Do you think it was more the movement or the change in temperature that have actually affected the liquid?
Mitch: I think you can make an argument either way, but nonetheless, there was definitely a ton of movement and then very wide temperature swings throughout the entire journey.
Meghan: They're also pretty big pressure swings as well because we were driving through the Rockies and deserts and all the different environments.
So we had the movement, the temperature and pressure change, all kinds of affecting how the liquid was moving in and out of the barrels.
Tiff: We talked about the effect that you were hoping that the journey would have on the whiskey. When the whiskey got back to you, was that what you found?
Meghan: Yeah, so it was super interesting. So not only were we the first people to really age on the road, but as far as I know, we're the first people to try and blend a wine finish and a beer finish together.
So from the flavours on the road, it definitely aged quicker than what I've seen in my warehouse before in those two types of finishes. I think it pulled the same flavours. I think it just happened in a much faster pace than it normally would.
A wine finish for me can be anywhere from six to eight weeks, most of the time, like I said, this one happened in about two and a half weeks just for comparison purposes.
Tiff: Was that quite ambitious, doing both a wine and a beer and the journey and everything all at once?
Mitch: Yeah. You can't, you don't want to go halfway with anything. If you've got to commit, you should go all the way with it.
Meghan: We try and really push innovation here at WhistlePig. And we are constantly doing unique and interesting finishes. So we thought, why not?
Tiff: How different do you think would the taste have been if the barrels hadn't gone on the journey. Would it just have aged more slowly?
Meghan: yeah, I think for the most part, it would have just have aged more slowly. So at two and a half weeks, it would have still just tasted mainly as whiskey, instead of getting in some of those wine, those sweeter notes, and then some of the ale finishes that you get from the beers.
I think for the most part, it was a speed thing. The finishes did come out pretty close to what I was expecting, but just at a much faster pace.
Tiff: Once they arrived home, talk to us about the blending.
Meghan: Yeah. So me and Mitch worked on that together on this end. Super interesting process. I guess it was very similar to our normal kind of process. It's a lot of trial and error.
Mitch: Oh, so figuring out each whiskeys like highlight flavours and like what you really wanted to showcase for that, for what we pictured to be the final whiskey
Meghan: it's so making the blends and at different proportions and what will really allow that wine to shine in that beer to shine.
Tiff: Which is more dominant in the final blend, the wine or the beer.
Mitch: Honestly, I feel like it depends on who you ask, but we try to basically showcase both as equally as possible.
Meghan: Yeah. So to me, when I drink road stock, I really get the wine finishes upfront, the sweeter notes come through on the nose and at the front of the palette, but the finish and what the flavour that kind of sticks with you is the beer. It makes for a really interesting drink, as you you work your way through the finishes as you're drinking it.
Tiff: Now was blending these different from creating a normal blend?
Meghan: It definitely was a little different for me. I normally don't blend different finishes together. We do a lot of single finishes here and specialty finishes, but we're not necessarily blending finishes. So it was a lot of fun to see how they balanced each other, and what it did when we put the beer in, at this percentage versus the wine and at this percentage. And it was a cool experiment from our side to, to play around with, and figure out what really made each finish shine.
Tiff: And is that something that you'll continue to do?
Meghan: It's definitely a possibility now that we've done at once, I want to ...
Mitch: I really liked the result. I wouldn't mind doing it again, you wouldn't have to twist my arm.
Tiff: I suppose you could experiment with different types of beer and different types of wine too.
Meghan: Yeah. And those definitely have a huge impact. A red wine finished versus a white wine or an ale versus a stout. All of those have huge and different impact. So it's definitely something that we could mess around with and come out with a totally different product on the other side.
Tiff: Now if people uh, are used to drinking your Rye expressions, what will they find different? What can they expect from the taste of this one?
Mitch: So I feel the wine really delivered some sweeter notes, almost to me, they almost come across with almost like raspberry cherry. Like the beer delivers like this nice sort of like soft doughyness with some like baking spices. Just those flavour notes by themselves, we don't have those in any other expression in our portfolio.
Meghan: Yeah. And compared to some of our tenure flagship product here, is a big, bold, spicy Rye, that's what it's known for, and what it's seen and some of these finishes mute that Rye flavour and bring out some of the other notes that you don't necessarily always see in the tenure.
Mitch: Yeah. It really showcase like the versatility of rye as a whiskey base.
Tiff: Will Roadstock be an annual release?
Meghan: I don't know that Roadstock will be something that we do again, but like you talked about before. We've definitely learned some really cool things from this, so maybe some other blended finishes or some other specialty things like that could definitely come out from it.
Mitch: But if they want to send me an another road trip, I'm not going to stop them.
Tiff: Now would you classify this as purely a sipping rye? Or do you think that it could work well in cocktails?
Meghan: We always like to say there's necessarily no wrong way to drink a whiskey. I think that being said, me and Mitch would argue over this a little bit.
Mitch: Personally, Wonderful by itself. Like it really has a lot of character, a lot of nuance all by itself. Doesn't really need anything else added to it.
Meghan: Which I agree. It's absolutely a great drink on its own, but I'm also a big fan of a whiskey sour in general, and it really does compliment the flavours within a whiskey sour as well.
Tiff: The idea of having the liquid travel is quite romantic. Was that your aim when you started?
Meghan: So that was part of it, right where we're in this stage right now, where travel is so regulated and not allowed and to be able to put something on the road and give it that special journey. Most people right now want to be able to go and take a journey was definitely part of the idea and that romance behind the idea for sure.
Tiff: Did you guys document where the whiskey went. So for example, do like little postcards that you could send to your customers?
Meghan: Yeah, we do know the towns that traveled through, for sure. Unfortunately, because of COVID originally, we were going to have it stop at a bunch of places along the way, and be able to have different setups along the road trip. But we do have a record of every town and every place that went through. So that's something that we could potentially use in the future.
Tiff: What is the reaction been to the blend so far?
Meghan: Yeah, we've gotten some really positive reactions and reviews. Everybody is loving the whiskey, is loving how you can really pull out the different flavour profiles from both the wine and the beer. And then, like you said, the romance of the story. I think everyone's just really connected to that journey right now and that road trip. And they're super excited about it.
Tiff: Did the journey itself surprised you guys in any way?
Mitch: I don't know if I necessarily, I expected some sort of advanced ageing, but outside of that, I wasn't really sure what I was going to get. I had a wishlist of things I wanted to get. And then, this whole process it didn't like, I wouldn't say throw curve balls at me, but definitely surprised me and gave me some unique notes that I didn't think I was going to get.
Meghan: I also, I just don't know. I knew it was movement. I knew there was temperature change and all of that, but I wasn't sure, sure how fast it was really going to be rapidly aging. It, so when it showed up, I was here to unload the trucks. I had my sample bottles out and ready, the second they came off the truck. I really wasn't expecting it to be as advanced at it as it was. So I was pretty excited as I was pulling the different samples that I was getting. Some of those stronger flavour profile notes that I normally don't get until that six or eight week point.
Mitch: Part of the practicality of going to Firestone Walker to get the barrels was that they were dumped hours before we had gotten there and then immediately put Rye whiskey right back in them.
So it's basically the freshest you could have possibly gotten those barrels. And I think that has more to do with the flavour notes then maybe time. Perhaps it's an experiment on will be willing to take on though.
Tiff: Okay. Because the barrels didn't travel empty to you that affected…
Meghan: Yeah. So when you're dumping beer barrels, you've gotta be really careful about some different like infections that can happen within the barrel. And also the oxidation that can happen with the beer that's in the wood. So the freshness of them really does have an impact on the flavour profile and was something that we're super excited about.
Mitch: Yeah. Firestone Walker was really great about helping us out with that whole process and really giving us basically the freshest of the fresh you could possibly get.
Tiff: I believe that you topped the bottles with little miniature rubber tires.
Mitch: Oh, yeah. Heck yeah, we did. Once again, you can't go halfway with any of this.
Meghan: I think that was the, when I had my first prototypes for those show up, everyone immediately wanted to start making model cars out of them. But again, something super cool and unique here is that we were able to mess around with our toppers. Normally we have a wooden topper on top of our corks but we worked with our supplier and came up with a rubber tire design that worked and looks super cool and helps tie the whole story together.
Mitch: The whole entire bottle really pops because of that.
Meghan: So our label is also in the shape of the United States. So it was all these little touches that bring the bottle together and really help tell the story.
Tiff: Do you know where this expression is available?.
Meghan: So this expression is available throughout the United States and all 50 states, but it is a limited edition. So you got to run out to the stores and grab it. There are, I believe we did 10,000 cases of it and that's it. So it's definitely a limited edition and a special blend for us.
Tiff: All right. Look, we might leave it there. But guys, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your barrels journey.
Meghan: Thank you. Thank you so much for having us.
Tiff: And if anyone, once more information they can, of course go onto your website.
Meghan: Yep. There is a link on the website that allows you to reach out and ask questions. So feel free
Tiff: or alternatively connect with you guys by your socials?
Meghan: Yes, definitely. We have Twitter, Facebook Instagram, all of those as great options as well.
Tiff: Excellent. All right, look, thank you.
Meghan: Thank you so much for having us.
Mitch: Thank you.