Can lasers be used to produce better whiskey?
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
The world of fine liquor, like whiskey, is a place frozen in time where the vocabulary revolves around ideas such as being a timeless craft, an honoring tradition, and also history. A bit dusty, don’t you think?
Not anymore! Technology and tradition are about to be combined because of your… palate. As you may know, the secret of the taste here comes in great part from the barrels, especially from wood barrels, in which the whiskey must be aged.
Buffalo Trace Distillery from Kentucky, USA, used an IR light source to char whiskey barrels and create a new, unique taste. Traditional or not, the precious drink is already for sale, and when we talk about sales, it’s all about pleasing customers and attracting new fans.
But be patient folks, because it took more than six years for the Buffalo Trace Distillery to finally sample the Bourbon from those special barrels. The idea of aging, which is probably the only time we will see in a tech blog, is crucial to make fine Bourbon whiskey.
Our ingenuous distillers did two tests, which both involved infrared light, but at two different wavelengths and power levels. Although the detailed specifications and exact type of light source cannot be shared because it is a “business secret” after all (they will happily share the results, but not the recipe), they noticed that shortwave infrared light seemed to affect more the inner layers of the barrel, while the medium-wave infrared light had more effects in regards to the surface and medium layers of the wood of the barrel. This difference of wood treatment seemingly resulted in a different taste from one test to the other.
The whiskey coming from barrels that underwent shorter but more intense light exposure developed floral tastes, while the other one had stronger woody notes, complemented with a scent of dried fruit. Now, that is what we call a complex flavor profile!
Any whiskey expert in the crowd able to detect a dried fruit in a 90-proof alcohol?
Using laser to engrave wood is a well-known technology with amazing results. Charring wood barrels with light is not so common, but one thing is sure here: the trick comes with consistency. A consistent manufacturing process will result in a product with consistent quality: in the current case, control over the charring process is the key.
There are multiple ways to ensure measurement repeatability for laser sources. Although what was discussed here is an unusual application, we still love to work on such cases where rigor and deep understanding of customer needs result in exciting new products where repeatability, and therefore quality, prevails!
Let’s drink to that!