Liquid Thinking

Climate Aged

Is this now how its done?

4th October 2023

Drinks makers are marking the effects of different climates upon their liquids, with releases that celebrate the aging effect certain regions produce. Could these launches be a precursor to something more radical? As rising temperatures and changing weather patterns make harvests in traditional producing regions either unpredictable, or untenable, we ask is climate change the new terroir?

The weather may be increasingly unpredictable, but there’s a pattern emerging among drinks producers; climate-finished liquids. What exactly do we mean by that? Well, it seems that curious producers have become taken with the concept of taking a liquid produced in one place and then finishing it in another. The key requirement? A radically different climate.

The latest example comes from bourbon producer Jefferson’s. Launched in September, the explicitly named Jefferson's Tropics Aged in Humidity, does exactly what it suggests. Things are regular – the bourbon is produced to full maturity in Kentucky – until the brand ships it to Singapore for finishing in its extreme humidity.

The move forms part of the brand’s experimental blending, aging, and finishing project, where it looks for new ways to create its liquids. So far, that’s included things such as wave aging. But this new launch follows a hunch by founder Trey Zoeller, that it is climate that could affect the maturation process more than the barrel, or indeed the mashbill. So, off the brand went in search of a suitably extreme climate.

Extreme fluctuations

A total of 720 barrels of fully matured bourbon were aged in the Singapore heat for an additional 18 months. The result is said to be an intensely caramelized liquid, as the extreme heat “essentially slow cooks and caramelizes the sugars in the wood” according to the brand.

Zoeller said: "After taking barrels to many different locations it was evident that the hot and humid climates had such a positive impact on the bourbon. So, when homing in on a location to age our first Jefferson's Tropics Aged in Humidity release, we knew we needed to be near the equator, where the heat and humidity would be year-round and intense. Singapore was absolutely perfect for this experiment.

"The result is a remarkable bourbon, one that further reinforces my belief that terroir for whiskey comes from the environment that the bourbon matures in rather than the ground from which the grains are grown.”

Climate is the biggest impact on taste?

Zoeller leaves us with an interesting point. If the terroir of the climate is the most important factor in determining a whiskey’s taste, then in a world of climate change, what does the future hold?

Whiskey isn’t the only category asking this question. Earlier this year, rum brand Serum also launched a climate-influenced liquid. Its ‘The Panama Seasons Collection’ instead compares the seasons of its native climate. It comprises of two rums, both distilled in 2005, which have been aged for 17 years. However, one showcases the impact of the hot Dry season, and at 45% is said to have notes of tobacco, leather and cocoa. The Wet season rum, is lower at 40% ABV and has slightly sweet, tropical fruit notes. Stepan Stanek, export manager of Rum Serum, said: “We have selected the best casks from the single vintage 2005 to produce truly special and authentic rums that best describe such a beautiful country as Panama.”

Contrasting climates

The Rum Club Private Selection Belize 2006, takes a similar approach to Jefferson’s, in that it is aged in both its native Belize and for a contrasting climate, Europe. The 38 Rum Club edition was distilled from molasses in 2006. Following that, the rum spent ten years in the tropical climate of Belize, followed by seven years in Europe, before the rum was bottled raw from barrels.

Plantation Rum however, is switching woods as well as climates. It has launched a range of liquids matured in dual climates, including both Guyana and France. First up, in Guyana, its rum was matured for 13 years in ex-Bourbon casks. It was then transferred to French oak casks to finish in Javrezac, France, for an additional two years.

So, for barrel aged liquids is this duality the new norm? Its clear that drinks makers are increasingly concerned with the impact that climate change will have on the production of their liquids. In a broad-reaching article in Time this summer, Diageo flagged how it fears water scarcity will impact its production in the years to come. Its vital for the process itself, making up the majority of the finished product, but also for the farming of its ingredients. Diageo flagged that 43 of its production sites across the world were located in water-stressed areas last year. Water efficiency is a priority, as the company looks to cut usage by 2030.

A new era of experimentation?

However, the impact on aging itself, is a new area of experimentation. And one which raises thought provoking questions among both brands and consumers. In a climate unstable future, for example, will brands be able to keep producing spirits consistently? Or will year-specific vintages become more of a necessity as blenders struggle to match liquids to their previous years, which may have been produced under very different conditions?

For now, brands are mainly experimenting with contrasts; with different climates in vastly different regions, or with the contrasting seasons in a specific location. Expect more of this. Expect brands to make ever bolder socio, environmental and economic statements when they do. It’s to a brand’s advantage to educate consumers on such contrasts, as well as demonstrate their awareness of the shifting environment to consumers too.

However, as the disruption to our seasons becomes more pronounced, brands may wish to shift their focus to something less radical, which may by default end up becoming the most radical move yet. Showcasing what happens when everything but the weather remains the same – on more traditional vintages, produced in the same way, in the same region, but under different weather conditions – may become one of the most powerful tools brands have for demonstrating to consumers that when it comes to climate change and drinks production, the train is already on the tracks.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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