Preparing the First American Chestnut for Spirits Production in a Century.

Excitement is mounting around the distillery as we begin preparing the American chestnut samples for the test aging reactor.  In a matter of a few short days we will be the first people alive to taste an American chestnut rye.

 

But first, lets summarize the last Journal entry: 

 

In a May 5th journal entry we outlined the need to recreate rye and rums matured with American chestnut wood.  The short summary goes like this: 

 

1.  In the 19th century, ageing barrels could have been made from either oak or chestnut.  Both casks appear to be common enough to be traded on the 19th century commodity exchanges. 

 

2.  With the onset of the chestnut blight, prices for chestnut wood skyrocketed as America's most common hardwood faced extinction. 

 

3.  The European chestnut data seems to indicate that enough of the key chemical compounds found in oak are present in chestnut to trigger the distilled spirits maturation process. 

 

4.  The trees are effectively extinct, and have been so since the great depression, making finding the raw material less than simple.

 

In a June 15th Journal entry we outlined how we arrived at harvesting the precious wood from antique furniture bought at auction. 

 

Prepping the wood for use in spirits making:

 

The raw material:  A 140+ year old, antique nightstand made from the effectively extinct American chestnut tree. 

 

 

 

 

First we had to confirm that the nightstand was in fact chestnut and not oak (they are visually indistinguishable without cutting the boards against the grain and studying the ray pattern of the cut-away wood. 

 

 

 

 

Confirmed, its the real deal (note the first few pieces of furniture we bought turned out to be common oak fakes).

 

The key to identifying true American chestnut from common oak, is that oak will have rays cutting perpendicular to the grain.  As you can see from this cut away, there are no visible rays.  In other words we have a viable sample from which to make a small amount of rye!

 

Now we have to toast the wood, just like they do for whiskey barrels today. 

 

 

 

The had part here is that we have no idea at what temperature to toast chestnut wood.  So we went to the literature on oak and chose 3 temperatures which work well for oak

 

Real-Time Mass Spectrometry Monitoring of Oak Wood Toasting: Elucidating Aroma Development Relevant to Oak-aged Wine Quality.

 

 

Now into the test reactor. 

 

 

If all goes perfectly, we may well have a few bottles of the first chestnut matured rye made in our lifetimes.

 

We will have recreated the alternate universe that would have existed if there was never a chestnut blight!

 

See you at Tales of the Cocktail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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