How Distilleries Use Hip-Hop, EDM and Reggae to Age Booze

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Illustration by Anton Emdin
           

Music isn't just good for the soul -- it’s good for spirits, too. As aged alcohol matures in wood barrels, it picks up color, character and mellow flavors. But a growing number of booze producers are convinced that the process is actually amplified by bathing the barrels in music, and science seems to back it up.

“We believe in the principles of ‘sonic aging,’” says Joe Heron, founder of Copper & Kings in Louisville, Ky. They’re one of four distilleries -- including Spirits Work Distillery in Sonoma, Calif., and Dark Island Spirits in upstate New York -- to recently use music to age alcohol. “[When] a bass note is pulsed into the barrel, the alcohol molecule moves away from the sound wave, hits the barrel wall, slides up until it loses momentum and then falls down, and the process repeats.” This reverberation, which imparts more of the container’s flavor into the liquid, requires five subwoofers positioned throughout the barrelhouse. “It’s louder at night so people can hear themselves think and talk during the day,” adds Heron. “It’s pretty forceful.”

Different spirits call for different playlists. Factors such as intensity of bass and beats per minute increase the rate at which the liquor vibrates against the oak wood of the barrel. So when Heron wants to extract more of those vanilla and caramel notes for his rich and dark Floodwall brandy, he exposes those barrels to hip-hop or EDM. For his orange curaçao, which exhibits lighter notes from the oak, he’ll subject it to slower frequencies -- perhaps R&B or classical. Copper & Kings now has its own Spotify playlist that tracks what’s playing inside the distillery in real time.

At Dark Island Spirits, the distiller often matches musical genre to corresponding styles of alcohol. The Eleanor Glen single malt whiskey, for example, is soothed by the Celtic-inspired rock of Jane Espie. Blues Bourbon gets a classic R&B playlist, while the seasonal Snow Wheat whiskey is paired with Christmas carols. The rum gets reggae.

Dark Island owner Roger Reifensnyder takes the science even further than Copper & Kings. “We do not ‘sonically age’ our spirits,” he says. “We ‘musically mature’ our spirits. We developed a [trademarked] device that creates liquid waves inside our barrels with the use of music.” His patented, government-approved TIIME (Tactile Immersed Isolated Maturation Engine) Machine vibrates the wood at a different frequency than the hooch dancing within. “This allows for incredible interaction between the spirits and the maturing effects of charred and toasted oak,” says Reifensnyder.

These days, it’s not uncommon for artists to partner with an alcohol brand -- Drake, Blake Shelton and more recently Bob Dylan have all attempted to cash in on the trend. “Unfortunately, they don’t ever really affect the content or makeup of the product,” adds Reifensnyder. “We, on the other hand, are positioned to put the artist in the bottle.”

This article originally appeared in the June 15 issue of Billboard.