I’ll leave that question up to you, but in Tennessee, it’s with an 'E', and that’s where the Harty’s Whiskey Sticks story begins.
I’m lucky enough to have a wife that loves adventures, and during one of our last holidays we found ourselves in the birth place of Dolly Parton and I don’t need to tell any whiskey lover that the most famous of American sour mash whiskeys is and comes from the same US state. There was an upsurge of distilleries at the time we were there, as Moonshining had just been passed by the government, and these tourist magnet stores were everywhere, and fun to visit!
There’s lots of whiskey distillery tours you can pop along to. I wasn’t actually whiskey fan myself (due to an 18th birthday, that I don’t quite like to admit to), but my brother is, so I opted to search out a competitor of Jack Daniels for him, after all, he could just purchase a bottle of number 7 from his local supermarket.
George Dickel was recommended from a cowboy I spoke to, and I quickly found myself visiting their tour as well.
A little education, and tasting goes a long way you know.....I now appreciate and enjoy drinking whiskey and with my love of making things, there was only one direction I was going to go... and I’m not talking about walking to my brother’s house! Well, I couldn’t exactly drive, I had a drink in my bag to share with him!
After handing over a bottle of sour mash whiskey to my (lucky to have me) brother, we talked and talked and brainstormed the idea of how to make and drink a whiskey we have made, so to speak. We wanted to copy how they do things in Tennessee. So I got things moving forward….
Simply put, whiskey makers make alcohol from corn.
They then distill the corn beer into white whiskey (clear alcohol)
Put clear alcohol in a barrel - leave until ready to bottle - put in a bottle to drink.
You can purchase single bottle whiskey barrels online here, but they are an expensive purchase for a new whiskey drinker, and if I was to hand make a barrel its a complicated process. So I needed to think outside the box.
But the way I saw it, I just needed to flavour the clear whiskey with wood. Why can’t I put the wood into the alcohol?….Well, I can, and I did!
Wood is fantastic, and every different type is different, not only in it’s appearance, but it’s flavour too. Just smell a raw piece of wood when you get a chance against another. Apple, cherry or oak, they are all different. For that reason you can find wood chips to purchase of these kind to smoke food or sprinkle onto your BBQ when cooking.
It’s the same with whiskey. The wood that the barrels are made from, flavour the harsh moonshine that the distillers have made, and I know that American Oak is a good wood to choose.... 'Thanks Jack.'
I need to buy alcohol, any Vodka will work for our purpose as we are going to make it flavoured my way.
For those who don’t know, Vodka or White Whiskey or Moonshine are all the same thing, they are all just clear distilled alcohol. I normally buy something very low cost.
So, I got myself a jar and sterilised it. Popped my 1/2 litre of vodka into it and dropped a couple of sticks of white American oak I had intentionally burnt for this trial and left it alone for a few months. I agitated it every now and again, opened the jar weekly (to imitate the breathing of a barrel, let’s remember to give the 'Angels Share').
Why do I burn the wood? Because that’s what whiskey distilleries do, they char the inside of the barrels. The burning of the wood adds the colour and different flavours than just bare wood, erm....would.
And that was it, my first whiskey maturing in a jar that I could watch. After a few weeks it was unmistakable that it was working. The warming aroma was fantastic to my nose as I opened the lid, I had to try some. This is where it’s evident that wood always reminds you to be patient. If you want something great, just like the strong oak tree growing, you need to be patient. It was whiskey, but harsh and immature.
Working with wood has always taught me patience. Gluing up two pieces and having to leave it overnight is a reminder to get on with something else and come back to it later. The same was with my jar. The longer I left it, the more flavour it added and mellowed it out. Come Christmas time, I had started my trial. It was good to drink, and the Harty’s whiskey sticks were quickly adopted by customers that we gave the opportunity to purchase from us at our Christmas stalls over the festive period last year.
Harty’s Whisky Sticks are made from excess White American Oak that we use in other products. Different wooden barrels are used for different whiskeys or whiskys. This is why we have so many choices in our stores. The wood it is stored in makes a difference as over time it takes on the flavour.
There’s lots of variants that will make each one unique.
The type of vodka or how long you leave the Whiskey Sticks in. Even how many sticks you use.
I love sharing my story how this all came about, and I now get updates over social media from customers who are enjoying doing this for themselves. Those that started at Christmas will soon have a chance to taste the wonderful unmistakable strong character of oak. Remember, the alcohol was flavourless.
Please feel free to ask any questions or give any ideas. I hope you enjoy making your own whiskey.