As evidenced by the eruption of singing every time “Don’t Stop Believin'” comes on a jukebox, booze makes even terrible music better. But can music make booze better? Joe Heron believes so, and he applies his theory to every bottle of Copper & Kings’ brandy and absinthe.
The Louisville, KY, distillery’s spirits -- grape and apple brandy, plus a brandy-based absinthe -- are all created with an extra special ingredient: a steady stream of loud-ass rock music, blasted into the tanks using a process called "sonic aging."
Turns out, the Talking Heads make a hell of a brandy, and David Byrne didn’t even know it.
The art of sonic aging
Sonic aging is the process of pulsing sound waves through the booze as it’s sitting in the barrel, agitating it and increasing the frequency of contact between the hooch and the barrel, in this case a Kentucky bourbon barrel. And as Meghan Trainor will attest, it’s all about that bass.
“The primary pulse is driven by bass notes,” says Heron. Five enormous sub-woofers have been embedded in distillery’s maturation cellar. They are designed to drive sound waves throughout the room. “The system was designed by a sound engineer who typically specializes in the creation of sound systems for music venues for bands.”
The music is never turned off. It’s pumped into the barrel room -- where ages for anywhere from 52 months to 14 years -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it’s often selected based on the destination state of each batch. That means a Texas batch might get aged with a little Stevie Ray Vaughn. Houston-bound batches gets stirred up with hip hop, NS Rhode Island might get a little Talking Heads.
Heron likes to thinks that music plays a major role in the world of spirits. “Brandy with soul listens to Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding -- and My Morning Jacket and the Doors.”
He also believes the idea of sonic maturation can be applied to all spirits, not just brandy. “The principle is about increasing frequency of wood contact through agitation (as opposed to a fairly static environment without it),” he says. “We make brandy with swings and hips and rock & roll ‘spirit’. What a great gig, who would call this a job?”
In terms of impact, Heron says a good playlist, played loud, definitely makes for a denser, more intense and mellow flavor profile, especially in the barrels closer to the sub-woofers. “The color tones are also darker, reflecting what you would see in a spirit aged for a longer time, he says.
Although they don’t have any hard empirical scientific evidence proving the technique works, Heron believes that sonic aging makes their brandy extra unique: “It is long and smooth, typical of a fine brandy, but is distinctive in the mid-palate where it has a rambunctiousness and feistiness typical of a bourbon.”
At any rate, a few rounds of sonic-aged brandy definitely makes a 2am Journey sing-a-long more tolerable.
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Christopher Osburn has traveled the world in search of the best wine, beer, and spirits. Believe him… that includes quite a lot of sampling. Follow him to Scotch @ChrisOsburn.