More Whiskey, Fewer Stills (In Fact, No Stills at All, Officer)
How to make a very passable whiskey substitute with just a few ingredients and the help of an Italian YouTuber.
Hello, my dear friends,
Yes, I’m still alive. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’m back to turn you whiskey lovers — or whiskey haters, which is what I was — on to something spectacular.
I don’t use the word “spectacular” lightly; this recipe made a whiskey convert out of me. It also happens to be the catchphrase of a YouTuber named Andrea Mercurio, whose channel is called cuoredicioccolato, which means chocolate heart.
Mr. Mercurio brings enthusiasm and self-effacing charm to the DIY recipes he presents, and one of the things I like about his videos is that the recipes seem eminently doable. His viewers also love it when he finally tastes his finished dish or drink and pronounces it “Spectacular!” while one arm spins like the rotor on a helicopter.
I am what I like to call an “alcohol weenie.” I don’t drink much, and I have very finicky tastes when I do. To my admittedly barbaric taste buds, the whole whiskey/scotch/bourbon family of liquors tastes like what I imagine paper to taste like, minus the paper cuts on your tongue. But my husband loves whiskey, and I enjoy making things for him, so I thought I’d give it a try.
The first thing I learned is that whiskey is brewed from grains and then put through a still, which vaporizes the mash and distills the resulting vapor into a condensed and pure liquid. After that, they are stored in oak barrels that have been torched inside to lend the alcohol a smoky flavor. Yes, I know you already knew that, but I didn’t. I told you I was a weenie.
Stills are largely illegal in the United States because of they are deemed to be too dangerous for the average nimrod like me, so it looked as though I was going to have to find another way.
Enter cuoredicioccolato and the fine art of infusion. In his video, he says that this recipe is from his friend Mehdi, and if I ever meet either of them, I will definitely owe them one.
Not only did I learn how to infuse oak chips from decommissioned whisky barrels in Everclear with a few other items, but I also learned that you can make it taste as smooth as if it had been aged 10 years in a matter of days.
And they say alchemy is dead.
I’ve altered the recipe a bit because I have tasted whiskey that leaves a vanilla/marshmallow taste in the mouth and I liked at least that part of it, so that’s what I went for. But this is the kind of recipe that you can really play with according to your tastes. Want more of a smoky flavor profile? Buy wood chips that are toasted even darker than the ones I bought (I bought a medium toast because I had no idea what I was doing, and the middle road is always safest). Throw some herbs in there if you like. This recipe can take almost anything.
Once the concoction is made, you’re going to let the ingredients infuse for 10 days, and then begin the “aging” process, which will take another 10 days and will sand down the sharp edges on the Everclear. (Everclear, I’m waiting for my sweet sponsorship money.)
But it’s easy as sin and the results speak for themselves. Even my husband was impressed, and he knows his whisky.
Two (2) 750 ml. bottles of Everclear or any pure, neutral-tasting spirit
4 oz. of oak chips, preferably ones that were previously used as whisky barrels (I bought these because they were also already toasted). Pro tip: Buy the chips that say they have already been purged with nitrogen to sanitize them. You can sanitize them at home, but it’s hard and I am lazy and so are you, probably. Why make life hard for yourself?
1 - 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract (use the best you can buy or make your own. Don’t run away! It’s easy: vanilla beans + Everclear + time = vanilla extract. I’m waiting, Everclear.)
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 cup filtered water
Cheesecloth drawstring bag (I use these)
Half gallon Mason Jar (The price of Mason Jars has gone through the roof lately. You can also use a large, very, very clean jar with a wide mouth and a screw top.
As always, clean/sanitize your jar and any utensils you may use. I know this is alcohol and most probably no bacteria or fungus can live in it, but why tempt fate? The alcohol is bad enough for you.
Place the oak chips in the cheesecloth bag and pull the drawstring tight, but do not knot it unless you want to have to cut your bag open when you remove it. Trust me on this.
In a separate bowl, mix together the vanilla extract and the brown sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Place the bag in the jar and add both bottles of Everclear. Add the vanilla/sugar mixture and close the jar. “Swirl” the jar to combine the ingredients.
Place the jar in a cool place out of direct sunlight for 10 days, swirling occasionally. I also opened the jar a crack every few days to let some of the volatile compounds dissipate. That’s fancy talk for not wanting to be overwhelmed by fumes once the 10 days are up.
Once the whisky has infused for 10 days, open the jar and remove the bag of chips. It’s only fair to tell you that once the oak chips absorb the alcohol and swell up, it’s a bit tough to remove it from the jar. Just keep squeezing the bag to get most of the alcohol out and wiggle the bag until it comes out. The whisky may be a little cloudy, but it will clear in time.
Now for the aging part. You are going to place the jar in the fridge for 12 hours and then let it rest outside the fridge for 12 hours,and you are going to do this for 10 more days. Based on the comments on Andrea's video, the reasoning here is that each 24 hour cycle of cold/warm mimics the changing of the seasons that the barrels are subject to, and that each cycle is somewhat equal to a year of aging. I don't know the exact science behind it, but I do know that it really served to take the edge off the rocket fuel that I had before the "aging."
Once the 10 days of “aging” are up, I highly recommend adding a bit of filtered water to the mix. This is strong stuff, and we are not weenies for diluting it. It also serves to improve the overall flavor. I added one cup of water, but you can add more or less, depending on your taste.
Bottle your Precious up — in clean bottles — and pour yourself a finger of the whisky you just made. Add ice, don’t add ice, I judge you not; but you will enjoy it, and it may fool the whisky connoisseur in your life.
This drink is for sipping, as most whiskys are. Mine was redolent with marshmallow and coconut flavors, which is what sold me on this homemade liquor.
Thank you, Andrea and Mehdi. This stuff is spectacular.
Until next time,
I did this by placing it in the fridge first thing in the morning and then taking it out and putting it on my counter before I went to bed.