Maybe you’ve experimented with using tinctures in your cocktails, or even added a crystal to your punch recipe for a next-level buzz. But there’s a whole other way to add good vibes to your drink. A growing number of distilleries are experimenting with the use of music during the spirit’s aging process. That’s right: If you grew up listening to Bob Dylan, now you can sip on a whiskey that did the same.
“There is no doubt that incorporating music in the aging process changes the taste,” says Roger R. Reifensnyder, owner of Dark Island Spirits in Alexandria Bay, New York. Dark Island Spirits is the first to try what’s called sonic aging and the only distillery paying bands licensing fees for how their music is changing the alcohol. “I can play a classical music track in a barrel of bourbon and a rock anthem in another and you will be able to taste the difference.”
Intrigued? Here, three distillers, including Reifensnyder, explain exactly how sonic aging works—and why you’ll be able to taste the difference.
Keep reading to see why musically aging your alcohol has become the latest way to get good vibes in a glass.
How it works
As Reifensnyder explains it, sonic aging only works for alcohol that’s aged in wooden barrels—spirits like whiskey, bourbon, and brandy as opposed to gin and vodka. “The music creates waves of different [sizes]—depending on the song’s pitch and tempo—which puts [the liquid in the barrel] in more contact with the wood,” he explains. “That contact is what brings out more flavor, adding a more complex taste.” Reifensnyder even created what he calls a “maturation engine,” that he submerges right in the spirit for maximum proximity. “The liquid waves crash into the barrel walls, completely altering the normal aging process,” he explains.
At Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, California, the speakers stay on the outside of the barrel: The barrels are outfitted with specially crafted headphones, made by the distillery’s owners. But tasting room manager Amanda Graziano says the process works in a similar way. “The whole point is to give more interaction with the wood,” she says.
While sonic aging changes the distillation process, the distillers are quick to point up it doesn’t speed things up. Their whiskey, bourbon, brandy, and rum varieties all age for the same amount of time they would otherwise.
What different music tastes like
Spirit Works Distillery first started experimenting with sonic aging almost four years ago. “The owner, Timo Marshall, is British, and when he came here, he fell in love with this bluegrass band called The Devil Makes Three. So for three years and one month, his whiskey barrel listened to nothing but that band for 24/7,” Graziano says.
His wife, Ashby, went a different route, aging her whiskey to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. At the end of the long process, they had a big party with a blind taste-test. “There was a noticeable difference on the nose and palette,” Graziano says. “People liked the Nutcracker whiskey more!” Now, each Spirit Works employee gets his or her own barrel to experiment with and the selections range from rock to hip-hop to electronic dance music.
Copper & Kings distillery in Kentucky posts a Spotify playlist of the music its brandy barrels are listening to every day on its website. “For us, music is one of the cultural cornerstones of the whole company,” founder Joe Heron says. “Even our name is meant to sound like a band.” Like Spirit Works, Copper & Kings uses speakers placed outside of the barrels, and Heron says songs with a lot of bass have the biggest effect because they create the biggest sound waves.
Reifensnyder says it’s almost impossible to know exactly how pitch versus tempo will affect a spirit because it’s so difficult to isolate that one characteristic. He just knows there is a difference.
Reifensnyder says it’s almost impossible to know exactly how pitch versus tempo will affect a spirit because it’s so difficult to isolate that one characteristic. He just knows there is a difference—and at Dark Spirits, rock music beats out reggae and classical when it comes to taste. “Our number one seller is called Hard North and it’s a blend of apple brandy, wheat whiskey, maple syrup, and honey. It’s been in a barrel for three years being musically matured to hard rock,” Reifensnyder says.
And while he says the distillery has perfected sonic aging, they certainly aren’t done experimenting with other ways to enhance the spirits’ taste. Recently, the distillery won an award for their Thousand Vines vodka, aged with grape skins as well as crushed garnet and amethyst crystals. So expect even more good vibes on the way.