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US start-up makes aged spirits in ‘days not years’

A Silicon Valley-backed start-up says its technology can replicate the flavour of barrel-aged spirits within a matter of days.

US-based Bespoken Spirits said its new ‘sustainable maturation process’ could save the spirits industry $20bn by replacing the ‘wasteful’ barrel-ageing process; a reference to the ‘angels’ share’ lost via evaporation during maturation.

It said the patent-pending technology can enhance a spirit’s aroma, colour and taste, ‘enabling almost limitless recipes within days, not years’.

The US start-up recently announced $2.6m in seed funding from several investors, including TJ Rodgers, owner of Clos de la Tech winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains and member of the Silicon Valley Engineering Council Hall of Fame.

Martin Janousek, Bespoken Spirits cofounder and material scientist, said the firm’s process uses ‘the same all-natural elements of wood, toast, and char’, and helps ‘distillers, rectifiers, breweries, and retailers design and produce premium quality products quickly’.

As well as producing its own spirits, Janousek said, ‘We typically work with customers who want to mature a young spirit quickly to generate revenues faster, or who are unhappy with an already matured spirit.’

Many spirits lovers would argue that the complexity and diversity of flavour delivered by barrel ageing over many years is hard to fully replace, however.

Aged and rare whiskies, in particular, are highly prized and have also been increasingly sought-after by collectors in recent years. A single bottle of 60-year-old Macallan single malt Scotch fetched a world record £1.5m ($1.9m) at a Sotheby’s auction in London in October 2019.

When it comes to labelling, ageing requirements for some spirits are enshrined in law in several countries.

In EU member states, whisky must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks. This mirrors the ageing requirement for Scotch whisky, although the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) also specifies oak casks.

There are also ageing requirements for American whiskies, although rules vary by type. A ‘straight Bourbon whiskey’ must be aged for at least two years in charred, new oak casks, according to the US Alcohol Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB).

‘There will always be a segment of the market that will only drink barrel-aged spirits,’ Bespoken Spirits co-founder Stu Aaron told Decanter. ‘However, this is a shrinking segment.’

He said the firm’s customers prefer spirits to beer and wine but don’t have a favourite brand. They are tech-savvy and are interested in value, variety and sustainability, he said.

When working with third-party clients, he said, ‘Often the customer will come with a specific aroma, colour or taste in mind. Other times, the customer doesn’t know exactly what they’re looking for. In either scenario, we create 12-18 samples to test.’

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