Over the weekend, Quadrant Bar and Lounge at The Ritz Carlton West End launched a new line of “sound-aged” spirits. If you are wondering what that means, you are not alone! The sound aging method claims to mimic time and age any liquor by many years in a few days or even just hours. How? What? Why? Yes, we had the same puzzled look. To get all our questions answered, we sat down with lead bartender (and mad scientist?) Chris Mendenhall to get his explanation.
What IS sound aging?
The process of applying ultrasound waves to liquor in order to mimic the effects of time and give it characteristics similar to what would be a result of barrel aging. When sonic waves are applied, the molecules in the liquid get agitated and speed up the chemical reactions that would otherwise take place naturally over time. A lot of time, that is. At Quadrant, Mendenhall uses specially-made homogenizer that applies vibrations of sound energy to create barrel-aged flavor similar to that of five to 10-year-old spirits in “the time it takes you to watch a TV show”.
Where does the flavor come from?
Mr. Mendenhall uses variations of American whiskeys and bourbons with various styles of wood chips to mimic the flavor profiles created from traditional spirits that are aged in casks.
Why would you want to sound age anything?
The longest step in the alcohol process is the maturation time when the alcohol is sitting in the barrels or casks. If producers are able to shorten this time without losing out on flavor, then it’s a huge win that could save tons of money. At Quadrant, tastings of their aged whiskeys which would be considered in the high teens age run from $18-$20, whereas the equivalent traditional aged whiskeys could run as high as $200 a shot.
So, did it work?
After a year of experimentation, the team launched their initial line up of 4 different sound aged whiskeys on June 1. So yes, it worked. One thing to note is that some studies have found that the results from sound aging could start to fade after a year, so Quadrant makes its aged whiskeys in small batches, labeled with their “birth date”.
How do I get in on this?
Quadrant is the only DC bar doing this right now, so make your way over there. Quadrant’s tastings are offered in two-ounce pairs of four bourbons and whiskeys: one tasting of the original spirit, called the “base,” and the “aged” variation, called the “change,” so you can smell, see, and taste the differences and form your opinions. I highly recommend this, because Mendenhall walks you through the process and background on both the base and manipulated variations to showcase how time, and technology, can transform whiskey. It’s fun, informative, and hey, there’s booze involved.
Go try it for yourself! Quadrant Bar is located at 1150 22nd St NW in The Ritz Carlton.