From the Kansas City Business Journal - James Dornbrook
A new distillery being planned in Independence is led by an engineer and an attorney who created and patented a process called "Endless Aging."
Dennis Evans, an engineer in Lee's Summit, teamed up with Nashville attorney John Whitfield to found Evansfield Distillery. They're putting together the distillery at 13621 E. 42nd Terrace S., which is southwest of Interstate 70 and Noland Road. The plan is open in early 2019 and release rum and whiskey from its tasting room as soon as it opens.
The Evansfield spirits will be unique due to the patented "Endless Aging" process, which involves placing a wooden medallion in each bottle to age the whiskey.
"It's a whole new road to travel for manufacturing whiskey," Whitfield said. "It has been an engineering headache to figure out how to get the medallion into the bottle with the spirit. Dennis is an engineer and created a two-piece bottle, designed for the medallion to sit upright. We put the medallion in, put the bottle together, fill it with spirit and seal the bottle for sale. We're also putting a filter in the neck to catch any particles when you pour it."
A new kind of 'oaking'
Distillers have been using wood chips, dowels and other products and processes to speed up the aging process for about 100 years. It's a technique known as "oaking." However, it's never been offered in a commercial format the way Evansfield is planning, where the wood stays in the bottle to allow the consumer to determine whether the oaking process continues or not.
Adding a charred wooden medallion to the bottle gives the spirit a golden color and has a mellowing effect. The process happens much faster than the traditional method of aging in a charred oak barrel because more of the spirit is in contact with the wood. Whitfield said the process is designed for one week of oaking with a medallion to equal about one year of traditional barrel aging.
Aside from being faster, wood aging in an airtight bottle doesn't lose any spirit to evaporation. Barrels aren't airtight, which results in evaporation, a process commonly known as the Angels Cut. There is a trade-off, though. Bottle aging isn't affected by the changing seasons like barrels are, where the shift between cold and hot weather pushes the spirit into and out of the staves of the barrel slowly, imparting sugars from the wood and allowing the chemical reactions to happen more naturally.
Slow-roasted ... wood?
But Evansfield developed advanced methods to overcome the traditional issues with bottle oaking. For one, it isn't charring the wood — it's roasting it.
"I always wondered why people spend so much time perfecting their recipes only to throw it in a burnt barrel," Evans said. "Think about putting bread in a toaster. The reason you like that toast brown is because the grains convert to sugar and caramelize, giving you nice flavors. If you burn the toast, you probably wouldn't eat it."
Evans started studying the process for roasting coffee beans. He learned that the reason beans are roasted slowly is to crack the structures holding the sugars, allowing them to leach out, then more heat is added to caramelize it.
"So we put our wood in an oven and roast it slowly to open up the fibers and caramelize them slowly," Evans said "Then we soak the wood to open the grains and release the cellulose structures. That's how we get to the structures that hold sugars better. Instead of burning those sugars, we're slowly releasing the sugars and then caramelizing them."
Evansfield plans to let its bottles sit about three weeks before releasing them, and will date the bottles so buyers know how long each has been aging. Evansfield also plans to offer a variety of wood medallions for aging, which will create subtle differences in the flavor.
"What makes it unique is that the medallion gives us flexibility to experiment with different wood types that most whiskey producers aren't able to use," Evans said. "The reason they can't use them is because some of the woods aren't as dense as oak and you end up with a barrel that leaks all the time."
Another unique aspect of bottle aging is that once the bottle is emptied, it can be reused. The medallion will work several more times, so customers can buy unaged whiskey from Evansfield, refill the bottle and start the process all over again.
Evansfield will offer several whiskey varieties: A corn-based mash in the style of Jim Beam or Jack Daniels; a blend of corn and rye; a rye whiskey; a moonshine sold at 140 proof; and a spiced rum that will be aged and seasoned in-house.
Evansfield will start out selling spirits from its tasting room and then work on getting products into bars, restaurants and stores throughout the Kansas City area. The price hasn't been set yet, but it probably will be in the $35-a-bottle range.
"We're confident the reception will be good," Whitfield said.