This Texas Distillery Now Offers the Ultimate Customized Whiskey in Just a Few Clicks
Forget barrel picks: Oak & Eden can fashion a unique flavor profile for your individual bottle of whiskey
“This has always been about finishing,” says Oak & Eden co-founder Brad Neathery. “We’re not in the aging game, we’re not in the distilling game. We know what we’re good at it.”
It’s an honest admission from Oak & Eden, a Texas whiskey brand that’s made its name on transforming sourced aged whiskey with five-inch, infused wood spires (in a trademarked process called “In-Bottle Finishing”). It’s allowed the company to offer an expansive customization program in their flagship store in Bridgeport, which goes far beyond the typical barrel pick offered by most major whiskey brands.
And now they’ve brought this unique experience nationwide and online with the Whiskey Customizer program. Essentially, whiskey fans can now create their own preferred style of rye, bourbon, wheated bourbon or four-grain bourbon. After selecting that initial whiskey base, customers then choose the proof (90 or 114), wood spire (American or French oak) and then the infusion the spire undergoes, be it coffee, honey, grapefruit liqueur, cabernet or rum (among others). Overall, more than 200 combinations are possible, and with this program, O&E become the first national spirit brand to offer single bottle customization on a mass scale.
What’s more amazing is than other brands haven’t copied Oak & Eden’s approach, which isn’t necessarily about speeding up the aging process as it is about imparting more flavor fairly quickly (the company suggests leaving the spire in for about 4-6 weeks to extract the full infusion — and after that, you can keep it in without worrying about getting over-flavored).
“There are a few brands that have come up with copycat products and have done quite well,” says Neathery. “But we actually have four patents on the technology. And we’re very rigorous about what we want to bring to market and doing this well. We don’t want this to become just a novelty.”
It’s an interesting process: O&E sources the whiskey from MGP in Indiana (as do many, many other brands who won’t necessarily admit it). Then they use spires specially crafted from the Barrel Mill cooperage in Minnesota. “They historically have made wine barrels staves,” says Neathery. “These giant staves go into wine barrels and they help to add … they call it aging faster, but all they’re doing is it’s adding more wood surface area so that there can be more flavor infused into the wine barrel so that in two years, you can get what you would normally get maybe in four years. There’s no speed, it’s just more wood.”
Oak & Eden was able to convince Barrel Mill to create tiny wood spires for individual bottles, which gives each whiskey release roughly a 2-to-1 ratio of wood to whisky. This works great even if the wood isn’t infused, but that’s when another flavor magic takes place; if a customer wants (or if the brand is creating a more permanent line) they can “flavor” the spires with liqueurs, honey or any other liquid to add flavor, which takes a few additional weeks before those spires make it to the bottle.
While the current choices on the Whiskey Customizer site are pretty straightforward — rum, liqueurs, coffee, wine, etc. — Neathery mentions a particularly offbeat choice that’s the second-most-popular infusion at their flagship location. And that would be … Balsamic vinegar, which is not on the initial customization list for online customers.
“We haven’t released it online yet, just because it’s a very odd infusion,” Neathery admits. “We wanted to release some more familiar infusions to start. We’ll eventually be going into these wild flavor profiles — we’re testing out prickly pear right now. And we recognize the Paradox of Choice — we don’t want to overwhelm people, but we want to make people feel like it’s ‘theirs.’” To that end, the company will probably be sticking with the base four whiskey selections and two proofs for now but offering more or rotating wood and infusion choices in the months ahead.
At launch to help customers, the company will be offering staff picks, educational materials (e.g. how does American oak impact the final flavor) and suggested flavor combinations. Prices for the customized bottles start at $64 (for 90 proof) and go up to $79 (for 114 proof), and customers can also personalize the label. Unfortunately, eager fans will have to wait: Even if you get your bottle in the next few days, Oak & Eden recommends letting it sit about six weeks so the infusion can truly seep in.
This means my bottle — 114-proof rye with coffee-infused American oak spires — will need to rest until March for a taste test.
Thankfully, Neathery has a great suggestion. “One thing I recommend if you have some experience with whiskey and you’ve got to define a refined palate is to pour it when you get it and just keep it in a little sample container. And then for later, pour it again and see the difference that it four weeks does.”
And if you don’t like your creation? Well, there are 200 or so other combinations you can try next time.
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