With the surge in whiskey production in recent years it’s no wonder that there is a huge amount of used whiskey barrels finding new uses in everything from aging beer to being chopped into chunks of wood for backyard smokers. One of the many recent uses that has captured my attention is aging maple syrup in used whiskey casks. I am naturally drawn to the idea since it involves two of my favorite things; whiskey, and breakfast. But I wonder if there really is something to be gained in the flavor of a syrup by storing it in an old whiskey barrel.
A few weeks ago I was graciously gifted a bottle WhistlePig Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. Eager to taste it, I griddled a full-on American breakfast complete with a stack of pancakes. I poured on a cascade of the rye barrel aged syrup and could smell the sweet maple aroma as it wafted up from the hot buttered stack. I nosed the syrup covered plate, (I laugh at the thought of that). I could smell the different nuances of the maple and pancake and butter, but I could not really smell the whiskey effects from the barrel. I was worried that the barrel aging might just be a gimmick.
I took a dripping fork-full of a bite and again was met with the grandeur of this classic breakfast. And then, I began to discern something familiar, whiskey! It was there without a doubt. What failed to over power the maple-sugar on the nose, came though on the palate and continued to present on the finish. I was happy. I was convinced that the whiskey notes were indeed transferred from barrel to syrup, but now I wondered if different types of whiskey barrels could impart discernibly different nuances into a maple syrup.
Yesterday, I again was gifted with another bottle of whiskey barrel aged maple syrup. This bottle was from given to me by Scott Sanders, one of the owner / operators of Tobacco Barn Distillery in Southern Maryland. Scott and his crew make some great whiskies and rums including a bourbon. It’s worth noting that Tobacco Barn Distillery is in the same part of Maryland where Basil Hayden lived before he moved to Kentucky to continue distilling. Anyone who knows me knows I favor a glass of rye whiskey over a bourbon, but I was really excited to taste this bourbon barrel aged syrup to see if there would be a notable difference in the whiskey influence compared to the WhistlePig rye barrel aged syrup.
So a side by side tasting was in order and this morning I heated the waffle iron. Just as before, I really couldn’t smell the whiskey in the syrup but could most certainly taste the flavor of the whiskey barrel aging. And I could taste that it did taste different. The bourbon barrel aged maple syrup definitely had that telltale bourbon caramel-oak-vanilla undertone folded in with the luscious maple goodness. And the rye whiskey barrel aged syrup had the rye whiskey spicy notes of cinnamon and clove accenting the sweetness of the maple tree sap. Both are fantastic and I enjoyed going back and forth between the two on consecutive waffles, (yes, I eat consecutive waffles).
After breakfast I took a few more comparison samples in the whiskey study, just to make it official. These are both very nice maple syrups first and foremost. The whiskey undertones are definitely there for the enthusiast looking to taste it, but it’s not over the top. And to someone just wanting some delicious syrup on their pancakes they wouldn’t know it to be anything other than that.
I could definitely taste the whiskey nuances and, what’s more, could tell the difference between the types of barrels used for each. To the point that I am confident that in a blind side-by-side tasting, I could name a rye barrel aged from a bourbon barrel aged syrup. I love the wonderful flavors an oak barrel imbues on a whiskey-spirit and I’m now glad to have another product to enjoy that same process. And now my hobby of whiskey has not only upped the ante on the bottles of whiskey that I purchase but is now causing me to become a syrup snob!