To keep pace with demand, some distillers are experimenting with innovative “disruptive aging” techniques, designed to more rapidly impart the flavor notes and nuances that usually require years in a cask for whiskey to develop. Some techniques rely on heat, others on intense pressure, and yet others have turned to an entirely different spectrum: sound.
At Quadrant Bar & Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C., sound-aged spirits are created using barrel components and concentrated sonic waves to mimic years of cask aging. The finished bourbon, rye and whiskey develop “taste characteristics of spirits that spend an extra 10–15 years in a cask,” the mixology team explains in its expansive cocktail menu, “except we did it in the time it takes to watch your favorite television program.”
Disruptive aging may be able to mimic the flavor characteristics of cask aging, but the vintage spirits have a value that transcends taste alone: Today, many enthusiasts see them as investments. The U.K. auction market for rare whiskey has more than quadrupled since 2015, and a bottle of The Macallan 1926 60-Year-Old sold for a record $1.5 million in 2018. Christie’s director of wine, Tim Triptree, who oversaw the sale to a private buyer, said he expects the collector’s market will continue to grow — which means that reserves will become even more rare and valuable.
Rare Japanese single-malt whiskeys have become particularly prized after Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was named the World’s Best Whiskey in 2015. A bottle of 50-year-old Yamazaki whiskey recently sold for about $300,000 at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong.
The Japanese whisky industry is largely credited to Masataka Taketsuru, a chemist who apprenticed in distilleries across Scotland and studied organic chemistry at the University of Glasgow in the early 20th century before returning to Japan in 1918 to join Kotobukiya — now Suntory — and later founding his own Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. Modern Japanese distillers are masters of blending, creating silky, mellow, harmonious whiskeys that can even be consumed with food, thanks to the purity of their soft mineral water.