The History of Spirits

The Aging of Whiskey and Spirits

The barrel aging of whiskeys and other spirits was created by necessity and a little luck. All whiskeys that come out of stills are clear. The “whiskey color” is due to the charred barrels in which they are stored. Wooden barrels were the only means of transportation in ancient times. Fortunately for whiskey drinkers, this technique produced such unique flavors and characteristics that they are still used today.

Clay pots and ceramics were too expensive and fragile. The metal vessels of the time were poisonous or left the spirits unpalatable. For these reasons, wood barrels were the best alternative. Clear spirits were poured into the wooden barrels and after months of storage, the originally clear spirits took on a light brown, light
red or amber hue. The tale goes Like this:

At some point, someone chose to char the inside of the barrels as a method for cleaning them. Subsequently, clear spirits were accidently added to the charred barrrels and then stored. Much to the distiller’s surprise, the whiskey from those charred barrels had a rich, smoky flavor derived from the charcoal lining. The result was a unique and very pleasing taste and color. The aging of whiskey and s pirits in charred barrels had begun.

Most commercial distilleries of that time shipped their products in wooden barrels, so most whiskeys were darker in color. The small distiller that worked at his home using the small batch stills didn’t need to barrel his whiskey. This resulting whiskey was clear, all-nalural and uncul. He used natural spring water not only make his spirits, but also to cut the spirits down to the desired proof for drinkability.

At MurLarkey, our aim is to honor that. small batch distiller. We strive to re-create authentic, all-natural, un-aged spirits just like our grandfathers made. Of course, we’ve also added some new twists on the old recipes, such as our delicious infused whiskeys.

The Miracle of Distillation

Alcoholic beverages date back to the very early part of man’s history. Throughout its history, alcohol has been used socially for many diverse purposes, such as calming feuds, giving courage in battle, sealing pacts, celebrating festivals, and seducing lovers. 1600 BC Egyptian texts contain 100 medical prescriptions calling for the use of alcohol. The Celts. Ancient Greeks, the Norse, Egyptians. and Babylonians all have records of production and consumption of alcoholic drinks. Alcohol was included in the Egyptian burial provisions for the journey to the afterlife. And if you’ve ever been to an Irish wake, then you know it’s still customary to slip a flask into the casket of the departed.

The first distilled spirit was made in China approximately 800 BC. What they called it, I don’t know. However, about 100 years later distilled spirits started popping up throughout Europe – the Irish called it Potcheen or Ushkbache — “the water of life”. The English translation is Whiskey probably because Ushkbache sounded like Chinese to the English. The Scandinavians had aquavit, also translated — “the water of life”. Virtually each and every culture across the European continent started sharing and distilling spirits. Each culture had its own unique flavors and characteristics and took pride in them. One could say that this cultural exchange of information, connections and links between people are akin to today’s Internet technology and social media. Spirits were used by the Romans and Druids of ancient time and through the Middle Ages and continued all the way up until modern times to treat a cornucopia of physical and mental illness.

Every known civilization in our various histories has its own ritual surrounding distilled spirits. Some are very well-known, such as St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Brazil. Although some may not be as well-known, they nonetheless, hold the same importance to those celebrants living in remote jungles, desert lands and arctic regions throughout the World. Distilled Spirits bring people together as much today, as they always have in the past. Celebrations may be more special, stories more interesting, and they can occasionally ease our burdens in times of sorrow or grievance. The drinking of spirits always has been and will continue to be a social catalyst and the “Elixir of Life”.