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New Technology Means Making Bourbon Doesn't Have to Take Years

But will speedier spirits hurt the whiskey industry?

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Bourbon is currently enjoying an incredible surge in popularity as millennials eschew boring old vodka for something with a little more character. And as the taste for whiskey grows, demand is outpacing supply — largely because it takes a considerable amount of time to make, with most bourbons aging in wooden barrels for years before they're bottled and sold.

But where there's a problem, there's inevitably a starry-eyed young startup figuring out how to monetize a solution. As CNET reports, a number of small new distilleries are "turning to new technologies and processes they hope will deliver the taste and finish people expect from quality bourbon, without the expense" — or the time investment.

A three-year-old company called Cleveland Whiskey is using pressurization (and some other top-secret, proprietary techniques) to make bourbon in less than a week: The newly made booze is placed into jars along with oxygen and wood, and the pressurized environment "forces the spirit to continually move in and out of the wood."

Meanwhile, another startup called Terressentia has its own "rapid-aging process" that can eliminate harsh flavors in spirits, mimicking the 'mellowing out' process that usually takes years.

Of course, these suggestions that the bourbon-making process can be sped up have been met with plenty of opposition, with traditionalists worrying that such methods will lead to inferior products and, as a result, hurt the spirit's storied reputation.

Spirits writer and reviewer (and frequent Eater contributor) Jake Emen doesn't foresee the whiskey industry at large letting this new technology affect their bottom line, however: "Even if truly revolutionary rapid-aging systems reach the market, and become widespread, don't expect 'traditional' whiskey to go anywhere," he says.

"First, factor in the huge level of preexisting brand recognition and brand loyalty which exists. But perhaps even more importantly, consider the big brands have millions upon millions of barrels already aging, in warehouses they invested in building — in other words, massive amounts of assets to protect. That could come in the form of marketing oomph, sure, but it could also absolutely come from legal action. One likely scenario would be pushing for legislation which would require different labeling statements, so that a technologically-aged whiskey couldn't use the term 'whiskey' on the label, for instance."

Much like barrel-aging a fine whiskey, only time will tell how this one pans out.