Time & Oak’s Whiskey Elements, cured wood sticks used to flash barrel-age whiskey within 24 hours, was funded via a Kickstarter campaign this past fall. And since the product’s launch, most reviews have been positive. Curious, Eater decided to enlist a whiskey expert — Los Angeles restaurateur and whiskey collector Jared Meisler — to assesses the sticks' boozy output. But, instead of testing them out on just bottom-shelf whiskey, as was the selling point, Meisler also sampled their effect on unaged whiskey and a cocktail.
Whiskey Elements’ creators —Tony Peniche, David Jackson, and Josh Ringle — suggest using the sticks to upgrade bottom-shelf booze or to improve a favorite bottle by letting the flavor from the sticks infuse for at least 24 hours. "Our product can make a bad cheap whiskey much better, but our real intention is to elevate the wonderful characteristics already inherent in a given whiskey," explained Ringle. He prefers adding the sticks to Crown Royal or Bulleit Bourbon, while his customers have used it to improve Jack Daniel's and Jameson Irish whiskey.
Though Whiskey Elements come in three cures (smoke, wine, signature), we tested the original (signature) cure, which is supposed to impart hints "of maple and vanilla to the whiskey, while making it much smoother," said Ringle. He went on to explain that the sticks aren’t flavored, but rather use the natural sugars in the wood to elevate the whiskey's character, and enhance it with subtle hints of maple and vanilla.
For our test, we used the whiskey elements to "age" Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine unaged whiskey, Evan Williams bourbon, and a Negroni. Meisler, a collector and connoisseur of vintage whiskey (he is currently selling his stash of rarities, which he spent five years collecting, at his Hollywood bar and restaurant, The Pikey), lent his palate for a blind taste test.
Ole Smokey Tennessee Moonshine
Unaged: "It’s a little softer and smoother. It tastes better."
Aged: "It was not as smooth. It’s a little more sharper, bite-y."
Conclusion: "I thought the first one was, if it was as advertised, yeah great! It’s gonna be softer, it’s gonna be rounder and smoother. It wasn’t."
Unaged: "Smells like it’s brown and sweet and a little sharp. This is like Jack. It’s sweet, it’s soft and round. And it’s cheap so it’s a little bit bite-y but even good stuff is a little bite-y."
Aged: "I’ll tell you what, that was the stick, right? It’s just gross. Not good. My first word that I thought of was ‘weird.’ Weird in a bad way."
Conclusion: "[Aged one] has a minerality that’s not appealing. It just doesn’t work. And it sort of flattens it out a little bit. And the mineral quality is almost like chemical. It sharpened it up. It defeated the purpose."
Since barrel-aged cocktails are popular, we decided to try aging one of the most popular aged cocktails: a Negroni. Now, with Whiskey Elements, one stick is used per 750ml bottle of spirit, but Time & Oak said the stick could be broken up once to age half that amount. Therefore to make things more manageable, we made 375ml of Negroni. However, when we tested the cocktail with Meisler, we aged it for 12 hours and then 24. After 12 hours the difference was unrecognizable. But, after the full 24 hours, we found it to be sharper. It did not have the same characteristic mellowing effect as an actual barrel would.
Overall, Whiskey Elements is a novel idea. If there really was a way to upgrade a bottom-shelf bottle in a mere 24-hour period, that would be great. But we found the stick to add a distinct, unappealing flavor, and it didn't have the same mellowing effect as actual time and an oak barrel. Whiskey drinkers will be better off buying W.L. Weller for $22 than paying about $16 for Evan Williams with a stick.