Barrel aging has been used in distilling for ages. Its usefulness started as a utility convention when liquid needed to be stored and moved without the advances of refrigeration. Due to its widespread adoption over time, barrel aging is now associated most closely with the unique flavors the process infuses into alcoholic beverages. As a pioneer in the e-liquid industry, Five Pawns innovated a specific type of barrel aging process that is ideal for e-liquid.
Coined as the ‘E-Liquid of the Year” for multiple years running, Castle Long Reserve is only released but once a year, and it always sells out. This latest (previously grandfathered) release takes us back to its roots with its vintage labeling and unique flavor profile of toasted coconut, roasted almond, brown sugar, two different vanillas (Madagascar vanilla bean & French vanilla), a hint of Kentucky Bourbon, and aged in American oak barrels.
“The entire process isn’t too dissimilar from winemaking or barrel aging alcohol,” according to Five Pawns. “We know this is due to a lot of the firsthand research we've done by visiting wineries and distilleries around the globe.”
There are four key factors to barrel aging that apply to both alcohol and e-liquid: time, barrel type, air, and temperature.
With alcohol, distilling creates a number of byproducts. Fortunately, the ideal byproducts are stable, while the imperfect ones break down over time. At some point, though, changes to spirits stop and further aging produces no other beneficial effects. That’s why time is a large factor in barrel-aging. There is an optimum time for all products dependent upon the liquid being aged.
“Castle Long Reserve is aged for three weeks. We’ve done a tremendous amount of testing with aging times and have found that this is the optimal amount of time for Castle Long to really pick up the oak, mellow, and become Reserve."
It is important to note the main components of most e-liquid to better understand how the barrel-aging process affects it. Propylene glycol is the carrying agent for flavor. Even though barrels are sealed and stored properly, degradation of vegetable glycerin can occur when stored over improper amounts of time in the barrel. “It’s best when we get it out of the barrel and into inert glass inside of 30 days.”
The Five Pawns team uses only the finest oak barrels from Radoux, the same barrel company used by only the finest wineries and whiskey distillers. The oak barrels they use are maintained by a master cooper who flies down from Northern California and they were just used for the third time (third fill).
Spirits are aged in two types of wood: French or American oak. French barrels are lower in tannins due to the production procedure which includes the harvesting of the wood, production of the barrels, and the climate where they are made. American oak, on the other hand, is naturally lower in tannins, and, due to the harsher production process, American oak releases more flavoring compounds.
“We use American oak because it's stronger in flavor, and we appreciate the cream, vanilla, and coconut notes that come from American oak,” he said. “The flavor subtleties match perfectly with Castle Long.”
While charring the oak creates a variety of flavors and aromas for spirits, Five Pawns has found that the process created too many unknowns for e-liquid. Therefore, Five Pawns only use non-charred American Oak barrels for their aging process.
“Although we have experimented with charred barrel aging, the mere carcinogenic nature of flame meeting wood to provide the char is not something we want to introduce into our e-liquid. With Castle Long Reserve we’re really just looking for the ‘oakiness’ and not necessarily the smokiness.”
With e-liquid aging, Five Pawns has ensured that every barrel is properly tightened and tuned before filling, and it’s not just to protect the liquid from the elements.
Once filled, Castle Long Reserve is stored in a dark and cool place, and when the liquid is ready for extraction, it’s then tested.
The liquid is extracted using what he calls “the wand of goodness,” something similar to a long pipette. Once extracted, it’s dripped directly onto a fresh coil for tasting. After three weeks, the barrels full of properly aged Castle Long Reserve are brought back to Five Pawn’s production facility, where they are double filtered and bottled.
This entire process is somewhat simple, yet laborious. This is a large part of why Castle Long Reserve is more expensive than our standard offering. This one continues to be special, and we are excited to once again share it with the world.”