The most eye-grabbing Kickstarter projects involve a certain level of fantasy, such as a calorie-burning shirt you can wear to a board meeting. Behold Whiskey Elements, small cured sticks of oak that are designed both to improve the flavor of peon-grade whiskey and clean out the hangover-inducing debris.
The idea of Portland, Oregon entrepreneur Tony Peniche and his team was to update whiskey technology by taking the same American oak used to make barrels, laser-cut it down to something the size of a Lincoln Log, notch the new stick to expose the wood’s capillaries and cure the wood for flavor. Then the stick goes directly into a bottle of cheap whiskey. “The barrel is an inefficient design,” Peniche says. “We need to redesign it to let the liquid filter through the wood more efficiently.” Efficient as in whiskey “aged” for a single day that tastes as if it had been in a barrel for three years.
It isn’t that the process defies space and time. The difference between cheap and expensive whiskey is usually the amount of toxins in the bottle; as a whiskey ages, the toxins are filtered out. When a four-year-old Jim Beam exposed to a Whiskey Element was compared with its 12-year-old big brother, the amount of toxins remaining was almost identical. “People forget age isn’t a flavor,” Peniche says. “It can be measured only in a lab or based on your hangover.”
It’s a simple product surrounded by skepticism, given its defiance of centuries of tradition. But in the coming years, as distilleries struggle to keep up with demand, devices like Whiskey Elements may be a saving grace. Or at least save you from a head-splitting morning after.