At the Copper and Kings distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, founder Joe Heron is embracing the art of sonic aging, in which liquor is distilled using sonic vibrations. The recently discovered process reduces the unwanted byproducts of fermentation known as congeners via sonic vibration rather than the traditional process of aging the product in barrels, producing the same result in mere hours that would typically take years.
Yet Heron isn’t simply pumping sound waves into his liquor. That would be too sterile and impersonal. Heron sees his work as an art, and as such the spirits distilled at Copper and Kings require a playlist, using just the right musical pieces to create each of their offerings.
“Making good booze is like making great music,” Heron recently told Forbes. “It needs tempo and pace, it needs swing, and it needs the pure joy of a perfectly in-sync rhythm section.”
The music changes regularly and has become a part of the daily process at the distillery, which publishes the playlist every day on their website.
An earlier Forbes article discusses the process of sonic aging. When fermented liquid is distilled, congeners such as methanol, amyl alcohols, propanol, and other free radicals form in addition to the desired ethanol. Traditionally, neutral spirits are redistilled while brown spirits are barreled and aged. Over time, the barrel expands and contracts during the warm and cool seasons, releasing the congeners slowly.
The sonic aging process uses sonic vibration, heat, and oxygen to complete chemical reactions and filter out congeners within hours. The process has the additional benefit of converting certain acids into glycerine, which creates the smooth feel of a quality whiskey. Finally, the sonic aging process can cut production costs up to 20% by taking less time to get the product to market which eliminates storage and evaporation, and reduces barrel taxes.
“The most important sound wave is the heavy, forceful bass line which powers into the spirit of the barrel– which moves towards the barrel walls– hits the walls, then slides upwards until inertia calls the alcohol molecule to fall, creating a distillate wave inside the barrel,” Heron said. “The alcohol molecule is relatively light, lighter than water, which is the fundamental root of all distillation.”
The sonic aging process is particularly useful for brandy, which requires less temperature variation than whiskey. With less temperature variation, the liquid itself does not expand, contract, or move as much during the traditional aging process. The use of sonic aging allows the liquid to circulate more due to the vibrations.
By embracing the art and the science of distilling liquor with sound, Copper and Kings is creating a unique product and a powerful marketing strategy to promote their brand.