Whiskey is in my blood. Not literally—well maybe a little right now—but since my dad's side of the family is from Scotland and I grew up in Tennessee, I like to take the spirit seriously. So when I heard of a gadget that would make cheap whiskey taste top shelf, I was pretty excited. Until I tried it.
Time and Oak is a Portland-based startup with a fanciful idea. Their one and only product is a stick. Not just any stick but a laser-etched hunk of charred wood with maximal surface area that, when added to any whiskey, is supposed to enhance its flavour. More specifically, it's designed to filter out hangover-causing methoxy-phenyl-oxime and acetaldehyde while making the whiskey age years in mere hours. In Time and Oak's own words, these little gadgets will "give you top shelf taste in 24 hours." They're called Whiskey Elements, and you can find them on Kickstarter.
I know what you're thinking: That sounds like bullshit. But it's an alluring idea, albeit one that's not entirely original. And it makes a small but not insignificant amount of sense. If ageing whiskey in a charred wood barrel makes whiskey taste better, soaking a piece of charred wood in whiskey should also have a positive effect. Sure, a lot of the variables are different, but there's at least a chance. I had to know so I asked Time and Oak to send me a couple of these magic sticks. They arrived in the mail earlier this week, and we got to work.
A little over 24 hours ago, I dropped Whiskey Elements in two bottles of whiskey: one very cheap bottle of Jim Beam and one less cheap bottle of Jack Daniels. I agitated the bottles from time to time—as instructed—and as soon as 24 hours had passed, I conducted a highly scientific, blind taste test with my coworkers. Each person tasted four whiskeys: one Jim Beam without the stick, one Jim with the stick, one Jack Daniels without the stick, and one Jack with the stick. None of the participants had any clue what kind of whiskey they were drinking. They just had to rank them.
Unfortunately, throwing a burnt stick in a bottle of swill doesn't really work at all. The results of our blind taste test actually showed that people preferred the cheap whiskey without the Whiskey Elements inside. I was pleased to see that regular old Jack Daniels was the clear favourite. Regular old Jim Beam was a close second. Most people actually liked the Whiskey Elements-enhanced spirits the least. One test subject said the stick-laden Jack Daniels tasted like "oil, petroleum." Another said that the Jim Beam with Whiskey Elements "barely tastes like whiskey."
It's not all bad. A Jalopnik editor who shall remain unnamed actually liked the Jack-and-stick best. He enjoyed a woody quality that the plain Jack Daniels lacked. Then again, he liked the Jim-and-stick least, commenting only that it "tasted watered-down."
None of us here are whiskey experts but chances are neither are you. And the results aren't promising. There's no doubt that the Whiskey Elements affected the flavour of the spirit, but did a little twig turn a bottle of well whiskey into fine flask of Oban or rich bottle of Macallan? Of course not. It's nice to entertain the fantasy that a cheap little widget can turn a £24 bottle of booze into a £240 bottle of booze in 24 hours, but it is a fantasy. There's a very small chance we got bad sticks or did it wrong, but proooobably not.
Meanwhile Time and Oak's project has gone exceedingly well. The company has absolutely crushed its Kickstarter goal of $18,000 (£11,176)—they've just crested over the $125,000 (£78,000) mark as of this writing—and they still have almost two weeks left in the campaign. It's just a shame that, as far as we can tell, the product they're selling isn't worth its weight in whiskey. Maybe they can use that money to come up with something that actually works.
All images via Time and Oak