8 Wired founder Soren Eriksen’s first foray into whisky expresses the “nerd” side of his personality.
8 Wired’s cask strength, single malt whisky has spent six years in barrels, including barrels that previously housed his cult high-alcohol imperial stout, Bumaye.
Eriksen says making whisky was a chance to do a commercial version of something he’d always dabbled in.
“The nerd in me wanted to do it,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve been home distilling for as long as I’ve been home brewing.”
He says it’s a project that he’d wanted to do for a while and is glad he started it before the pandemic changed our lives. “Luckily, we started this back in the day when we weren’t so concerned about cash flow and crazy ideas got done.”
The notable difference to most whisky is that this is made from a porter beer base rather than a pale wash.
“The idea was always to make something based on beer. Instead of pale wash, we made a porter using pale malt and chocolate malt and a lot of those chocolate flavours have come through.
“The other thing was instead of fermenting with distiller’s yeast we used Saison yeast, to get those esters. It won’t taste like a Saison, but the esters and phenols make it more complex. The one thing we didn’t do was hopping, as I was never too impressed with the trials I did at home using a hopped beer as the hops got oxidised during the distilling process.”
The dark colour of the porter is left behind during distilling with all the colour in the finished whisky coming from the barrels.
Eriksen said three sets of barrels were used “to try to get as much flavour into it as we could”.
It started out in old Bumaye barrels for a year before moving into heavily charred American oak barrels. The beer was then moved to ex-bourbon barrels that had previously been home to another imperial stout, Gorky Park.
“The idea was to layer the flavours you get from the barrels.”
Admittedly the whisky is not cheap: $199 on pre-order. But as Eriksen explains it’s a “proper 750ml” bottle and it is cask strength (ie not watered down) — so it is 56 per cent ABV in contrast to normal whisky in the 40 per cent range.
He got 700 bottles from the original 700 litres that went into the first barrels, and he estimates he lost about a third of the whisky to evaporation, or about 5 per cent a year.
The whisky is six years old and that time frame is based on tasting it all the way through the process and only bottling it when he felt it was totally ready.
“We’ve been tasting all the way through and thought now it’s time.”
Another batch is going through the same process and despite being made in much the same way it’s tasting quite different. “We will leave that for at least another year and perhaps two years to see how it goes.
“That’s currently sitting in American oak and hasn’t had the third stout barrel. I’m toying with the thought of leaving it where it is and not trying to make it taste the same as the first one.
Eriksen says the base spirit for the second batch “is a bit funkier” compared with the “smooth, mellow” first release.
The whisky is available for pre-order now and will officially be launched on November 21 at Bar Martin in Mt Albert, Auckland.