Can 'sticks' make cheap whisky taste pricey?

Sarah Coles
Three shots of fine whiskey.
Three shots of fine whiskey.

An American company claims to have developed a stick that can make a cheap whisky taste like an aged malt. And while whisky affocianados may scoff, it seems that thousands of people like the idea so much that they are willing to put their money where their mouth is. The group set up a kickstarter page in order to raise money to get the sticks into production, and by the deadline they had raised ten times their target.

Whiskey Elements claims the sticks can make the whisky taste better in just 24 hours. Its fundraising blurb says: "After a year of development, 6 patents filed, hundreds of samples tested, 3 ovens destroyed and a couple nights we don't really remember, you can now get 3 years of aging 'effects' (time travel not included) in just 24 hours."

They identified the difference in taste between cheaper and more expensive whisky as 'time and oak', as the liquid takes on the flavour and character of the oak barrel over the years it is aged.

They determined that barrels take a long time to achieve this because of the way they are cut, so by cutting their sticks in the opposite direction, and adding notches, they can speed up the process. They can also customise the sticks by curing them in different ways, so that they can add the specific flavours people like in their drinks - whether that's peaty or vanilla.

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Rewards for backers ranged from a thank you card for anyone pledging $5, to a pair of sticks for anyone pledging $12, and a weekend stay at the Edgefield McMenamins in Portland Oregon, where backers can "hang with the team for a weekend of private whiskey tastings, dinner, a tour of the facilities, and a spot in the next commercial video." To get this package backers had to pledge $1,500 - and two people did just that.
Is this a great idea?

Not everyone is a huge fan. Gizmodo did a blind test of four whiskeys: one Jim Beam, One Jim Beam with a stick, one Jack Daniels, and one Jack Daniels with a stick. The straight Jack Daniels emerged as the favourite, with the plain Jim Beam second. The reviewer concluded that it was always fairly unlikely that a stick could turn a cheap bottle into the equivalent of an expensive one.

For those who want taste without expense, there are two bargain brands on the market that have won awards without the need for gadgets. This year the Lidl own-brand £11.99 Queen Margot 8 Year Blended Whisky won a Gold Outstanding award at the International Wine & Spirit Competition. A year earlier the Aldi £13 Highland Black 8 Year Old Scotch Whisky took gold too.

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