Believe it or not: Georgia distillery ages bourbon on cross-country road trip

Ripley’s Believe It or Not featured the distillery in an online newsletter in August. The father and son pair traveled over 5,000 miles with barrels of liquor.

This story was originally published by the Ledger-Enquirer.

Britt Moon, owner of Swamp Fox Distilling Company in Buena Vista, Georgia, is spellbound by the science of spirit aging.

His latest experiment — taking a pair of bourbon barrels overland on a cross-country road trip — could be the first of its kind in the United States.

Moon and his son Nathan took the more than 5,000-mile journey last summer. They strapped the barrels inside an SUV, exposing the bourbon to the elevation, pressure and temperature changes of 15 states.

The result: a sweeter and stronger spirit that Swamp Fox will sell in extremely small batches.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not featured the Moons in an online newsletter last month and soon, you’ll be able to taste their results, Moon told the Ledger-Enquirer.

“I’m always experimenting with how to get these spirits to mature quicker,” he said. “I’d like to say it was some big master plan. But honestly, it was a passing thought that stuck.”

The trip

The experiment wasn’t planned, but the circumstances were perfect.

Nathan graduated from the University of Georgia a few months before, and he wanted to take a cross-country trip out west with Moon before he started his job. Every three to four months, Swamp Fox rotates its barrels. Instead of rotating a few, Moon decided to bring them along.

Credit: Britt Moon

Credit: Britt Moon

Movement, humidity, temperature swings, changes in elevation and the barrel itself all play a factor in the bourbon’s final state — its color and taste.

Early distillers in Kentucky relied on waterways to ship the booze. The barrels were loaded on flatboats, and the bourbon got a portion of its flavors from rocking on the Ohio River. Artisanal brand Jefferson’s Bourbon uses the same principle to age some of its small batches at sea, NPR reported in 2014.

But to age the bourbon over land, Moon said he had to clear it with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and get the necessary permits.

A batch of Swamp Fox’s 3-year-old bourbon was blended, and three 30-gallon American white oak barrels were filled with the stuff. Two would go on the trip, and the third would remain at the distillery.

The journey lasted two and a half weeks, starting and ending at the Buena Vista facility. Of the more than 5,000 miles traveled, about 400 were off-road trails in portions of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Utah. The pair got as far west as Arizona.

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On the way back, they drove through Louisiana because they wanted to bring the barrels over Whiskey Bay and down Bourbon Street, Moon said.

During the journey, the barrels were exposed to temperatures as low as 35 degrees and as high as 112. The bourbon traveled below and above sea level, getting as low as six feet beneath to as high as two miles above.

“I removed the back seats of my Land Cruiser and secured (the barrels) upright behind the front seats,” he said. “I also covered them so no one would see what I was hauling. …There was a lot of moving, and a lot of rocking around.”

What is the bourbon like?

Moon compared the two road trip barrels against the one they left behind as a control. The liquor went in clear, and there was a noticeable difference.

The bourbon that traveled was stronger as more water evaporated from the barrel. The liquor had tasting notes of caramel and vanilla with hints of oak smoke, Moon said.

“The two travel barrels, as we call them, were noticeably darker in color — completely different flavor profiles. They had taken on a good bit more of the barrel and some sweetness from the barrel,” he said.

Credit: Britt Moon

Credit: Britt Moon

Moon estimates that the trip added a year to the spirit’s maturity. It will be four years old by the time it is bottled and sold. This batch of Swamp Fox’s Compass Rose Bourbon will be called the Rimrocker Edition after a stretch of trail the pair traveled on.

Georgia’s climate, Moon said, is perfect for aging bourbon. This Rimrocker batch compares to an eight or nine-year bourbon aged in Kentucky. Despite its connection to the Bluegrass State, bourbon can be produced anywhere in the country.

“Whereas Kentucky might get a dozen or so cycles, we literally get hundreds of cycles,” he said. “It’s nothing in the spring, winter or fall for us to have 30-degree temperature swings. All of this contributes to the aging process.”

Of the 350 bottles, the first two will go to Moon and Nathan. Roughly 50 will go to the distillery’s tasting room for customers to purchase. The remaining supply will go to distributors in various states.

The 89-proof bourbon comes in an etched wood presentation box with Rimrocker Trail licensed glassware.

The entire package sells for just under $450. It’s a stellar spirit, Moon said.

“As near as anyone can tell, no one’s ever done this before,” he said. “Nobody has taken their barrel of bourbon mud ridin’ before.”


Credit: Ledger-Enquirer

Credit: Ledger-Enquirer

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