You’re in the mood for whiskey, but you’re on a budget. You could take Jeffrey’s advice and respect the bottom shelf; there are certainly some great options for budget boozing. But maybe you’re planning ahead for the weekend and want your bottom shelf booze to taste like it should be sitting a few shelves up. Or perhaps you’re tired of constantly shelling out money for overpriced, overhyped whiskey and just want to keep something on hand that is smooth and has a great profile at a great price. That’s the dilemma Time & Oak sought to remedy with their Signature Whiskey Elements. The idea is to drop one of the Whiskey Elements into a fifth of whiskey (or two into a half-gallon), let it sit at least 24 hours, and voila! You have a custom whiskey that is smoother than what you started with, all without the expensive price tags and scarcity of higher-end bottles. But does it actually work?
I felt the best way to test this out was to do a side-by-side comparison. In one corner we have Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; the 86 proof, black label variety. In the other corner, we have the exact same bourbon, but with a Whiskey Element that has been submerged for a little over 72 hours. Evan Williams Black Label has been my bottom shelf bourbon of choice for quite a while now. I can almost always find it at the $10-12 mark, it has more depth of flavor than most other bourbons at the same price point, and it also mixes well if I’m up for a cocktail. Without the Element, Evan black has the same familiar smells, flavors, and burn; boozy up front with allspice nutmeg in the nose, vanilla and maple syrup in the taste, and a friendly kick to the throat to remind you that while it’s a decent bourbon, it’s still a $10 bourbon. After 72 hours of mingling with the Element, the nose is noticeably muted. The strong boozy scent has been tamed, but so have the spices. That said, the bourbon is much smoother, allowing all of the flavors to come out without any of the burn cutting them off - this is a definite improvement. I shared the two versions of Evan with some friends and the immediate consensus was that it was much easier to drink. The only problem I happened to notice was if you like to nurse your drink over the course of 15 to 20 minutes, the burn slowly crept back in; by the end of my first glass, it was as if I had never used the Whiskey Element. Of course, as soon as I poured another glass, the whiskey was back to being super smooth with zero burn.
Back to my original question: does Time & Oak’s Whiskey Element work? It really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re looking to turn a relatively low-end whiskey into top shelf juice, you should probably just buy something better. But if you want to keep some decent whiskey on hand without breaking the bank, you should give the Whiskey Element a try. Time & Oak recommend a minimum of 24 hours, but the longer you can let it sit in the bottle (shaking once or twice a day) the better. It definitely improved the perceived quality of Evan Williams black label, without imparting any adverse flavors. Of course, this whole experiment begs another question: is the improvement in your whiskey worth the cost of the Whiskey Elements? Time & Oak have several options available, starting at $15 for 2 Elements, and going all the way to $150 for 24 Elements. They also offer subscriptions in 30, 45, and 60 day formats, all with a discount off the regular single purchase price. For me, Time & Oak’s Whiskey Element isn’t something I would use often enough to warrant a subscription, but it is something I will keep on hand for the occasional gifted bottle that needs some improvement.
Disclaimer: Special thanks to Time & Oak for providing Bourbon & Banter with a sample of their Signature Whiskey Elements for review. We appreciate their generosity and for allowing us to share our experience and thoughts with no strings attached.