A single delicious sip from a barrel-aged whiskey contains years of work from distillers. But with a small number of bottles to sell, small distilleries have a hard time generating revenue quickly, as aging can take 10, even 30 years in some cases.
“We had this idea to accelerate the aging process of liquor from several years to several days,” says Guido.
“Over time, we started to realize this aging process was a hindrance to a lot of distilleries. It’s a huge bottleneck.”
Most of the time, distilleries go from raw grain to fermentation and distilling in just a couple of weeks. But after that, the liquid goes into a barrel for years.
This means 95 percent of production time is spent in one phase — sitting in a barrel.
“You have to think about how that impacts the distilleries economically, especially R&D. How can you prototype anything when each iteration can take you 18 months to a couple of years? Most of these young craft distilleries can only launch one product every couple of years or they have to stick to un-aged liquor,” says Fearnside.
Fearnside and Guido co-founded Aeva Labs to speed up that process immensely.
Aeva Labs’ barrel looks like a fridge at first glance. It allows distillers to set a recipe on the barrel’s touchscreen, fill it with their chosen liquor and wood, and fully age the liquor in five to seven days.
The process is done without additives, preserving the spirits’ flavors, and is liquor agnostic.
To gather feedback, the Aeva Labs’ team has performed several blind tests to compare their product to liquor that has been barreled traditionally. They’re currently comparing to products within the three to five year range, says Guido.
He explains that several competitors are using pressure-based or ultrasound technology as a one-size-fits-all approach to hasten aging, but they stand out by combining multiple processes to provide distilleries a fully customizable solution.
“We’re offering over four million flavor combinations by doing this,” says Fearnside.
Aeva Labs charges a monthly fee, which includes the barrel device. The distillery has the option to add more machines and further increase their capacity.
The startup has launched with their first distillery in North Carolina and are onbaording more over the next few months.
That first customer, the over-200-year-old Old Nick Williams Distillery, produces bourbon and whiskey using traditional methods passed down through generations. They are using Aeva Labs’ technology to introduce rum and a cinnamon whiskey into their offerings.
Guido and Fearnside say that they’re not trying to compete with the traditional way of aging liquor, which they believe is a true craft. Instead, they see themselves as a complement to allow these small distilleries to try new things and generate profit faster.
“At the end of the day, consumers are really interested in new and unique things. We want to help push the boundaries of the craft,” says Guido.
Next, the team will work on new applications for their machine, such as working with already-aged liquor to push them past their traditional flavor profile.
They’re currently raising their first funding round to hit their goal of ten Aeva Labs-powered products on store shelves by the end of the year.