For centuries, whiskey barrels were transported by ship to new continents and, over the course of their journey, were exposed to the elements and the motion of the sea. The result, though accidental, was a noticeable improvement: constant agitation fast-tracked the aging process, and exposure of the barrels to salt air added new notes to the taste.
Today, one South Norwalk, Connecticut distillery is embracing that maritime history. Known for its incorporation of hemp seed into its whiskey mash bills (or spirit recipes), SoNo 1420 has been experimenting with sea-aged whiskey for the past few years through a collaboration with the nearby market Harbor Harvest.
Distillery founder Ted Dumbauld said he was approached by Bob Kunkel, owner of Harbor Harvest, who was inspired by Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea Bourbon. “He said, ‘We should try this on my boat.’” By “boat,” Kunkel meant the hybrid catamaran that Harbor Harvest uses to transport farm products across Long Island Sound, a project that was designated a Marine Highway Program in 2018.
The initial test run was in 2019, with a single barrel of the brand’s standard three-year-old whiskey, which was sent to sea for about a year and released upon its return. “We pretty much sold out the same day that we released the whiskey,” Dumbauld said.
So they continued the project, sending out a second barrel for a year and a third for two years at sea. Customers were able to taste the sea-aged whiskey alongside the standard whiskey, and Dumbauld said, “They were blown away because the flavor profiles are just so different.”
Currently, Finished at Sea is only available at SoNo 1420 through limited releases — but thanks to the demand, an expansion is already in the works: the distillery recently delivered its first whiskey barrel to Norwalk’s Copps Island Oysters, which has a fleet of 20-plus boats on Long Island Sound. Greater capacity means more barrels sent to sea, if the new partnership is successful. “This business is fun, because we can do a lot of innovative activities that help create unique flavor profiles in our whiskeys,” Dumbauld said.
19 Day St., South Norwalk, CT