I have long enjoyed Dr. Joe Lstiburek's presentations on building science. He has a natural way of distilling difficult information into jobsite language—complete with colorful words. Lately, he has been developing his writing chops, too. The medium seems to have allowed him to focus on topics that are more in tune with short building science stories than long building science classes. I like to pretend that his affinity for writing is the result of my editorial influence on him from working on articles together over the past decade.
Old buildings that are designed to age whiskey
Lstiburek has a regular gig writing a column for the ASHRAE Journal. The first half dozen or so were sort of technical articles about engineering and physics, and I couldn't find the time to read them. A few months after I stopped reading his column, he began to hit his stride with The Building Science of Bourbon. It is an entertaining reason to think about applied building physics.
In it, Lstiburek describes how bourbon-aging buildings traditionally were constructed with rocks, mortar, and solid timbers. The designs encouraged both cross ventilation and stack ventilation, with just the right humidity to assure smooth aging of a great sipping whiskey.
The old buildings can store and release a lot of moisture, so humidity in the building remains pretty constant. The open crawlspace dirt floor provides humidification in winter and is a thermal buffer year-round. The cross- and stack-ventilation kept the hundreds of stacked barrels at a consistent humidity and temperature.
But every storage building has a sweet spot. Most of the bourbon turns out great; some of it turns out exquisite.
How to 'goose the juice'
That's the traditional way they've been making buildings for bourbon in Kentucky since 1795 or so. Of course, impatient youngsters looked for a shortcut because it took too long to make the bourbon. The 'get-whiskey-quick' guys found ways to 'goose the juice' with cheap buildings made from painted corrugated metal.
The old solid buildings tempered the outdoor swings in temperature—they were warmer on cool days, and cooler on hot ones.
The goose buildings are actually hotter on hot days (because of radiant heat gain through the black metal roof) and colder on cold days: the high emissivity of the painted metal pulls heat from solid objects in the room—like how a low-E window works in reverse.
These swings accelerated the 'seasonality' of a year—each season accelerated the aging process because of more drastic temperature swings. Oh, and the building is cheaper.
It's like earning time and a half with much less overhead.
Different construction assemblies yield different interior conditions
While Lstiburek's taste in wine is expensive, he confesses in this article that he cannot tell the difference between a bourbon that has been 'goosed' and one that has been allowed to age the good old traditional way. But it doesn't sit right with him, so he is against it.
I am against it, too, because I like traditional craftsmanship, and because I like the look of really good bottles of bourbon. But truth be told, I typically buy Jim Beam or Maker's Mark; rarely the very good stuff.
The point of Lstiburek's article is not to say that one type of bourbon is better than another; it is to say that different building styles can perform very differently. And that it is interesting to think about buildings where open crawlspaces are best or where you actually try to accelerate temperature swings.
We will be working with Lstiburek more in the coming year, and I thought this article would be a good introduction if you've not met yet.
Side note on why I love my job
Incidentally, my staff gave me a bottle of Basil Hayden as a Christmas gift. It tastes better than any I have ever tasted.
Happy New Year.