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Terressentia's website says its process uses ultrasonic energy and oxygenati...
A company called Terressentia that uses a chemical process to age bourbon not in years — but in hours — is unsettling an industry that is long-soaked in history and tradition.

Kentucky bourbon is in high demand these days. Sales and production of the whiskey have surged in recent years.

The demand has created a problem: a shortage of barrels. Bourbon is typically aged for several years in wooden casks.

But one company has found a work-around. It's come up with a chemical process that ages bourbon not in years — but in hours. The innovation is unsettling an industry that is long-soaked in history and tradition.

Buffalo Trace, Knob Creek, Jefferson's, and Old Grand-Dad: These are names of a few Kentucky bourbons you'll see at the liquor store.

Another brand name, Terressentia, doesn't quite have the same historic, folksy ring to it as traditional Kentucky bourbon names, says Charles Medley, a seventh-generation master distiller.

When Medley sold his company's unused distilleries to Terressentia last year, he said as much to Terressentia's CEO, Earl Hewlette.

"And I said, 'I'm happy for you and I hope you do well, but you don't want to call it Terressentia or Terrepure: You're a distillery in the state of Kentucky,' " Medley says. "So we're working something out where he could use the name Charles Medley. We just talked about it today."

Terressentia, which has been making bourbon in South Carolina, would like the Charles Medley name, which is known for its centuries-long history of distilling in western Kentucky, says Hewlette.

He says tradition is important — but he's not making bourbon the traditional way.

"We still age in a barrel, but we don't need to age it for years and years," Hewlette says. "We can put it through our process. It takes about eight hours, and we have replicated more than four years of barrel aging."

That's right, a four-year bourbon, made in eight-hours.

In traditional bourbon-making, the walls of the charred white oak barrel act like a sponge, imparting flavor and color. As the bourbon expands and contracts with the changing temperature of the seasons, year-to-year, the taste gets more complex and rich.

Woodford Reserve's Master Distiller Chris Morris says this part of the process shouldn't be taken lightly.

"All I know is there is no way to shortcut time in a barrel," Morris says. "What we're basically making is an 1830s product today. It's stood the test of time, so I just don't know how these new processes are going to pan out in the future."

Terressentia's website says its process uses ultrasonic energy and oxygenation, which "finishes chemical reactions that failed to complete in the distillation stage," and results in a "smoother mouth feel."

While traditionalists in the bourbon world may have their misgivings about the new technology, the question that could determine Terressentia's fate is obvious: How does it taste?

Tom Fischer, a bourbon connoisseur and the founder of Bourbonblog.com, visited Hewlette's facilities in Charleston, S.C., to find out.

"I blindly tasted I think five or six different whiskeys," Fischer says. "He didn't tell me which one was their bourbon. I ended up ranking theirs either number one or number two, and it was right around the top — I think it was right at the top. And these were some major bourbons."

But Fischer says it's not something the traditional distillers should worry about.

"There's innovations that are happening all the time, and I think this will just lead to a greater discussion about what's happening in the world of whiskey and happening in the world of spirits," he says.

Copyright 2015 WNIN-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wnin.org/.

The Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of conductor Osmo Vanska (center...
This week, the ensemble became the first professional U.S. orchestra since 1999 to play in Cuba — 86 years after its first visit to Havana.

The Minnesota Orchestra plays Havana this weekend. It's the first professional U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since the United States and the island nation began the process of normalization last December. For the musicians, this trip is about healing — both diplomatically and for themselves.

The trip is also one of firsts. The Minnesota Orchestra took the first direct flight ever from Minneapolis to Havana on Wednesday. It required special federal approval. More importantly, for an island as steeped in music as Cuba, this was the first major orchestra to visit since the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra toured for two days in 1999.

Even as the orchestra held its first rehearsal in the Teatro Nacional, people drifted into the theater and backstage, listening to the power of the music coming off the stage.

It's a small miracle this tour is happening. The joint announcement Dec. 17 from Presidents Obama and Castro relaxing longstanding restrictions on travel and commerce launched an orchestral race: Which from the U.S. would be first to perform on the island?

Minnesota won. It pulled off an organizational and logistical coup by being prepared to travel in just months. The Cuban authorities also reportedly liked that back in 1929, the first international tour of what was then the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra was to Havana. The Beethoven program for the first of this weekend's two concerts replicated that performance of 86 years ago.

Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä says that building connection with Cubans is vital. "In a way, the best thing psychologically about the trip is the way we are working together with people here," Vänskä says. "They are working with us and that's the whole idea."

This the first major tour for the Minnesota Orchestra since the end of a bruising 16-month musicians' lockout. There were times during that contract dispute when many fans wondered if the orchestra would survive. Now, 16 months after the settlement and a management shakeup, the former antagonists are sharing an adventure.

Kevin Smith is the new Minnesota Orchestra president. The trip was his idea, in part to show that the organization could move quickly, which he says is a necessity in the modern orchestral environment. Standing in the crowded lobby of the Teatro National, he said it's worked well.

"To get back together and with this amount of excitement and energy — to do something extraordinary as this, it's just never happened before," Smith said. "So it's not just a matter of getting back, it's a matter of moving beyond. And I think we are doing it."

There were more than just concerts on the menu for the Minnesota Orchestra musicians. They traveled to local music schools to hold master classes. Friday they held a side-by-side rehearsal with Cuba's national youth orchestra. Students shared music stands with the Minnesota players, switching off with the professionals as they played under Vänskä's direction. The students were clearly exhilarated, and there were a few moments of terror when Vänskä focused on them individually.

The ensemble, some 200 strong, played music by Tchaikovsky and Borodin before moving on to a piece by the head of the school, Guido López-Gavilán. He took the podium and had the players tap out the Cuban rhythms in the piece on their instruments.

Everyone came away with a smile, but none bigger than López-Gavilan at hearing his students and the Minnesota Orchestra play his music.

Minnesota Orchestra double bass player Kathryn Nettleman says that to be in Cuba at this time, sharing music after having survived the turmoil of the labor dispute, has been the experience of a lifetime.

"And I think that's a testament to what can happen when people dream and believe and work hard together," she says. "That's what an orchestra is — it's a group of people on a stage doing that."

Copyright 2015 Minnesota Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.mpr.org/.

The world of The Gracekeepers has two types of people — those of the land and those of the sea. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Kirsty Logan about her novel, set in a future enveloped by water.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.