PDA

View Full Version : Why Oak?



Squash
02-23-2009, 19:38
As I taste more Bourbons and other spirits, and I read of others' tasting notes and all the flavors that are attributed to mixtures of grain, water, yeast, and oak, I wonder: why not other types of wood?

Imagine all the flavors that might be imparted to a spirit stored in a barrel with multiple staves of apple, cherry, pear, pecan, etc... The different expressions could be mind (and taste) boggling.

In searching the Forum, I found this from Gillman:
"This question was addressed in one of the earliest American distilling texts, by Samuel M'Harry in about 1809. Basically, other forms of oak are too porous and might allow off-flavors or acidity to enter the spirit. White oak has the right hardness and durability but still permits interchange of air between the spirit and outside atmosphere. As I recall (I will try to find the book in my library), M'Harry advised red oak as next best to white, but his clear preference is for American white oak."

Gary

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/red2black/statusicon/user_offline.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/red2black/buttons/report.gif (http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/report.php?p=109950) http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/red2black/buttons/quote.gif (http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/newreply.php?do=newreply&p=109950)
So all these woods might not be suitable, but some would (pun intended).

Please keep your pants on before responding with the legal definition of Bourbon - I realize that Bourbon can only be stored in new, charred, white oak.

GOCOUGS2002
02-23-2009, 20:10
Please keep your pants on before responding with the legal definition of Bourbon - I realize that Bourbon can only be stored in new, charred, white oak.


You took half the responding population out of the equation when you limited to persons with pants on...in fact I had to go find a pair, put them on and then reply. :grin:

Good question though...I guess a list of wood that is used with other spirits would help us out on this one. I also suspect that other type of wood would either be too soft to accommodate spirits for long periods of time or too hard to pass any flavor.

Edward_call_me_Ed
02-23-2009, 20:10
It is a lucky historical accident. The barrel comes first. I am sure that we made barrels from oak long before we made whiskey. Oak is used to make barrels because it is relatively easy to shape with steam which is necessary when making barrels. And, of course, oak is a strong tough wood, idea for a storage container. It is fortunate that oak imparts a wonderful flavor to whiskey, wine, and beer.

Ed

fishnbowljoe
02-23-2009, 22:56
As stated, white oak is hard, yet pliable and resilient enough to form a good seal when filled with liquid (bourbon). It also maintains its integrity throughout the many seasons of expansion and contraction in the aging warehouses. Other woods may have some of the qualities and characteristics that are needed for aging bourbon, but not all rolled into one like the white oak. Joe

cas
02-24-2009, 05:36
It's also plentiful and widespread. Many kinds of trees are more regionally distributed. It would be interesting though to experiment with differing wood types and evaluate their effect on the bourbon. I guess the BT French Oak is a small-scale step in this direction.
Craig

Buffalo Bill
02-24-2009, 07:46
Using the wrong wood could kill you. Different woods and many from Africa can impart deadly toxins. Oak is Oak is Oak... BB

p_elliott
02-24-2009, 08:02
BT has experimented with other woods

Buffalo Bill
02-24-2009, 08:05
BT has experimented with other woods

Do you know which? BB

p_elliott
02-24-2009, 08:10
Do you know which? BB
http://www.thebourbonreview.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=71%3Agodfathers-of-the-amber-world&catid=38%3Abrstories&Itemid=1

sailor22
02-24-2009, 09:49
You can try this at home to shush out the differences different woods have on Bourbon taste;

Put an inexpensive but quality Bourbon in six identical ball jars.
Lightly charr three identically sized pieces of red oak, pecan and cherry wood.
Cut three identically sized pieces of the same woods - leave them un-charred.
Put one of the pieces of wood in each of the jars.
Set the jars up in a location that has some temperature variations in the course of a day.
Taste against the original Bourbon regularly.

I think you will be surprised how fast Bourbons acquire a "too much charr" taste and how subtle the different woods taste - but they do contribute.

cas
02-24-2009, 09:52
Using the wrong wood could kill you. Different woods and many from Africa can impart deadly toxins. Oak is Oak is Oak... BB

Well that would certainly impart a whole new dimension to a tasting event...
Craig

Buffalo Bill
02-24-2009, 09:55
http://www.thebourbonreview.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=71%3Agodfathers-of-the-amber-world&catid=38%3Abrstories&Itemid=1

uncertain where you were in context of this site... BB

Buffalo Bill
02-24-2009, 09:58
You can try this at home to shush out the differences different woods have on Bourbon taste;

Put an inexpensive but quality Bourbon in six identical ball jars.
Lightly charr three identically sized pieces of red oak, pecan and cherry wood.
Cut three identically sized pieces of the same woods - leave them un-charred.
Put one of the pieces of wood in each of the jars.
Set the jars up in a location that has some temperature variations in the course of a day.
Taste against the original Bourbon regularly.

I think you will be surprised how fast Bourbons acquire a "too much charr" taste and how subtle the different woods taste - but they do contribute.

I did this with pipe tobaccos back in the day... in a number of different ways. True! BB

JeffRenner
02-27-2009, 20:58
I realize that Bourbon can only be stored in new, charred, white oak.

Actually, the regulations (http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2003/aprqtr/27cfr5.22.htm) do not specify what kind of oak, only new, charred oak.

My understanding from somewhere is that oak from the red/black group is too porous, as has been suggested here.

Jeff

cowdery
03-02-2009, 18:47
The barrel itself predates the iron tools needed to make it from hard wood. The earliest barrels were made of pine and coated with pitch so they wouldn't affect the flavor of the contents. No oak barrels until the Iron Age.

cowdery
03-02-2009, 18:50
Actually, the regulations (http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2003/aprqtr/27cfr5.22.htm) do not specify what kind of oak, only new, charred oak.

My understanding from somewhere is that oak from the red/black group is too porous, as has been suggested here.

Jeff

You are correct, sir.

Some people are under the impression that the regs specify American oak, which they also do not.

White oak just seems to have the best combination of cost, availability, durability, malleability, porosity, and tasty flavor components. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

HighTower
03-03-2009, 03:35
I guess a list of wood that is used with other spirits would help us out on this one.

Many of them use discarded bourbon barrels

Scott

cowdery
03-03-2009, 09:07
To elaborate, almost all of them use old bourbon barrels exclusively. Just about every aged spirit in the world, except Cognac, contains a little bourbon. The French stick to their own oak or the similar but less expensive Hungarian oak.

tommyboy38
03-08-2009, 05:21
Another user of whiskey barrels...

On a recent trip to the Tabasco facory in Louisiana, The tour presenter said that they used old JD or bourbon barrels to age the Tabasco mash and they use them until they fall apart. She wasn't sure why the whiskey makers only used the barrels once...maybe due to health reasons she guessed. I didn't inform her that they can only be used once.
Maybe Tabasco should only be an "American hot sauce" and not a "Louisiana hot sauce" as they reuse the barrels.:slappin:

Bourbon Geek
03-09-2009, 07:23
As with many of the why's of bourbon ... serendipity is involved in the ultimate selection of white oak for the barrel ...

Think of the barrel as a pioneer shipping container and nothing more ... if they had cardboard boxes and plastic drums, they would never have chosen a wooden barrel ...

There were two types of barrels (generally speaking) ... those intended to hold liquid contents (tight barrels) ... and those for shipping everything else. Mechanically, there was much more leeway in the wood selection for the latter. The wood had to be strong and flexible enough to withstand the joruney without breaking open ... but light enough to be practical. Lots of wood was fine for these purposes.

The selection criteria for tight barrels was a bit more challenging ... it couldn't leak either. That means you need to find a wood that will allow for the thinnest staves while still holding in the liquid. That leads you to oak. Due to the pore structure of oak (white oak in particular) you can construct a tight barrel with staves of only about one inch thick. I am told that a similar tight barrel made out of cherry would require 3 inch thick staves.

The rest is good fortune. The extracts from white oak provide for a tasty bourbon product ... everything from 6 compounds that taste and smell like vanilla ... to vinegar molecules which can further react with the various alcohols to form esters ... which generally give the fruity characteristics ...

Thanks be to serendipity ...

cigarnv
03-09-2009, 13:16
During our recent visit to Bowman it was suggested that at some point a bit of product was placed in hickory with very good tasting results but extremely poor from a sealing perspective .... far to much leaking to make it practical...

Josh
03-09-2009, 13:19
During our recent visit to Bowman it was suggested that at some point a bit of product was placed in hickory with very good tasting results but extremely poor from a sealing perspective .... far to much leaking to make it practical...

Hmmmm. Mesquite-infused might work well too. But the wood wouldn't make good barrels either.

Squash
03-09-2009, 14:07
How about maple? Our squash court floor is maple, could it make a good barrel?

It seems as though maple would make some good tasting whiskey.

NYtaster
03-09-2009, 17:11
Being a woodworker I know wood is a temperamental mistress. Oak seems to have all the right properties and none of the bad effects on the product stored. Most fruitwoods would be too porous and soft to seal well over the years needed to age a quality bourbon, too bad as I would love to see what applewood would do for a whiskey. It smells wonderful in the wood stove.

Squash
03-09-2009, 22:16
So oak is best for maliability and porosity, but some have expressed interest in the influence of other wood on taste.

Has anyone seriously made a whiskey with significant amounts of other wood in the oak barrels? Whiskey is really a steeped product anyway. It seems reasonable enough. Inquiring minds want to taste.

cowdery
03-09-2009, 22:43
Rick Wasmund is doing some interesting things to malt whiskey with fruitwoods. You can find our more here (http://www.copperfox.biz/).

Squash
03-09-2009, 23:07
This seems interesting. Have you (or anyone) tried it?

cowdery
03-10-2009, 12:08
I've tried it. It is ... interesting.

Squash
03-10-2009, 20:32
I spoke with Mr. Wasmund today and he stated that there are different batch numbers. So if the one you tried is from two years ago, or last year, it is not the same as the current bottling, and, he said, not as good.

Has anyone tried the newest release?

It is not yet available in Northern Indiana.

callmeox
03-10-2009, 20:36
Stu is a big fan of Wasmunds...I'm sure that he would love to chime in. :cool:

Stones
03-17-2009, 22:16
Thinking outside of the box (or inside the barrel ;)) - If the main barrel was constructed of white oak would it be feasible for a large block of other charred type wood to be loosely floated within the bourbon to flavour it differently? :skep:

Squash
03-18-2009, 09:09
That's what Wasmund's is doing, but using small pieces of wood rather than one large block. Mr. Wasmund described it like steeping tea. I am trying to get ahold of some of this stuff.

cowdery
03-18-2009, 11:45
When you think about it, barrel aging is a form of infusion. Spirits have long been flavored via infusion, originally to mask the off flavors of low proof distillate. Of course, you can flavor whiskey differently using different woods and other substances. The question becomes, why would you want to? Bourbon is not a tabula rasa, it is a very specific thing.