PDA

View Full Version : Barrels and wood



ebo
01-29-2012, 09:33
I've been wondering for some time; why are barrels always made from Oak?

Why is it always White Oak, and not Red Oak, Black Oak, Pin Oak, Bur Oak or..............?

Why is no other wood used for making barrels, like Walnut, Ash, Hickory or Cherry?

wmpevans
01-29-2012, 10:20
The resident historians can add to this, but the main reason would be that bourbon, by legal definition, has to be aged in charred OAK barrels.

soad
01-29-2012, 10:34
All other production variables being equal, i do wonder what whiskey would taste like from new hickory barrels....

....or maybe they do, I really don't know how they make that funny tasting Scotch....:grin:

Phil T
01-29-2012, 10:53
The resident historians can add to this, but the main reason would be that bourbon, by legal definition, has to be aged in charred OAK barrels.

I'm thinking ebo understands this..he's questioning "why only oak?"

StraightNoChaser
01-29-2012, 11:12
white oak is the time tested material. from what I remember in my wine days, it has to do with its flavor profile and the quality of the wood grain being most suitable for holding liquids. also, from wikipedia


Throughout history other wood types, including chestnut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chestnut), pine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine), redwood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redwood), and acacia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acacia), have been used in crafting winemaking vessels, particularly large fermentation vats. However none of these wood types possess the compatibility with wine that oak has demonstrated in combining its water tight, yet slightly porous, storage capabilities with the unique flavor and texture characteristic that it can impart to the wine that it is in contact with.[22] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_%28wine%29#cite_note-Robinson_pg_91-21) Chestnut is very high in tannins and is too porous as a storage barrel and must be coated with paraffin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraffin) to prevent excessive wine loss through evaporation. Redwood is too rigid to bend into the smaller barrel shapes and imparts an unpleasant flavor. Acacia imparts a yellow tint to the wine. Other hardwoods like apple (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_tree) and cherry wood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_tree) have an off putting smell.[23] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_%28wine%29#cite_note-22) Austrian winemakers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_wine) have a history of using Acacia barrels. Historically, chestnut was used by Beaujolais (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaujolais), Italian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italy) and Portuguese wine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_wine) makers.[24] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_%28wine%29#cite_note-Oxford_pg_775-23) Some Rhône winemakers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rh%C3%B4ne_wine) still use paraffin coated chestnut barrels but the coating minimizes any effect from the wood making its function similar to a neutral concrete vessel. In Chile (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilean_wine) there are traditions for using barrel made of rauli (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothofagus_alpina) wood but it is beginning to fall out of favor due to the musky scent it imparts on wine.[25] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_%28wine%29#cite_note-Sotheby_pg_32-24)


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_(wine)#Other_wood_types

ebo
01-29-2012, 11:18
I'm thinking ebo understands this..he's questioning "why only oak?"
Exactly. I understand the law about bourbon, but I always wondered why other wood is never used outside of bourbon or any other spirit, really.

grubbster
01-29-2012, 12:03
White oak is physically unique as compared to other woods in its cellular structure. If I remember correctly from my college woods classes white oak has occlusions inside its cellular structure that makes the wood not porous length wise while remaining porous laterally. Red oaks do not have these occlusions. During barrel fabrication these wood cells are opened which allows the liquid to enter the cells. Because of the cellular occlusions the liquid does not soak through the entire barrel. I have been told you can take two pieces of oak in a thin stick, one red and one white, and if you hold one end under water and blow on the other end, you can make bubbles with the red oak stick but not the white.

Bourbon Boiler
01-29-2012, 12:04
Maybe it is the cynic in me, but I always assumed Congressional power from those in oak producing states was a factor as well.

BFerguson
01-29-2012, 12:10
In terms of red vs white oak, red oak lacks tyloses, which to put it simply, it stuff that clogs up the pore of the wood, and thus renders it relatively water tight.

If you took a small "straw" of both red and white oak, and put one end in water and then blew through the other, you would get bubbles with the red and nothing with the white.

Thus the historical preference for white versus other wood types for this water tightness effectiveness.

I remember seeing a photo of the maple barrels that Woodford did, and they were leaking like a sieve. See Chuck's blog for a pic.

http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2010/09/do-maple-barrels-look-different.html

Flavor is a big factor too. Having worked with both white and red oak, white just smells a lot nicer when cutting it, red often just plain reeks. That is pretty simple to translate in how it would taste.

B

soad
01-29-2012, 12:39
Maybe it is the cynic in me.....

"The west slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio and central Mississippi River Valleys have optimum conditions for white oak"

http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/quercus/alba.htm


Sounds like a certain whiskey producing state is also a good place to grow the barrels. Back in the early days, that would have been important.

ebo
01-29-2012, 12:46
White oak is physically unique as compared to other woods in its cellular structure. If I remember correctly from my college woods classes white oak has occlusions inside its cellular structure that makes the wood not porous length wise while remaining porous laterally. Red oaks do not have these occlusions. During barrel fabrication these wood cells are opened which allows the liquid to enter the cells. Because of the cellular occlusions the liquid does not soak through the entire barrel. I have been told you can take two pieces of oak in a thin stick, one red and one white, and if you hold one end under water and blow on the other end, you can make bubbles with the red oak stick but not the white.
Those occlusions are also why white oak has such large ray patterns in the end grain. They show up very well when the logs are rift sawn. I wasn't aware they made the wood non porous lengthwise. Thanks for the information.

tmckenzie
01-29-2012, 15:10
100 percent pin oak barrels are indeed made. I have quite a few. It is a white oak and a lots of times pin oak will come in to a cooperage and it is mixed in with the rest. But 1 certain cooperage pulls them out when they scale the logs and makes barrels out of just pin oak. I like what I am seeing from them. They have a spicier smell to them, and I am hoping the whiskey will pick that up.

Old Lamplighter
01-29-2012, 15:11
Another possible factor: I recall from something I read a few years ago that white oak has historically very plentiful in North America. Now, whether it still is, I don't know.

What I do know is that I have plenty of it right now for my fireplace. Last spring, two (2) 120-150 foot specimens fell into my yard from a neighbor's yard barely missing my house twice. I did lose an old car though...so it was not really free...lol :shithappens:

cowdery
01-30-2012, 01:45
Everybody go back and read grubbster again. He is exactly right. A nice bonus about those unique occlusions; that's where the vanilla is.

White Oak is plentiful and has a large growing area. It wasn't long after the invention of iron tools sturdy enough to work oak that oak began to be used for all kinds of vessels because it doesn't leak. By a very happy coincidence, it also contain tasty stuff that makes liquids stored in it taste better.

By the way, the law regarding whiskey requires white oak, but it doesn't have to be American white oak.

People do experiment with other woods. Brown-Forman has been experimenting with maple, for example. It's harder to make it leak proof but barrel making is so advanced these days that it is possible. The wood also imparts flavors that are different from the flavors oak imparts.

I don't think anything will ever supplant white oak, but there will always be people experimenting.

Bourbon Boiler
01-30-2012, 17:56
So if someone (perhaps a micro) wanted to experiment with other woods, would they be better off using a white oak barrel with a light char and simply add chips from the other wood? That way they could avoid leaking problems, but still get the flavors from other woods.

ebo
01-30-2012, 19:06
So if someone (perhaps a micro) wanted to experiment with other woods, would they be better off using a white oak barrel with a light char and simply add chips from the other wood? That way they could avoid leaking problems, but still get the flavors from other woods.
Sounds like something that should be explored.

Walnut is another wood that has quite a bit of tanic acid in it. I wonder what it would do for flavor?

grubbster
01-31-2012, 03:39
So if someone (perhaps a micro) wanted to experiment with other woods, would they be better off using a white oak barrel with a light char and simply add chips from the other wood? That way they could avoid leaking problems, but still get the flavors from other woods.
I think part of the aging process involves the seasonal changes in temperature and humidity that allow the wood of the barrel to expand and contract, essentially pumping the bourbon in and out of the pores of the wood. I agree that adding chips in the barrel would impart a flavor, just not sure it would be part of the "aging" process. I believe that is what one of the popular beer companies does and calls it "beechwood aged".

smokinjoe
01-31-2012, 06:56
I'm sure this, like so many other "discoveries" in our world, are not so much the fruits of planned scientific work; rather it's the result of a lot of plain 'ol dumb luck. I find that all fascinating...

Enoch
01-31-2012, 09:00
When barrels were first being used to transport bourbon, white oak was cheap and plentiful. I don't think they originally thought about the flavoring potential. It seems that was discovered by accident.

I did an experiment awhile back using about 100 test tubes (left over from my chemistry teaching days) and a bunch of 1 cl cubes of various woods (hickories, oaks, walnuts, etc.) and various chars I obtained from Bel-Mar. Using several bottles of Trybox, I aged them 1,2,3, and 4 weeks and also 2 and 3 months and varied the cube/volume ratio. I will say that on the whole, most were quite nasty. Some left a taste in my mouth that almost ruined whiskey for me. : )

I suspect the wine and beer and whiskey industries have experimented with various woods and white oak produces the best whiskey. (I do like the flavor that Maker's 46 achieves with French oak.) Just my thoughts.

sailor22
01-31-2012, 12:08
I did an experiment awhile back using about 100 test tubes (left over from my chemistry teaching days) and a bunch of 1 cl cubes of various woods (hickories, oaks, walnuts, etc.) and various chars I obtained from Bel-Mar. Using several bottles of Trybox, I aged them 1,2,3, and 4 weeks and also 2 and 3 months and varied the cube/volume ratio. I will say that on the whole, most were quite nasty. Some left a taste in my mouth that almost ruined whiskey for me. : )

I did the same experiment using small Ball Jars and pieces of various charred and uncharred wood. Some fresh cut but most were well seasoned before charing or placing in the jar. I used an inexpensive Bourbon as I didn't have access to enough white dog.
I had high hopes for the Cherry, Maple and Hickory. Was just curious about the Red Oak, Sweetgum, Choke Cherry, Live Oak, Water Oak, Walnut, Mesquite and Pecan.
Unfortunately I got the same results as Enoch.

JeffRenner
02-06-2012, 12:17
the law regarding whiskey requires white oak, but it doesn't have to be American white oak.

It doesn't even have to be white oak, only oak (http://www.distill.com/specs/USA10.html), although for the reasons discussed here, that is what is used.

"(1) (i) "Bourbon whisky", "rye whisky", "wheat whisky", "malt whisky", or "rye malt whisky" is whisky produced at not exceeding 160 deg. proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored at not more than 125 deg. proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type."

JeffRenner
02-06-2012, 12:29
Maybe it is the cynic in me, but I always assumed Congressional power from those in oak producing states was a factor as well.

At the 2003 National Homebrewers Conference in Chicago (http://www.chibeer.org/aha03/), Michael Jackson was a featured speaker. Since he and I sat on the AHA board at the time, he came to a whiskey tasting I hosted in my room, where I opened a 1917 distilled, 1933 bottled Old Overholt BiB rye.

We were discussing oak contributions to flavor and he said that he believed that the requirement for new oak was enshrined in the government regulations by a powerful Arkansas politician rather late, that is, some time after prohibition ended. When I suggested that it was perhaps U.S. Representative Wilbur Mills (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilbur_Mills), he thought that name seemed familiar.

This might be an interesting area for research by someone interested in the history of American straight whiskey.

JeffRenner
02-06-2012, 12:51
100 percent pin oak barrels are indeed made. I have quite a few. It is a white oak and a lots of times pin oak will come in to a cooperage and it is mixed in with the rest.

Pin oak, Quercus palustris, and northern pin oak, Quercus ellipsoidalis, are actually in the red oak group of Quercus, so I wonder if that is really the species you are seeing, since red oaks are apparently unsuited for barrels, as discussed in this thread.

Oaks in the red oak group typically have leaves with pointed lobes, while the white oaks have rounded lobes. The sharp lobes of the pin oak leaf end in a short bristle or "pin," hence the name. There is a list of all of the species of Quercus divided into the several groups here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Quercus_species#Section_Quercus).

There are many oaks in the white oak group harvested in North America besides Quercus alba, and they are often sold together as mixed white oak for lumber. I don't know if these others get mixed with Q. alba in for oak destined for cooperage, or if they differ in quality from one another when used in barrels.

ebo
02-06-2012, 17:26
I am a Cabinetmaker by trade. I have used a lot of red and white oak in my days. I do know that any species of oak that is NOT white oak are all lumped together and sold with the generic "red oak" tag.

sailor22
02-06-2012, 18:23
I am a Cabinetmaker by trade. I have used a lot of red and white oak in my days. I do know that any species of oak that is NOT white oak are all lumped together and sold with the generic "red oak" tag.

Curious if you can detect distinct smells from the different oak's when they are heated by a saw blade? Is the white oak a sweeter smell?

ebo
02-06-2012, 18:55
Curious if you can detect distinct smells from the different oak's when they are heated by a saw blade? Is the white oak a sweeter smell?
White oak doesn't smell near as strong as red oak when cut. Red oak has a very strong sour smell when being cut on a table saw....... almost like fresh puke, for lack of a better way to describe it.

JeffRenner
02-06-2012, 19:16
I am a Cabinetmaker by trade. I have used a lot of red and white oak in my days. I do know that any species of oak that is NOT white oak are all lumped together and sold with the generic "red oak" tag.

In my experience, red and white oak look very different. No?

cowdery
02-06-2012, 19:20
At the 2003 National Homebrewers Conference in Chicago (http://www.chibeer.org/aha03/), Michael Jackson was a featured speaker. Since he and I sat on the AHA board at the time, he came to a whiskey tasting I hosted in my room, where I opened a 1917 distilled, 1933 bottled Old Overholt BiB rye.

We were discussing oak contributions to flavor and he said that he believed that the requirement for new oak was enshrined in the government regulations by a powerful Arkansas politician rather late, that is, some time after prohibition ended. When I suggested that it was perhaps U.S. Representative Wilbur Mills (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilbur_Mills), he thought that name seemed familiar.

This might be an interesting area for research by someone interested in the history of American straight whiskey.

It has been researched and doesn't pan out, Mills especially, since he didn't enter Congress until 1939 and didn't gain his power, as Chairman of Ways and Means, until 1957, long after the regulations were written. As for the rumor that it was some other powerful Arkansas politician, I've never been able to substantiate it. A lengthy history (http://leda.law.harvard.edu/leda/data/513/Myers.html) of alcohol labeling regulations in the U.S. makes no specific mention of the 'new oak' requirement but does make clear that the rules we have now were put in place in 1935.

The new, charred oak barrel is essential to creating bourbon as we know it and the political intrigue theory ignores that.

I believe new charred oak barrels first began to be used in about the middle of the 19th century and the practice was well established by whiskey's pre-Prohibition heyday in the 1880s and 90s. All they did after Prohibition was promulgate regulations to ensure that what people had identified as bourbon before the drought would still be bourbon going forward.

It's another one of those 'nice stories' that somebody first advanced as a theory, maybe even as just a cynical joke, and it became 'fact' with constant retelling, but it doesn't hold up either to research or serious thinking about it.

BFerguson
02-06-2012, 19:22
In my experience, red and white oak look very different. No?

Yes, they do. After a bit of time looking at them in the raw, and working with them, it becomes readily apparent which is which if you were to come accross them.

Unless they are so covered by dirt and grime, that you literally have to scrape the crap off to get a good look at what you have. Yep, I've done that.

After this, hunting for a good wood deal is my other passion.

B

ebo
02-06-2012, 19:33
In my experience, red and white oak look very different. No?
Yes. White oak has a tighter grain structure and is generally a lighter color. When rift cut or quarter sawn it displayes large ray flecks... moreso in rift cut wood.

White oak was predominately used in the "golden age of oak" furniture from the 1880's to the 1920's.

cowdery
02-06-2012, 19:37
There are many oaks in the white oak group harvested in North America besides Quercus alba, and they are often sold together as mixed white oak for lumber. I don't know if these others get mixed with Q. alba in for oak destined for cooperage, or if they differ in quality from one another when used in barrels.

Quercus muehlenbergii, aka chinkapin oak, does get mixed in, in very small quantities. It is considered interchangeable with alba and accepted by the cooperages. The owner of one cooperage told me he doesn't think most of his wood suppliers even know the difference.

Young Blacksmith
02-06-2012, 19:42
fresh puke is a great description. I cut firewood on some days off, for myself, and any red oak I run across smells just like that. Then when you split it again later you get the same aroma....:cool:

cowdery
02-06-2012, 20:26
I was at a distillery last week as they received a shipment of new barrels. I love that smell, nothing pukey about it.

JeffRenner
02-07-2012, 05:11
It's another one of those 'nice stories' that ... doesn't hold up either to research or serious thinking about it.

Thanks for those factual details, Chuck. I'll have to remember not to repeat the story, nice as it is.

tmckenzie
02-07-2012, 05:20
Sometimes folks say pin oak when they mean Chinkapin oak. I forgot there is an actual pin oak tree, that is a red oak. My barrels are Chinkapin oak. And just like Chuck said, most people do not know the difference between chinkapin and other white oak. So it gets mixed in. But one cooperage I know of seprated them out. And red oak does stink. My family did a lot of commercial catfishing in Alabama. My grandfather made his own fish boxes, out of red oak. I can still smell it today. It reeks, puke along with poop.

Ejmharris
02-07-2012, 06:40
It reeks, puke along with poop.

That may explain the end product when I barreled some of my own last year.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk