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View Full Version : Charred barrel historical factoid or myth?



Jono
07-09-2012, 20:48
Some barrel history I did not know...if true:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/wine/3340436/Whiskey-The-art-of-bourbon.html

Whiskey: The art of bourbon
Still standing: The Maker's Mark bourbon distillery in Kentucky

Jonathan Ray

12:01AM GMT 16 Nov 2007

"The barrels had to be charred, following a practice attributed to Elijah Craig, an 18th-century preacher and distiller,
who found the best way to prepare an old fish barrel for storing whiskey was to set fire to its inside."

Hmm, used an old fish barrel?

Tucker
07-09-2012, 21:24
Hmm, used an old fish barrel?

Booker Noe was skeptical...

"...who the hell gonna put good liquor in a fish barrel?"

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-12-22/entertainment/9412220327_1_high-end-bourbons-elijah-craig-native-spirit (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-12-22/entertainment/9412220327_1_high-end-bourbons-elijah-craig-native-spirit)

Bonus - A mention of one Julian Van Winkle, who "buys his spirits already distilled but controls the aging, holding some of them for as long as 15 years."

Jono
07-09-2012, 22:08
Booker Noe was skeptical...

"...who the hell gonna put good liquor in a fish barrel?"

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-12-22/entertainment/9412220327_1_high-end-bourbons-elijah-craig-native-spirit (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-12-22/entertainment/9412220327_1_high-end-bourbons-elijah-craig-native-spirit)

Bonus - A mention of one Julian Van Winkle, who "buys his spirits already distilled but controls the aging, holding some of them for as long as 15 years."

Black font on a black background it pretty hard to read.

macdeffe
07-09-2012, 23:09
Aging whisky in old fish barrels has always been part of the whisky folkklore. A german shop or bottler deliberately repeated the experiment a few years ago. I didnt sample it as I am allergic to fish but reports said it had a fishy taste....

Steffen

Jono
07-09-2012, 23:32
I wonder if the barrel had been refired to supposedly burn off the fish oils etc. It seems like a bad idea.

http://www.hal.state.mi.us/mhc/museum/explore/museums/hismus/special/schooner/images/barrels_w_fish.jpg

"A few barrels held well preserved fish remains."

http://www.hal.state.mi.us/mhc/museum/explore/museums/hismus/special/schooner/artifacts.html

http://fishingheritage.org/testbed1/items/show/129

tmckenzie
07-10-2012, 04:46
If fish were stored in a barrel back then, they were more than likely salted for preservation. And no amount of charring would remove the saltiness from the woood and sure as hell not the smell. I agrre with what booker said.

cowdery
07-10-2012, 15:38
It's one of those stories that got out of control. The point is that barrels used to be used for storing and shipping many different things and charring was common as a way to sanitize the barrel so it could be reused, for whiskey or some other purpose. Fish would sometimes be mentioned, just as a way to illustrate the strong flavors that might be left in a barrel, making a scraping or re-charring necessary. There may have been times in the distant past when people were sloppy about their reused barrels and whiskey wound up in a fish barrel, but it's a mistake that wouldn't happen twice.

Milk is sometimes mentioned as a better example of a product whose residue might be challenging to banish for whiskey reuse, but it could be done. For American whiskey, of course, used barrels of any kind would have only been used in the very early days. When deliberate aging in earnest began, sometime in the mid-19th century, they were doing it in new barrels, and in Scotland and Ireland I suspect they only re-used barrels that previously held whiskey or wine, or perhaps something like milk, or something else relatively benign, but not fish or pickles or crackers or nails or anything like that. So it's not like you can say a fish barrel never got reused, but you can safely assume it wasn't routine.

Another thing. Scotland would never have been importing fish. Scotland exports fish. Preserved fish, e.g., salted cod preserved and shipped in barrels, was primarily slave food and food for the very poor in large cities.

Kelvin is a cooperage on the south side of Louisville that refurbishes bourbon barrels for Scottish distilleries. They refurbish or rejuvenate the barrels to their customers specifications. Some are simply rinsed, inspected, and repaired as necessary. Some get scraped out, some get recharred, and some get both. It's interesting to see. Very labor intensive and very hot, physical work.

Bourbon Boiler
07-10-2012, 17:21
I'm surprised no one has pulled this quote from the article:

"...Maker's Mark, my new favourite whisky, which I like on the rocks rather than drowned in Coke..."

Bourbon Boiler
07-10-2012, 17:22
I'd also heard the story that the charring was originally accidental, and that Rev. Craig was merely salvaging barrels that had been exposed to a barn fire.

Josh
07-10-2012, 20:38
I'd also heard the story that the charring was originally accidental, and that Rev. Craig was merely salvaging barrels that had been exposed to a barn fire.

Yeah, let's call BS on that one too.

Jono
07-10-2012, 20:46
I think this is one of those pioneer tales that has a germ of truth but got distorted along the way. I keep expecting Captain Ahab and whale oil, Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone to turn up in the story along with a mule named Bess.

KYPayne
07-12-2012, 20:49
I don't know about Elijah Craig and his barrels, but that sucker sure distills some fine whiskey. :rolleyes:

cowdery
07-13-2012, 16:24
The Elijah Craig story about the frugal minister who didn't want to waste a barrel is pure fiction. It was concocted in the run-up to Prohibition by misguided pro-alcohol folks who thought it would give bourbon some cover if its inventor was a minister. It didn't work. Craig was real and he was a distiller, he just didn't invent bourbon.

Bourbon Boiler
07-13-2012, 20:59
Sounds kind of like the Abner Doubleday stories.

Shuboy
07-16-2012, 03:39
This story also makes little sense when Scotch whiskey distillers were already using used barrels around the same time or earlier. Since sherry was shipped in barrels to the UK, the distillers had access to an influx of empty barrels to fill with whisky that needed to be transported to market.