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View Full Version : Has char levels in the barrels increased along with barrel proof?



tmckenzie
01-05-2013, 05:53
I was tasting through some wheat whiskey we have in used barrels, it is getting nice age on it. I was reminded it while tasteing it of S-W bourbon. Had some nice cherry notes I get from their stuff. Got me to thinking, has barrel char increased over the years as barrel proof as increased? The first use of the barrels with the wheat was bourbon, which took a lot of the char notes out. Letting the wheat oxidize more and not become over charred. In a lot of dusty bourbons I do not get a heavy char note like I do in some of the current stuff. Mike Veach and Chuck, you all should know better than me. Do you all know anything about it? I can see distillers thinking, if we go in a higher proof, we will not get as much extraction out of the wood, so lets char the barrel more. I intend to find out next week.

Gillman
01-05-2013, 06:04
It's not just that but some people are toasting the barrel first, which I don't think is traditional. I agree that old-time bourbon did not have a heavily charred or smoky taste, I think the idea more was to cleanse it of the secondaries that can lend off-flavors especially in newer spirit. And for that you need a filter between the whiskey and the wood which the thin layer provides. Yet older bourbon often seemed sweeter. I wonder if a heavy char can reduce, not promote, contact with the red layer.

Gary

Bourbon Boiler
01-05-2013, 08:11
I was wondering if it was being done to mask shorter aging times.

T Comp
01-05-2013, 08:52
From this post from Ken Weber of BT back in 2004 it seems to indicate they may have made changes to char level when they took over the distillery: "At Buffalo Trace Distillery, we first toast our barrels and afterward char them to a #4 level (55 second burn). We have experimented with several different char levels (going as high as a number 7 char, which just about destroyed the structural integrity of the barrel) to find the level that works best for us. The #4 level (in our opinion) yielded the best bourbon. By toasting the barrels (this was kind of an afterthought), we found that we could enhance the flavor of the #4 char." http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?3352-Changing-Tastes-Changing-the-Taste-of-Bourbon&p=35472#post35472 in post #6 (you can no longer quote from closed threads it appears.

Brad Boswell of Independent Stave has said that all the majors they supply use 3 or 4 but many only a 1 or 2 on the heads.

I have tried to find more information when toasting before charring started but not turned up much.

Gillman
01-05-2013, 11:44
B-F does the toasting part too, at least for JD. IIRC, the reason asserted for the practice by JD is that it heightens the richness and caramel qualities of the spirit. I like many others get a sooty quality too in Jack, but perhaps this comes from the maple charcoal, not the way the barrel is toasted and charred.

I wonder if the idea was adopted when JD's domestic Black Label dropped to 80 from 86 proof...

Gary

squire
01-05-2013, 13:06
That's astute Gary, could be they are all setting up to convert to 80 proof if they can get away with it. That is, after all, the World's whisky standard proof.

tmckenzie
01-05-2013, 17:44
I think toasting is for sure a new thing. I plan to ask the folks who make barrels for us. I will report back, but I think I know that they will confirm my thoughts.

Restaurant man
01-05-2013, 19:36
That's astute Gary, could be they are all setting up to convert to 80 proof if they can get away with it. That is, after all, the World's whisky standard proof.

Thats interesting. I've never had a whiskey at just 80 proof before. Wonder what it tastes like? Guess I'll have to ask the next canadian I meet.

Leopold
01-05-2013, 20:26
Some upped the char to combat the loss of color that occurs when you barrel at a higher proof. In other words, barrel entry used to be 50% abv. They moved to 62.5. What happens when you pull these barrels for bottling? You're adding a ton of water to the whisky, rather than just a few liters to drop to bottling proof. This washes out the color. So you can either add coloring caramel, or up the char. Some firms don't believe in adding coloring caramel, so there you go.

Lincoln Henderson told me that he was around when they were moving the entry proof upwards. He said that color was the primary issue that they had to address.

One well known cooper told me years ago that (paraphrasing) "distillers like to talk about number char this and number char that. There's no uniformity in these barrels because you're using an open flame on wood that isn't identical, and doesn't react to the flames the same way every time. But that's what they ask for, so that's what I get 'em".

squire
01-05-2013, 20:28
RM, you've never tasted a Scotch or Canadian whisky?

Gillman
01-06-2013, 02:44
Todd, another solution was/is adding older whiskey (than what was generally dumped), certainly where 80 proof was being bottled. I recall someone from Jack Daniels stating, when the drop occurred in the U.S., that if the color was too light they could adjust it by adding a little older stock. Of course that could increase the cost noticeably if too much was needed for the purpose, which makes me wonder again if they took a closer look at the barrel at this time. Interesting that the char numbers are a relative thing, and this may explain too the different maturation results you get even from barrels next to each other.

Gary

tmckenzie
01-06-2013, 03:29
That makes a lot of sense. We go in at 100 and you do draw a lot of color, almost a different color. The folks we buy from are pretty good about getting different char level. We use a lighter char on rye than we do bourbon.

tmckenzie
01-06-2013, 03:37
I just sent an email off to a man I know who can answer it, and if he says it is true, then it is true. We shall see.

squire
01-06-2013, 09:59
I'd be very interested in what he has to say Tom.

squire
01-06-2013, 10:10
Todd brings up a salient point because wood from different trees will vary slightly, even from a stand on the same hillside, and add that to a slight susceptibility to the impact of a direct flame, may well explain why barrels next to each other in the warehouse will age the whisky differently.

ebo
01-06-2013, 16:42
One well known cooper told me years ago that (paraphrasing) "distillers like to talk about number char this and number char that. There's no uniformity in these barrels because you're using an open flame on wood that isn't identical, and doesn't react to the flames the same way every time. But that's what they ask for, so that's what I get 'em".

I always wondered about that. I've been a Cabinetmaker for 34 years. I know how wood behaves. wood is different even in the same species. I have no doubt that it takes a char differently on every barrel; even differently within the same barrel.

shoshani
01-06-2013, 19:44
I saw one of those "Julian P. Van Winkle Fireside-Chats The Consumer" type Old Fitzgerald magazine ads in "But Always Fine Bourbon", in which he goes on about how Stitzel-Weller barrels are held together with eight hoops rather than the standard six. The reason he gives is that the barrel staves at S-W were thicker so they could hold a deeper char. But this would have been in the 1950s or early 1960s, and it's not only possible but probable that standards for char have changed in 50-60 years just as everything else has in distilleries.

squire
01-06-2013, 20:12
I would love to get a bound copy of those fireside chats.

tmckenzie
01-07-2013, 17:23
According to Larry Ebersold who retired from what was LDI, he does not think char levels changed at least where he was employed.

VAGentleman
01-08-2013, 07:06
B-F does the toasting part too, at least for JD. IIRC, the reason asserted for the practice by JD is that it heightens the richness and caramel qualities of the spirit. I like many others get a sooty quality too in Jack, but perhaps this comes from the maple charcoal, not the way the barrel is toasted and charred.

I wonder if the idea was adopted when JD's domestic Black Label dropped to 80 from 86 proof...

Gary

First of all this is a fascinating topic. Thanks everyone for enlightening me on something I never gave much thought to regarding the differences between individual barrels etc.

I wanted to chime in on the JD taste thing Gillman mentioned. I have a couple of bottles of JD white Dog, one before charcoal mellowing and one after. The after has just a hint of the charcoal but not very prevalent. I was always under the impression that the char taste was a result of the white dog being able to pick up more of the char flavoring from the barrel because of what was stripped out because of the charcoal. Of course I could be completely wrong.

shoshani
01-08-2013, 07:20
According to Larry Ebersold who retired from what was LDI, he does not think char levels changed at least where he was employed.

LDI would make a fascinating study in itself, especially in comparison to its former sibling distillery in Kentucky. Four Roses aged and sold straight bourbon whiskey during the Seagram years, just not for US consumption; by contrast, LDI was pretty much a GNS/gin/vodka/blending whiskey plant under Seagram, so the bourbon and rye they produced for blending may have been aged in new charred barrels, but also may have been aged at least partially in refill barrels since blended whiskey doesn't require new-char.

Gillman
01-08-2013, 07:44
VAG has raised a good point. It makes sense to me that a spirit stripped partially of its oils and other fusels will take up more barrel character than a heavier, oily spirit. True, a heavy sooty quality is not really apparent in George Dickel. However, its maple leaching process seems less intense from everything I've read and of course its barrels may not undergo a preliminary toasting. The Jack palate, which is quite distinctive, may result from a combination of factors including its yeast; toasting of barrels before charring; and the fact of being a lighter spirit, all things being equal, than bourbon. And it is lighter, while I haven't done the white dog comparison in a long time, sometimes I'll drink Jack for a while - any iteration - and when going back to a Kentucky straight am always struck by the heavier body in relation to JD.

Gary

squire
01-08-2013, 07:59
VA I don't think you're you completely wrong, quite the opposite. I have long suspected the treatment of Jack prior to barreling lends the whisky to picking up more char elements than it would otherwise.

Leopold
01-08-2013, 09:09
Recall the Lincoln County process. You're turning sugar maple wood into char, and then soaking alcohol in it after the fire has been doused. In my experience, you may be absorbing some congeners with that char, but you are most certainly also adding phenols and other flavors to the unaged spirit. One of those flavors is charred wood... a different kind of wood, and at a much, much higher concentration than you see on the surface of a 53 gallon barrel. Have a look at those leeching vats at Jack Daniels and think about how much charred surface there is in those vats versus what that whiskey sees in a single barrel. Add in the movement of that whiskey as opposed to the Dickel steeping method, and there's your likely answer as to where that flavor you're perceiving comes from....

VAGentleman
01-08-2013, 09:41
Leopold, I agree that you think it would pull in some of those flavors but tasting the white dog after going through the Lincoln County Process leaves only a very faint flavor of charcoal, so I think a little of the taste comes from it but not the majority


Another point I forgot, my white dog bottles are 86 proof so most likely were watered down to that proof. So its more than likely it has more char flavor at distilling proof. So its most likely a combination of the LCP and taking more falvor due to whats removed in the process.

squire
01-08-2013, 10:18
Speaking strictly as a consumer Todd, I don't think so because the 'sooty' note in the finished whisky is not present in the white dog.

Gillman
01-08-2013, 10:26
I think too it would depend on how carbonized that maple charcoal is.

Gary

squire
01-08-2013, 10:36
I was thinking that as well Gary, the sooty notes we associate with Jack Daniels and George Dickel are not present in Clontarf Irish whisky which undergoes a similar charcoal vat filtration prior to being aged in barrels. I'm not qualified to say charcoal is charcoal is charcoal but the sugar in a sugar maple tree is in the sap, not the wood, and if new make George or Jack were run through a vat of white oak charcoal I question whether it would make much difference.

Leopold
01-08-2013, 10:47
Speaking strictly as a consumer Todd, I don't think so because the 'sooty' note in the finished whisky is not present in the white dog.

Fascinating. Are you certain that the white dog ran through the char? Or was only a portion run through? Is the white dog at barrel entry strength?

In the end, I can only speak from experience. We charred our sugar maple on site, and then steeped the undiluted new make in the char for several weeks before "filtering" the spirit with a wool blanket. The phenol levels are quite elevated before barreling , and you can already perceive quite a bit of char/wood flavors before it goes into a barrel.

Obviously I can't tell you JD's specific MO when it comes to using the char.... e.g, how many Kg of char per liter of whiskey, etc.

squire
01-08-2013, 11:03
Couldn't say Todd, I'm not in the orbit of JD's inner circle. Is maple filtering a regular step for your Batch whisky? Have you experimented with the charcoal from other hardwoods?

Leopold
01-08-2013, 11:21
Heh. I'm not in orbit at all, apparently.

We started a bottled in bond program which we will accelerate at our new distillery here this year. One of the whiskies is a Tenn. Style whiskey, and that's the process I'm describing. We haven't released it as yet as it has a year or so to go. Sugar Maple is the only wood I've worked with in making our own char.

Mr. Bell and the boys at Corsair distillery are the people to talk to regarding various charred woods. They're doing all kinds of cool stuff out there.

squire
01-08-2013, 11:27
Thanks for the tip Todd, they're actually within driving distance. Good luck with the project.

tmckenzie
01-09-2013, 03:56
First of all this is a fascinating topic. Thanks everyone for enlightening me on something I never gave much thought to regarding the differences between individual barrels etc.

I wanted to chime in on the JD taste thing Gillman mentioned. I have a couple of bottles of JD white Dog, one before charcoal mellowing and one after. The after has just a hint of the charcoal but not very prevalent. I was always under the impression that the char taste was a result of the white dog being able to pick up more of the char flavoring from the barrel because of what was stripped out because of the charcoal. Of course I could be completely wrong.

I would be interested in a couple things, the bottles you have where distilled when? I am told there as ben a ton of changes in their process distillation wise. And where did you get them I want some too.

VAGentleman
01-09-2013, 07:31
My bottles were distilled in 1990 I believe. They are 375ML. I have a friend whose Uncle was a distributor back in the day and JD gave them some pairs of these 1 Day old JD before and after charcoal mellowing to do tastings with customers with. He had an extra pair and gave them to me many years ago. Every now and then I break them out and have a shot of each. They are 86 proof.

fishnbowljoe
01-21-2013, 18:13
Not sure, but I love the "chewy" last pour from a barrel proofer. :yum:

mosugoji64
01-21-2013, 21:34
Not sure, but I love the "chewy" last pour from a barrel proofer. :yum:

Mmmmmmm ... char

tanstaafl2
01-22-2013, 09:12
Mmmmmmm ... char

Nothing like some nice tasty polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons!

emr454
05-13-2013, 14:09
Here's a link to a discussion I started back in '09 on whiskey barrel composition:

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?13230-Whiskey-barrel-wood-composition

I'd like to know how long they've been using chinkapin oak along with white oak.

Eric

squire
05-13-2013, 14:43
Eric I understand Chinkapin is a member of the White Oak group though I don't know if the staves are interchangeable with White Oak proper for whisky barrel purposes.

tmckenzie
05-15-2013, 02:31
they have been using it for probably as long as barrels have been being made. all of the cooperages I know of take it. only one, mcginnis, pulls them out when scaling. the reason they do is they make a chinkapin barrel. I have a couple dozen of them with rye, and some with wheated bourbon in them and have been very pleased with them so far. They seem to add more spice notes.

squire
05-15-2013, 11:39
Tom, that is very interesting.

sutton
07-09-2013, 13:49
Bump ... up thread there was discussion about adding older whisky to compensate for color loss when distilleries began barreling at a higher entry proof. If dusty whiskies were barreled closer to 100pf and seemed darker, is it due to the fact that some of the color compounds are more water soluble than ethanol soluble? Doesn't WT barrel at a lower barrel entry proof? That bourbon always seemed darker to me, although not sure what it's average age is ... I also thought I read on here that SW also barreled at a lower entry proof. Does the higher water content during aging have to do with more color and simultaneously less char taste in dusties?

jmj_203
05-12-2014, 13:17
This is a great read, sorry for bumpage if its old. I was fascinated at how dark my bottles of WT101 are, and I knew they barreled at lower entry proof (Esp since my Rare Breed is barrel proof at 108.2), however I never would have thought a lower proof would extract MORE color from the barrel. Cool stuff guys.

qman22
05-12-2014, 21:00
I can't believe I just stumbled upon this thread now. It was an excellent read! Barrel char changing is something that never really occurred to me. I can't remember the exact thread, but I remember reading that SW barreled at 105 proof.

squire
05-13-2014, 20:42
That's true, SW used 103-105, depending how it came out of the stills. That could've been one of my posts as I've mentioned that often enough.

Interesting that the Van Winkle and Pappy brands we get today entered the barrel at 125.

tmckenzie
05-18-2014, 01:21
Water is a better solvent than alcohol. So you get better extraction of color and I think lower proof extracts a different range of flavors than high proof. Lower proof in my experience, we barrel at 100, picks up more maple, butterscotch, coconut, flavors. Higher proof leads to more vanilla and char flavors. It certainly pulls more color in the first year of aging. Have you ever seen pictures or a bottle of lem motlow? I did recently. One year old JD. This bottle was late 70s. It was as dark, or darker than anything they have on the market today. Also, I have noticed there is a more red color to it than amber. With the barrel market as tight as it is, one might be tempted to raise entry proof. Not me.

jonnyd
05-18-2014, 19:34
Do we think that lower entry proof is at least part of the reason for the difference in ND OGD and JB OGD?

TheNovaMan
05-18-2014, 19:55
Chemically, that's entirely plausible. Water is a more polar solvent than ethanol, and because ethanol content only increases with age in most bourbon barrels, higher barrel entry proof will decrease the spirit's ability to extract the more polar compounds from the barrel.

squire
05-19-2014, 10:14
Do we think that lower entry proof is at least part of the reason for the difference in ND OGD and JB OGD?

Yes, we do . . . . . . . . . . .

jonnyd
05-20-2014, 20:32
That was my assumption just based on tasting the difference in ND OGD 86 vs JB OGD BIB with a splash of water to even it out. A whole lot more of the flavors that Tom was talking about with the lower entry proof.