View Full Version : Toasting

10-23-2006, 12:37
On my visit to Woodford distillery in September Chris Morris told me that the toasting process contribute quit a lot to the taste and collar of the whiskey. He said that Woodford barrels was heavily toasted and had a low char level and that contributed to the special collar and taste of that brand. Woodford is not any of my favourite bourbons but I must admit it has a special collar (orange-brown) and taste (candy). This as some other things he told me was more or less news to me. Is there anybody that can bring a little more light on the influence that toasting can have on the final product?


10-23-2006, 13:39
Hey Leif,

I seem to recall in a thread on small batch home barreling (I believe it was Doug) that he started out with medium char barrels and got a lot of wood taste quickly. The thread then mentioned going to a lighter toasted char that ended up being less intense in the woodiness in the final product.

Not sure if this would apply to bigger batches.

10-23-2006, 14:20
"Toasting" is, I think, akin to kiln drying. I'm not sure of this. I'd be curious to know a little more about what he means by "toasting." There is a step when the barrels, assembled but open at each end, go into a chamber in which gas jets shoot flames through the barrels to char them. The flames are either on or off and they produce char, the amount of char depending on how long they are allowed to burn. Considering how this is done, I can't see how "toasting" can be done there, that's why I think "toasting" must be a different process.

The main point here is that since Brown-Forman owns Bluegrass Cooperage, they are the only whiskey-maker that also makes its own barrels, so barrels are a good thing for them to talk about. The other side of the coin is that they sell to other producers, and will make barrels to the customer's specifications, as will the other main cooperage, Independent Stave.

But, yes, barrel specifications certainly affect the taste of the whiskey.

10-23-2006, 15:04

You are correct about the barrels that we used. (Roger, Greg and I) The toasted barrels seem to deliver more young oak wood flavor to the whiskey, with caramel and smokiness following behind.

The charred barrels seem to impart deeper caramel notes, with more smokiness taking second place and woodiness taking a more distant third.

I was/is my understanding that a toasted barrel was put on the fire in the normal routine, but was removed prior to it catching on fire and having the darkened char layer form. Don't quote me on this.

I've herd that there is one source for barrels that offer something like 12 to 16 different levels of toast. It might be a European Barrel Maker, doing it for the wine industry over there.


10-24-2006, 11:22
I have always thought that the toasting process was the heating process (however that is done) that the oak staves go thru to be sufficient soft to be bent to barrel shape by the copper. According to the answers I seem to be wrong out here. Well you learn new things all the time here on the forum.


10-24-2006, 13:13
I went to a seminar given by Fritz Maytag at Whiskyfest Chicago once. He spoke of how he had his barrels made by a wine barrel maker.

IIRC it went something like this: Wine barrels are usually toasted over a small open fire. This supposedly sets the staves into the shape that they have been forceably bent into. To achieve char they let the barrels slowly heat over these open fires until they suddenly combusted-he said that when he watched them do this for the first time it shot flames out 20 feet in the air.

If Bluegrass Cooperage also sells barrels to winemakers, they would likely be set up to do barrel toasting and could possibly do this to the barrels before they put them into the charring chamber

10-24-2006, 14:38
what are the "honey barrels" i hear of old forester using???
how are these different?

10-25-2006, 10:52
I'll be touring Bluegrass at the end of November and will try to get definitive answers to some of these questions.

I know how they char the barrels, the process I described above. I don't know about "toast."

I do know that staves are dried before the barrels are assembled, either in the open air or in kilns.

The process used to soften the wood to make it easier to bend involves a steam bath, so I doubt that could be defined as "toasting."

I have seen Maytag's presentation and also on the recent History Channel "Distilleries 2" program, they show barrels being made in Cognac, in a way that I suspect was being done for demonstration purposes only. I find it hard to believe that any production barrels, even for Cognac, are being made in that way today (with the small, individual fire pots). It's simply too labor intensive.

While the way they make barrels at Bluegrass (I have been there before, years ago) still has a lot of hand-work, many steps are automated and done by machines, including the charring. While the wood is definitely burned, it is burned by the flames from the gas jets, which burn for a minute or so. The wood itself does not catch fire.

As for "honey barrels," that's more a term of art, referring to any aging barrel that seems to have developed particularly well. In effect, you're always trying to make "honey barrels," you just don't always succeed.

10-25-2006, 12:58
I'll be touring Bluegrass at the end of November and will try to get definitive answers to some of these questions.


I look forward to hear about it if you find out anything new.