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Thread: Why Oak?

  1. #1
    Advanced Taster
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    Why Oak?

    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


    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.

  2. #2
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    Re: Why Oak?

    Quote Originally Posted by Squash View Post
    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.

    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.
    Jason
    "The man who smiles when things go wrong has thought of someone to blame it on"

    2010 Fantasy Football Champion

  3. #3
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    Re: Why Oak?

    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
    Bourbon makes me happy.

    Go Fighters!

  4. #4
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    Re: Why Oak?

    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
    " I never met a Weller I didn't like"

  5. #5
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    Re: Why Oak?

    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

  6. #6
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    Re: Why Oak?

    Using the wrong wood could kill you. Different woods and many from Africa can impart deadly toxins. Oak is Oak is Oak... BB

  7. #7
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    Re: Why Oak?

    BT has experimented with other woods
    Normal is an illusion. What is normal to the spider, is chaos for the fly.

  8. #8
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    Re: Why Oak?

    Quote Originally Posted by p_elliott View Post
    BT has experimented with other woods
    Do you know which? BB

  9. #9
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    Re: Why Oak?

    Quote Originally Posted by Buffalo Bill View Post
    Do you know which? BB
    http://www.thebourbonreview.com/inde...ories&Itemid=1
    Normal is an illusion. What is normal to the spider, is chaos for the fly.

  10. #10
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    Re: Why Oak?

    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.

 

 

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