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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Charring a barrel the old-fashioned way, with straw. On the bank of Glenn's Creek, Woodford County, Kentucky. August 27, 2009.
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  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2006
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    I think I'll have this made into a tattoo!!!

    "Hey Patty, where do want this one?"
    Colonel Ed
    Bourbonian of the Year 2006

    Comissioned by Paul Patton, 1999

    "It ain't the booze that brings me in here, it's the solace it distills"

  3. #3
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Question:

    Is there a specific legal definition of "charred" ? (I couldn't find one in a search of CFR 27)

    If not, might B-F's "toasted" barrels (used in the new WRMC issue) meet the definition of charred?
    John B

    "Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love at all seasons… that is all there is to distinguish us from other animals."

  4. #4
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Good question John,
    are those toasted barrels legally charred?
    ovh

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Charred means the wood burns. In toasting, the wood is heated but not ignited.

    In the absence of an explicit legal definition, the common dictionary definition will rule. The dictionary says: 1. To burn the surface of; scorch. 2. To reduce to carbon or charcoal by incomplete combustion.

  6. #6
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Quote Originally Posted by cowdery View Post
    Charred means the wood burns. In toasting, the wood is heated but not ignited.

    In the absence of an explicit legal definition, the common dictionary definition will rule. The dictionary says: 1. To burn the surface of; scorch. 2. To reduce to carbon or charcoal by incomplete combustion.
    So, let it be written....So, let it be done.
    JOE

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    "Every bottle is its own learning experience." -- Sensei Ox-sama

  7. #7
    Bourbonian Of The Year 2013 and Guru
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Quote Originally Posted by cowdery View Post
    Charring a barrel the old-fashioned way, with straw. On the bank of Glenn's Creek, Woodford County, Kentucky. August 27, 2009.
    The part I missed when I read this earlier, was the "straw" part. I take it that they filled it up with straw, and set it on fire? Did actual distilleries do this on some sort of large scale? If so, when did they stop? What I'm getting at, is it would seem to me that the straw could (maybe even, "would") impart some sort of lasting taste profile on the barrel, that the whiskey might pick up.
    I should be thinking about selling plastic right now, but somehow this seems more important...
    JOE

    Wag more.
    Bark less.

    "Every bottle is its own learning experience." -- Sensei Ox-sama

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Joe, using straw to char oak barrels was a technique of some artisan whiskey-makers. I believe it was Tim (Ratcheer) from Pelham, Alabama who first mentioned this on the board, he was reading an old distilling text, either by Harrison or Krafft I think. Later, I found a reference to the practice in Samuel M'Harry's Practical Distilling text (1809). I mentioned it would be nice to do experiments to char barrels today in this way and I said I assumed that some flavour would impart to the barrels. I believe I said this might have lent an extra layer of complexity to the whiskey. In recent years, barrels have been charred with straw experimentally as Chuck has mentioned. No doubt distilleries or some of them have known of this lore for 100 years or more, probably it was handed down. M'Harry said to use a handful only, which would not seem that much, but apparently dry straw can burn quite fiercely. M'Harry seemed concerned with sanitizing vessels used to manufacture raw spirit (e.g. fermenting vats), not with barrels used to age whiskey, but it is easy to imagine that the process applied to mashing and fermenting barrels got transferred to barrels for the storage of whiskey. Maybe - I think Carson suggested this in his Social History of Bourbon - disused mashing and fermenting vessels were used to hold whiskey for a time, and it was seen that they improved the whiskey, and ultimately people just charred the aging barrels.

    I hope one day we will be able to taste a bourbon aged or at least re-casked into such a barrel, it will be a taste of history.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 10-19-2009 at 07:25.

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Just to reiterate one of Gary's points, it's a handful or two of straw, not the whole barrel full.

    Also, look at the bottom of the barrel. You can see a little bit of glow on the left side. The barrel was propped up on one side with a rock to permit air circulation. If you don't do that, you get a nice smoked barrel but it doesn't burn hot enough to char.

    The idea is to burn just enough straw to ignite the barrel itself. You let it burn for a bit, then use the head to extinguish it.

    The hard part is getting an even char over the entire internal surface of the barrel.

    Natural gas would have replaced straw sometime in the late 19th century.

    Even before it became common to char whiskey barrels, it was necessary to heat the wood to make it pliable. A small pot with a fire in it, kind of like a hibachi, would have been placed inside the barrel. The fuel was likely wood, charcoal or coal, something that would burn more slowly than straw. A cooperage would have had plenty of wood scraps to burn.
    Last edited by cowdery; 10-19-2009 at 12:33.

  10. #10
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    Re: Charring a Barrel, the Old-Fashioned Way.

    Wouldn't heating the staves to make them flexible effect a sort of toasting? It would have been inconsistent as I imagine fine grain and coarse grain would require different amounts of heating to achieve the desired results.

 

 

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