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  1. #1
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    Barrels and wood

    I've been wondering for some time; why are barrels always made from Oak?

    Why is it always White Oak, and not Red Oak, Black Oak, Pin Oak, Bur Oak or..............?

    Why is no other wood used for making barrels, like Walnut, Ash, Hickory or Cherry?

  2. #2
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    The resident historians can add to this, but the main reason would be that bourbon, by legal definition, has to be aged in charred OAK barrels.
    "Civilization begins with distillation."

    William Faulkner

  3. #3
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    All other production variables being equal, i do wonder what whiskey would taste like from new hickory barrels....

    ....or maybe they do, I really don't know how they make that funny tasting Scotch....
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    Rye whiskey makes the sun set faster.

  4. #4
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    Quote Originally Posted by wmpevans View Post
    The resident historians can add to this, but the main reason would be that bourbon, by legal definition, has to be aged in charred OAK barrels.
    I'm thinking ebo understands this..he's questioning "why only oak?"
    The liver is evil. It must be punished...

  5. #5
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    white oak is the time tested material. from what I remember in my wine days, it has to do with its flavor profile and the quality of the wood grain being most suitable for holding liquids. also, from wikipedia

    Throughout history other wood types, including chestnut, pine, redwood, and acacia, have been used in crafting winemaking vessels, particularly large fermentation vats. However none of these wood types possess the compatibility with wine that oak has demonstrated in combining its water tight, yet slightly porous, storage capabilities with the unique flavor and texture characteristic that it can impart to the wine that it is in contact with.[22] Chestnut is very high in tannins and is too porous as a storage barrel and must be coated with paraffin to prevent excessive wine loss through evaporation. Redwood is too rigid to bend into the smaller barrel shapes and imparts an unpleasant flavor. Acacia imparts a yellow tint to the wine. Other hardwoods like apple and cherry wood have an off putting smell.[23] Austrian winemakers have a history of using Acacia barrels. Historically, chestnut was used by Beaujolais, Italian and Portuguese wine makers.[24] Some Rhône winemakers still use paraffin coated chestnut barrels but the coating minimizes any effect from the wood making its function similar to a neutral concrete vessel. In Chile there are traditions for using barrel made of rauli wood but it is beginning to fall out of favor due to the musky scent it imparts on wine.[25]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_(wi...her_wood_types

  6. #6
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    Quote Originally Posted by Phil T View Post
    I'm thinking ebo understands this..he's questioning "why only oak?"
    Exactly. I understand the law about bourbon, but I always wondered why other wood is never used outside of bourbon or any other spirit, really.

  7. #7
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    White oak is physically unique as compared to other woods in its cellular structure. If I remember correctly from my college woods classes white oak has occlusions inside its cellular structure that makes the wood not porous length wise while remaining porous laterally. Red oaks do not have these occlusions. During barrel fabrication these wood cells are opened which allows the liquid to enter the cells. Because of the cellular occlusions the liquid does not soak through the entire barrel. I have been told you can take two pieces of oak in a thin stick, one red and one white, and if you hold one end under water and blow on the other end, you can make bubbles with the red oak stick but not the white.

  8. #8
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    Maybe it is the cynic in me, but I always assumed Congressional power from those in oak producing states was a factor as well.

  9. #9
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    In terms of red vs white oak, red oak lacks tyloses, which to put it simply, it stuff that clogs up the pore of the wood, and thus renders it relatively water tight.

    If you took a small "straw" of both red and white oak, and put one end in water and then blew through the other, you would get bubbles with the red and nothing with the white.

    Thus the historical preference for white versus other wood types for this water tightness effectiveness.

    I remember seeing a photo of the maple barrels that Woodford did, and they were leaking like a sieve. See Chuck's blog for a pic.

    http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/201...different.html

    Flavor is a big factor too. Having worked with both white and red oak, white just smells a lot nicer when cutting it, red often just plain reeks. That is pretty simple to translate in how it would taste.

    B
    "Life is life and fun is fun, but it's all so quiet when the goldfish die."

  10. #10
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    Re: Barrels and wood

    Quote Originally Posted by Bourbon Boiler View Post
    Maybe it is the cynic in me.....
    "The west slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio and central Mississippi River Valleys have optimum conditions for white oak"

    http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics...ercus/alba.htm


    Sounds like a certain whiskey producing state is also a good place to grow the barrels. Back in the early days, that would have been important.
    Last edited by soad; 01-29-2012 at 11:42.
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    Rye whiskey makes the sun set faster.

 

 

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