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  1. #1
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    Why oak barrels?

    Is there some kind of rule or law that it has to be an oak barrel, or just tradition? Does oak have some kind of physical properties that tends to make it the wood of choice?

    Why not maple, cherry, cedar, even pine? I know it affects the flavor and color, but would it be too terrible to try?

  2. #2
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    Why oak barrels?

    Quote Originally Posted by Alden View Post
    Is there some kind of rule or law that it has to be an oak barrel, or just tradition? Does oak have some kind of physical properties that tends to make it the wood of choice?

    Why not maple, cherry, cedar, even pine? I know it affects the flavor and color, but would it be too terrible to try?
    The legal definition of straight bourbon is a spirit from a grain mash of at least 51% corn that is distilled to no higher than 160 proof, is entered into new, charred white oak barrels at no higher than 125 proof, and is aged for at least two years.

    So yeah, there is a law, but apart from that, the nature of oak makes it a suitable wood for aging spirits. A softwood such as pine or cedar would be entirely unsuitable, and I believe some pines are even poisonous.
    Jim

  3. #3
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    Re: Why oak barrels?

    Law of Nature one might say, oak does the best job, which is why it's been the wood of choice for centuries now. Not just any oak either, American White Oak is the choice of distillers around the World.

  4. #4
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    Re: Why oak barrels?

    OK. I was also thinking nut woods might work, like chestnut, walnut, pecan... they are fairly hard woods. Interesting.

    Don't the insides of the barrels also have to be charred? Why is that?

  5. #5
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    Why oak barrels?

    Quote Originally Posted by Alden View Post
    OK. I was also thinking nut woods might work, like chestnut, walnut, pecan... they are fairly hard woods. Interesting.

    Don't the insides of the barrels also have to be charred? Why is that?
    That's the legal requirement for bourbon. Ultimately that is because the essential flavor of bourbon derives from the charred barrel.

    Plenty of other things are aged in barrels that are not charred.
    Jim

  6. #6
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    Re: Why oak barrels?

    Doubt you would find enough chestnut to even supply the micros.

  7. #7
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    Re: Why oak barrels?

    Most simple put, taste and function.

    White Oak has a nice taste, but so do others, maple, cherry probably being the best. Walnut and red oak, nasty and smelly, expecially ingested. Cedar and pine, no way, unless you are a fan of Retsina.

    Then there is the function. White oak is basically waterproof, due to the tyloses present in the pores of the wood. Kind of important when trying to keep a liquid contained. Others, not so much. I remember seeing a pic of the maple barrels Woodford used, leakiest things I'd ever seen.

    Personally, I'd love to taste something aged in charred cherry. it smells so sweet when working it, and it's the best kept secret in grilling woods.

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

  8. #8
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    Re: Why oak barrels?

    Quote Originally Posted by BFerguson View Post
    Most simple put, taste and function.

    White Oak has a nice taste, but so do others, maple, cherry probably being the best. Walnut and red oak, nasty and smelly, expecially ingested. Cedar and pine, no way, unless you are a fan of Retsina.

    Then there is the function. White oak is basically waterproof, due to the tyloses present in the pores of the wood. Kind of important when trying to keep a liquid contained. Others, not so much. I remember seeing a pic of the maple barrels Woodford used, leakiest things I'd ever seen.

    Personally, I'd love to taste something aged in charred cherry. it smells so sweet when working it, and it's the best kept secret in grilling woods.

    B
    I personally have no experience with anything other than home wine, where the tannin from wood(s) can be added in a few ways other than by storing in a wood barrel. Can whiskey have, say, charred cherry flavor added by floating charred cherry boards in it while aging? That's an experiment that could be done with some inexpensive, already made whiskey, isn't it? hmmm... btw, I understand the reason for charring is to caramelize the natural complex carbohydrates found in the wood, according to my neighbor, our state viticulturist at the NMSU ag school.

  9. #9
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    Re: Why oak barrels?

    Yes, that could work and would not require any special equipment, a grill to char the wood and a clean plastic milk jug for the experiment. Cherry or other wood chips maturated in inexpensive whisky until your questions are answered. A word of caution though, wood chips (chunks?) may impart more tannins than caramelized wood sugars.

    Distillers use only oak because that's what the law requires if the whisky is to be classified as Bourbon. A few of them already sell a cherry flavored whisky though and that might be a better option.

  10. #10
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    Re: Why oak barrels?

    Quote Originally Posted by squire View Post
    Yes, that could work and would not require any special equipment, a grill to char the wood and a clean plastic milk jug for the experiment. Cherry or other wood chips maturated in inexpensive whisky until your questions are answered. A word of caution though, wood chips (chunks?) may impart more tannins than caramelized wood sugars.

    Distillers use only oak because that's what the law requires if the whisky is to be classified as Bourbon. A few of them already sell a cherry flavored whisky though and that might be a better option.
    Yeah, I tried that cherry Jim Beam abomination. Red Stag. Once was enough.

 

 

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