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tmckenzie

Has char levels in the barrels increased along with barrel proof?

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tmckenzie

I was tasting through some wheat whiskey we have in used barrels, it is getting nice age on it. I was reminded it while tasteing it of S-W bourbon. Had some nice cherry notes I get from their stuff. Got me to thinking, has barrel char increased over the years as barrel proof as increased? The first use of the barrels with the wheat was bourbon, which took a lot of the char notes out. Letting the wheat oxidize more and not become over charred. In a lot of dusty bourbons I do not get a heavy char note like I do in some of the current stuff. Mike Veach and Chuck, you all should know better than me. Do you all know anything about it? I can see distillers thinking, if we go in a higher proof, we will not get as much extraction out of the wood, so lets char the barrel more. I intend to find out next week.

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Gillman

It's not just that but some people are toasting the barrel first, which I don't think is traditional. I agree that old-time bourbon did not have a heavily charred or smoky taste, I think the idea more was to cleanse it of the secondaries that can lend off-flavors especially in newer spirit. And for that you need a filter between the whiskey and the wood which the thin layer provides. Yet older bourbon often seemed sweeter. I wonder if a heavy char can reduce, not promote, contact with the red layer.

Gary

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Bourbon Boiler

I was wondering if it was being done to mask shorter aging times.

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T Comp

From this post from Ken Weber of BT back in 2004 it seems to indicate they may have made changes to char level when they took over the distillery: "At Buffalo Trace Distillery, we first toast our barrels and afterward char them to a #4 level (55 second burn). We have experimented with several different char levels (going as high as a number 7 char, which just about destroyed the structural integrity of the barrel) to find the level that works best for us. The #4 level (in our opinion) yielded the best bourbon. By toasting the barrels (this was kind of an afterthought), we found that we could enhance the flavor of the #4 char." http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?3352-Changing-Tastes-Changing-the-Taste-of-Bourbon&p=35472#post35472 in post #6 (you can no longer quote from closed threads it appears.

Brad Boswell of Independent Stave has said that all the majors they supply use 3 or 4 but many only a 1 or 2 on the heads.

I have tried to find more information when toasting before charring started but not turned up much.

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Gillman

B-F does the toasting part too, at least for JD. IIRC, the reason asserted for the practice by JD is that it heightens the richness and caramel qualities of the spirit. I like many others get a sooty quality too in Jack, but perhaps this comes from the maple charcoal, not the way the barrel is toasted and charred.

I wonder if the idea was adopted when JD's domestic Black Label dropped to 80 from 86 proof...

Gary

Edited by Gillman

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squire

That's astute Gary, could be they are all setting up to convert to 80 proof if they can get away with it. That is, after all, the World's whisky standard proof.

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tmckenzie

I think toasting is for sure a new thing. I plan to ask the folks who make barrels for us. I will report back, but I think I know that they will confirm my thoughts.

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Restaurant man
That's astute Gary, could be they are all setting up to convert to 80 proof if they can get away with it. That is, after all, the World's whisky standard proof.

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Leopold

Some upped the char to combat the loss of color that occurs when you barrel at a higher proof. In other words, barrel entry used to be 50% abv. They moved to 62.5. What happens when you pull these barrels for bottling? You're adding a ton of water to the whisky, rather than just a few liters to drop to bottling proof. This washes out the color. So you can either add coloring caramel, or up the char. Some firms don't believe in adding coloring caramel, so there you go.

Lincoln Henderson told me that he was around when they were moving the entry proof upwards. He said that color was the primary issue that they had to address.

One well known cooper told me years ago that (paraphrasing) "distillers like to talk about number char this and number char that. There's no uniformity in these barrels because you're using an open flame on wood that isn't identical, and doesn't react to the flames the same way every time. But that's what they ask for, so that's what I get 'em".

Edited by Leopold

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squire

RM, you've never tasted a Scotch or Canadian whisky?

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Gillman

Todd, another solution was/is adding older whiskey (than what was generally dumped), certainly where 80 proof was being bottled. I recall someone from Jack Daniels stating, when the drop occurred in the U.S., that if the color was too light they could adjust it by adding a little older stock. Of course that could increase the cost noticeably if too much was needed for the purpose, which makes me wonder again if they took a closer look at the barrel at this time. Interesting that the char numbers are a relative thing, and this may explain too the different maturation results you get even from barrels next to each other.

Gary

Edited by Gillman

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tmckenzie

That makes a lot of sense. We go in at 100 and you do draw a lot of color, almost a different color. The folks we buy from are pretty good about getting different char level. We use a lighter char on rye than we do bourbon.

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tmckenzie

I just sent an email off to a man I know who can answer it, and if he says it is true, then it is true. We shall see.

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squire

I'd be very interested in what he has to say Tom.

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squire

Todd brings up a salient point because wood from different trees will vary slightly, even from a stand on the same hillside, and add that to a slight susceptibility to the impact of a direct flame, may well explain why barrels next to each other in the warehouse will age the whisky differently.

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ebo

One well known cooper told me years ago that (paraphrasing) "distillers like to talk about number char this and number char that. There's no uniformity in these barrels because you're using an open flame on wood that isn't identical, and doesn't react to the flames the same way every time. But that's what they ask for, so that's what I get 'em".

I always wondered about that. I've been a Cabinetmaker for 34 years. I know how wood behaves. wood is different even in the same species. I have no doubt that it takes a char differently on every barrel; even differently within the same barrel.

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shoshani

I saw one of those "Julian P. Van Winkle Fireside-Chats The Consumer" type Old Fitzgerald magazine ads in "But Always Fine Bourbon", in which he goes on about how Stitzel-Weller barrels are held together with eight hoops rather than the standard six. The reason he gives is that the barrel staves at S-W were thicker so they could hold a deeper char. But this would have been in the 1950s or early 1960s, and it's not only possible but probable that standards for char have changed in 50-60 years just as everything else has in distilleries.

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squire

I would love to get a bound copy of those fireside chats.

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tmckenzie

According to Larry Ebersold who retired from what was LDI, he does not think char levels changed at least where he was employed.

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VAGentleman
B-F does the toasting part too, at least for JD. IIRC, the reason asserted for the practice by JD is that it heightens the richness and caramel qualities of the spirit. I like many others get a sooty quality too in Jack, but perhaps this comes from the maple charcoal, not the way the barrel is toasted and charred.

I wonder if the idea was adopted when JD's domestic Black Label dropped to 80 from 86 proof...

Gary

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shoshani
According to Larry Ebersold who retired from what was LDI, he does not think char levels changed at least where he was employed.

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Gillman

VAG has raised a good point. It makes sense to me that a spirit stripped partially of its oils and other fusels will take up more barrel character than a heavier, oily spirit. True, a heavy sooty quality is not really apparent in George Dickel. However, its maple leaching process seems less intense from everything I've read and of course its barrels may not undergo a preliminary toasting. The Jack palate, which is quite distinctive, may result from a combination of factors including its yeast; toasting of barrels before charring; and the fact of being a lighter spirit, all things being equal, than bourbon. And it is lighter, while I haven't done the white dog comparison in a long time, sometimes I'll drink Jack for a while - any iteration - and when going back to a Kentucky straight am always struck by the heavier body in relation to JD.

Gary

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squire

VA I don't think you're you completely wrong, quite the opposite. I have long suspected the treatment of Jack prior to barreling lends the whisky to picking up more char elements than it would otherwise.

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Leopold

Recall the Lincoln County process. You're turning sugar maple wood into char, and then soaking alcohol in it after the fire has been doused. In my experience, you may be absorbing some congeners with that char, but you are most certainly also adding phenols and other flavors to the unaged spirit. One of those flavors is charred wood... a different kind of wood, and at a much, much higher concentration than you see on the surface of a 53 gallon barrel. Have a look at those leeching vats at Jack Daniels and think about how much charred surface there is in those vats versus what that whiskey sees in a single barrel. Add in the movement of that whiskey as opposed to the Dickel steeping method, and there's your likely answer as to where that flavor you're perceiving comes from....

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VAGentleman

Leopold, I agree that you think it would pull in some of those flavors but tasting the white dog after going through the Lincoln County Process leaves only a very faint flavor of charcoal, so I think a little of the taste comes from it but not the majority

Another point I forgot, my white dog bottles are 86 proof so most likely were watered down to that proof. So its more than likely it has more char flavor at distilling proof. So its most likely a combination of the LCP and taking more falvor due to whats removed in the process.

Edited by VAGentleman

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