You might be here because you’re curious about this topic.
You might also be here because you were redirected from a previous post about a tour of Whistling Hare Distillery.
Either way, welcome! Here’s a mini-primer on using barrels to age or add flavors to wine and spirits. Perhaps in the future I’ll go into greater depth, but in the meantime I’ve added some helpful links to further reading.
- Ageing spirits (or wine) in a barrel is a deliberate choice made by the spirit/wine producer. Should they choose to mature their product in a new barrel, the wood actually imparts additional flavors to the liquid. This is also true for a barrel that has been used once or even twice, though the flavors will present as softer as opposed to using a new one.
- Further, distillers/winemakers can choose what barrels they want based not only on the type of wood (oak being most commonly and traditionally used) but also how much the cooperage toasts, or sets aflame, the inside of the barrel before it’s bound and sealed. Alternatively, the wood can be deeply charred. The amount of either option determines what flavors will appear in the finished product, as well as in what intensity, though this latter variable is also dependent on climate and time in barrel.
- Just to make it more complicated, the barrels can be cut along the staves prior to toasting/charring in (as far as my current knowledge extends) two styles: corkscrew and wave. The corkscrew starts at the bottom of the barrel and crosses all of the staves in an ascending spiral pattern until it reaches the other end; the wave patten appears vertically on each stave, top to bottom, by contrast. In whichever form, these cuts allow more surface area of the wood to come in contact with the liquid, thus imparting even more flavors.
If you’re interested in learning more about barrel ageing, it’s a huge topic of interest and discussion in my own studies and the greater world of wine/spirits. Here’s one such article. And another… this second has a lot more chemistry and science, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.
Need to go back to the Whistling Hare post? Click here.