Aug 09 2012
Charred oak barrels have been used for approximately five centuries for the aging and storing of wines and spirits. They were created by heating and bending wood into cylindrical shapes. This technique was likely borrowed from the ancient Egyptians’ boat building methods.
Various distilled spirits can be aged in a wine barrel or an aging barrel. These include rum, standard whiskey and brandy. Such barrels are also often used to age products such a balsamic vinegar or Tabasco sauce.
As temperatures heat up and cool down, the barrel’s contents are absorbed and expelled numerous times by the oak wood. This causes the liquid’s contaminants to become trapped, making it easy to filter them from the spirits. The alcohol becomes infused with added flavor during this process.
Wood staves and metal hoops are typically used to make storage barrels of this kind. However, an oak barrel does not have exceptional longevity before it becomes ineffective. This is why such containers must be stored appropriately for best results.
This type of container is also often used to age bourbon whiskey. The fermented bourbon mash, also referred to as wash, is typically distilled to a proof of sixty-five to eighty percent alcohol. Once distilled, the spirit is ready for aging.
The spirits can then be stored in charred oak containers for aging. During the latter, the liquid acquires its taste and color from the charred wood’s caramelized sugars. Bourbons usually gain a deeper hue and a more powerful flavor the longer they are left to age. However, when bourbon matures for too long, its taste and texture become compromised. This results in a waste of money and time at the facility where the spirits are produced.
When wines are aged in oak barrels, tiny amounts of oxygen are naturally introduced to the liquid as air seeps into the barrel. This is different from the process called microoxygenation that is used when spirits are aged synthetically. The oak barrel aging technique is often used when a very high proof wine or other spirit is desired.
Charred oak barrels will likely always be used during the production of wines and spirits. Numerous individuals would agree that aging is a vital step in the production of the latter. For this reason, containers of this type will almost certainly continue to serve their purpose of contributing to the unique and pleasing taste of many different spirits.
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