Whisky Barrel

A Closer Look at their History

The Use Wooden Barrels for Storage and Aging Beverages

Barrels are one of those common everyday items with histories dating back to a few thousand years.

From the Greeks, to the Celts, to the Romans, all of ancient civilization have used these wooden containers to transport all kinds of goods, including nails, gold coins, oils, olives, gunpowder, and many others.

Traditionally, a wooden barrel is made of elongated, flat pieces of wood that are bound together by wooden or metal hoops.

If crafted properly, they’re watertight without requiring any kind of glue for patching gaps.

Did They Always Use Them?

Before barrels were created, clay pots were used to store and ship goods. However, clay pots were fragile and tended to break during shipping, especially under rough sea conditions.

In time, shippers found that wood could be formed into tube-shaped containers that are lighter yet stronger than the clay pots of old.

What’s more, these wooden containers could be rolled from one place to the next without breaking and spilling their precious contents.

Modern Day Technologu

Although steel and high-grade plastic are now used in shipping, wooden barrels remain important in the making of wines and spirits. In fact, this is the main reason why they are still used today.

Throughout history, the method of making them has stayed the same. In fact, the tools used by modern-day barrel-makers are almost exact copies of the ones that can be seen in museums.

To make them, wood is cut into staves and then toasted or charred. The charred staves are heat-steamed to bend them into the desired shape.

A head or cover for each end of the container is also made. Finally, the staves are assembled and held in place with riveted metal rings. A cork or bung hole is then drilled into one of the staves.

Why Do We Still Use Them?

The primary modern-day purpose of wooden-barrels is for the aging of wines, beer, distilled spirits such as whisky, brandy, and rum, as well as Tabasco sauce and traditional balsamic vinegar.

Some wines are even fermented “on barrel.” Whisky in particular, is mandated by law to be aged in wooden barrels.

During the aging process, small amounts of oxygen seep through and into the liquid contents. This happens when a small portion of the liquid – called the angel’s share – evaporates.

Why Do They Use Oak?

Whiskey barrelOak is often the preferred type of wood. The oak reacts chemically with the liquid contents in a certain way that adds flavor or texture, in so doing, improving and enhancing the liquid.

Theyre ideally made from oak that has a fine grain and no knots. The oak tree from which the wood is sourced is ideally at least 100 years old and has grown upright in a cool climate.

The species of oak used can vary from French, to American, to Hungarian, to Slavonian, to Canadian. After the oak staves are cut, they are dried either in open air or in kilns.

All these variations to the production process are used by wineries, distilleries and breweries at their discretion to produce wines, spirits, and beers with interesting characteristics.

Do You Know Anyone who Makes Their Own?

Coopering is generally passed down generations. Do you have any craftsmen in your lineage?

Resources:
Box Fat” by Lars RagnåOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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