The use of charred oak barrels has a long history with regard to storing and aging alcoholic spirits. The containers were first used approximately 5,000 years ago. The method of bending wood into a cylindrical shape is thought to have been borrowed from the boat building techniques used by the ancient Egyptians.
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.
Storage kegs of this type are usually manufactured from wood staves and secured by metal hoops. However, the average oak barrel can be used only a limited number of times before it becomes ineffective in its role. For this reason, one must store the container properly in order to get the most benefits from each one.
The aforementioned devices are also used frequently in the making of bourbon whiskey. The fermented bourbon mash, also called the wash, is usually distilled to a proof of 65 to 80 percent alcohol. The result is a clear spirit that is ready to be properly aged.
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.
Wines can also be aged in oak barrels. During this process, small amounts of oxygen impact the liquid in a natural way as air leaks into the container. This differs quite a bit from microoxygenation, the process that is used when spirits are artificially aged. The oak barrel aging method is frequently utilized when a high proof liquid is the manufacturer’s goal.
The use of charred oak barrels will likely always continue with regard to the production of various spirits. Most people would agree that aging plays an important role in the latter. For this reason, such barrels will continue to be used to give various spirits their unique and enjoyable taste.