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For whiskey production, are the oak casks used for maturation identical to oak barrels used for wine production? If not, how are they different?


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Frank Arrieta from Thin Air Distillation Llc

Often the wood and manufacturing process can be the same. But the primary difference is the preparation of the inside of the wooden barrel before final assembly.  Wine barrels are toasted in the inside, where as spirit barrels are charred on the inside. And each process can have differing levels of toasting or charring. Medium or #3 is the most common.

Bourbon, by law, goes into a new charred barrel where as most every other spirit goes into a used bourbon barrel.  Other spirits can go into new virgin barrels but that is at distillers discretion.
I make rum and it goes into new barrels because I could not find used bourbon barrels.  If interested in new, virgin barrels, contact me, I have a large inventory of 100 liter and 220 liter barrels with #3 char.

Dec 13, 2015

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Kinnek Knowledge Team

The oak casks used for maturation of whiskey are frequently identical to those used in certain wines, as many distilleries actively seek out previously-used oak casks from wineries (popular varieties include sherry, porto, and sauternes).  Used oak casks are commonly referred to as "seasoned" since they contribute many distinctive flavors to the whiskey.  Of course, the oak cask itself may have been given a light, medium, or heavy toast, which will also influence the flavor of the whiskey during the maturation process.  The toasting of the cask should be always considered when making a purchasing decision.

It is also worth noting that scotch whiskey is often matured in oak casks that were previously used for bourbon production.  Some scotch whiskey producers make sure that the bourbon casks are further "seasoned" through sherry production before consideration for whiskey production.

To summarize, the oak casks used for whiskey production are structurally identical -- in many cases -- to those casks used in certain wines.  When making a purchasing decision, however, it is important to consider the effect of the "seasoning" and toasting of the cask on the intended flavor and quality of your whiskey.

Apr 1, 2014

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Joe Lutomske from ENOTOOLS

     The standards for the raw wood can differ. 
As you know, a Bourbon barrel has to be new with a char. In olden days, the whiskey barrel wood was not always culled well, milled well, or aged well. And the need for all of that extra carbon from the char was real, due to the green character, sappy wood, and those dangerous heads and tails. But distillers and coopers today are pretty advanced. 
     Winemakers by nature are a finicky lot. The barrel making industry catered to them by making American barrels in the traditional 225 liter and 228 liter (AKA: Bordeaux and Burgundy) barrels of the highest possible quality for wineries. For decades now, cooperages have struggled to differentiate themselves and decommoditize their barrels by focusing on consistency of the grain in the staves, aging periods, and coopering techniques. Outward appearance of a wine barrel is typically a little nicer, too. 
     With the boom in distilling, wine barrel makers are throwing their hats in the ring all over the place. It is my experience that a whiskey barrel from a wine cooperage is a 53 gallon version of a good quality American oak wine barrel with a different level of care taken on the finish. 
     You would theoretically be buying a 53 gallon barrel made out of wood processed and aged better than the barrels from the old days. So the difference comes down to starting with a better level of quality in the staves themselves. 
     If you want to try ours, just send us an email through my website. The char or toast is to the customers' spec. We offer pricing for customers big and small.    

Apr 14, 2016

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Noah Steingraeber from Rocky Mountain Barrel Company

They are not identical. Oak casks can differ on a variety of levels: 
1. Source of wood (American vs French vs Hungarian oak)
2. How the barrel was coopered
3. How it was dried (kilning vs air)
4. Level of toast
5. Level of char (1-4)

Kilning is a drying step. If the wood could be naturally air-dried long enough first, it would probably be an unneeded step. The basic principle is to dry the wood enough to a point where it is stable enough to work with. 

Toasting is to heat the wood, but not to the point where the wood is catching fire/charred. Basically, putting more heat to the wood to give it some color and bring out different flavors.

A simple analogy - It's like toast, air dry a piece of bread, and you get the moisture loss, but no change in color. Put it in the toaster, and you get color from the heat caramelizing the sugars, and new flavors from it. Keep the heat on long enough, you will get char. A wholly different flavor profile.

Aug 17, 2014

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