What Role Do Whiskey Barrels Play In Distillation

Enjoyed all over the world, whiskey is a classy and tasty beverage enjoyed in a multitude of ways. One of the reasons for the unique whiskey taste is the barrels that are used to produce the whiskey. With that in mind we review the different types of whiskey barrels and different factors that can influence taste. Get your whiskey making kit here.

The Basic Role Of Whiskey Barrels

Whiskey is aged to improve the flavor. The aging process will occur in wooden barrels specifically created for whiskey. An important thing to know about most distilled alcohol and even fermented alcohol like wine is that the taste of the wood as well as the environment outside the whiskey barrel merge with the liquid to create a unique flavor profile. Because whiskey leaches from the barrel, choosing the right kind of material for the barrel is crucial. In addition, because flavors can be leached by the alcohol, flavor will also remain in the wood itself. So, some alcohols, including whiskey, may be aged in a barrel previously used for a different aging process to create a unique and signature taste.

Barrel Factors That Influence Taste

1. Size

The size of the barrel used will directly affect the taste of the whiskey. As the size of the barrel increases, the overall interior volume improves dramatically. In the US, the standard is a 53 gallon barrel, though 132 gallons and even 30 gallon barrels are used to a lesser degree. Simply put, the smaller the barrel, the more contact there will be between the liquid and the wooden barrel. Smaller barrels are used to impart more of the flavor of the barrel onto the whiskey.

2. Wood Type

Wood has different compositions depending on the species of the tree that it comes from. While things like grain size may be different, the age of the wood and the density of the wood is still debated as to whether or not it adds much to the flavor outside the species of tree used. What is more important is the char. Prior to placing the whiskey in the barrel, the inside of the barrel is charred to better help the flavors.

3. Staves

A stave is a piece of wood that is used in the construction of a new barrel. There will be between 31 to 33 staves of different width. Staves can be aged prior to help produce different tastes when the whiskey is being aged. It is not uncommon to season staves for around 9 months to create a peak vanillin level which will later be imparted into the alcohol.