Wood, Wood, everywhere – in every drop we drink.
It’s no surprise to anyone that wood, or oak to be exact, plays an important role in the wine world. Oak barrels can be used in either or both the fermentation and aging process and those barrels oak can be new or used to varying degrees as well as toasted from light to heavy, and range widely in size from Demi-Barrique (30L) to Demi-Muid (158.5L). Barrel use in wine history dates back to the Romans in the BC years…and its presence in the finished wine is completely polarizing. Ask anyone if they’d like a glass of California Chardonnay and watch the response. They are either going to grab it or gag.
Beyond wine, wood is a crucial component in the spirit world. From highly sought after “single barrel” bottles of bourbon to decades-long aged scotch to the varying degrees of aged tequila the importance of the wood vessel is crucial to the finished product.
All barrels are not created equally. The wine industry uses predominately French, American, or Hungarian oak – all imparting unique nuances. And while true Kentucky Bourbon requires three years in new white American oak before release – other whiskeys, beer and even winemakers are employing barrels that previously held wildly different beverages than what they are hoping to create. By using rum, port, sherry, Sauternes, and cognac barrels, the distiller, brewer, and vigneron add a hint of the barrel’s former resident to whatever comes to reside in it next.
Where your barrel is located matters, as well. In bourbon country, the location of the barrel as it ages in the rackhouse is of the utmost importance. Some distillers of Cognac, bourbon, and Aquavit require their barrels board a ship and cross many oceans before it can earn a place in a bottle. That glass of Kelt VSOP has more passport stamps than most drinking it.
And maybe the most surprising to our customers are the barrel-aged gins and sakes that are finding their way to our shelves. This is nothing new! Both have long histories – oak-aged Dutch Genever, is the fore-runner to gin as we know it and for centuries Japanese have celebrated by serving sake brewed and presented in cedar barrels.
The bottom line is – yes – the importance of that malt in your single malt and those quality Napa Valley Cab grapes are undeniable. But so is the vessel that housed it and shaped it before it made its way into the bottle.
A few to try: