If people from way back 2000 years ago (or earlier even) hadn’t relied on wooden barrels as the best method to store large volumes of spirits, distillers of today would not have considered infusing their whiskey with oak dimensions.
In simple terms, it’s a welcome happenstance that we now use wood to improve whiskey flavor, lending it a more sophisticated texture compared to anything held by a totally nonreactive container. So what then is this magic unique to oak that makes it the only wood vintners trust for whiskey storage? Two things:
In terms of whiskey, oak whiskey barrels controls oxidation. This gradual process helps minimize astringency and maximize stability all at the same time. It gives the whiskey more complex, interlocking aromas aside from their basic alcohol scent. This results from letting just the right amount of oxygen added into the liquid.
Oak-Unique Notes and Flavors
Oak itself contains various classes of complex chemicals that each makes a distinctive impact on any whiskey’s flavor and texture. This is felt in the evolution of herby flavors, for example, or those notes of tobacco or tea, and simply the totality produced by tannin as it fuses with the tannin coming from the fermented grain.
With such compounds, a whiskey finishes with delicious nuances. They include volatile vanillin-containing phenols, components that offer a sweet and toasty aroma, and terpenes for the tea or tobacco notes, among several others. The qualities and amounts of flavor and texture added to the whiskey are dictated by the whole chemistry of the selected oak barrel, as well as on the manufacturing method and type of oak used.
It should be known as well that American oak affects whiskey differently from French Oak. The results are different when staves are air-dried and if they are dried with kiln heat. The manufacturing process is changed even by the method of bending the staves. Each whiskey maker around the world will have their own opinion as to how barrels should be made in order to give whiskey the best flavor. But all agree that barrel making is a labyrinthian craft in which amateurs have no place.
The good news is, you don’t have to make your own oak barrel as you can find many reputable makers online today such as https://freedomoakbarrels.com. But certainly, a little homework is necessary before deciding where to buy. This can be done right online too, and do spend time going over customer reviews. But make sure you stick to popular third-party websites for authentic testimonials, instead of marketing websites where reviews are likely to be fake. Visit https://www.dictionary.com/browse/barrel to learn more about barrels.