Vanilla, wood and caramel aromas are intense. These lovely tastes make bourbon so delicious for whiskey. Nothing on rocks or neat matches a decent classic bourbon. But have you ever wondered how bourbon is matured, and how important is it in bourbon barrels?
History Of the Bourbon Barrels
In 2014, Fetzer Vineyards manufactured the first contemporary barrel of bourbon-aged wine. Bob Blue, a famous winemaker, distributed the label 1000 Stories. This was not his first use of bourbon barrels, though. It was a great fad back in 1983 when Blue started using French oak, but when the money was limited, he discovered the next good thing — bourbon barrels.
The origins of the name “bourbon” are unknown. Some believe it comes from the French Bourbon dynasty, while others say it originates from Kentucky’s Bourbon County and New Orleans’ Bourbon Street.
The word came about after two men known as the Tarascon brothers landed in Louisville from south of Cognac, France, according to Michael Veach, a Louiseville, KY historian. They started transporting whiskey from the Ohio River to the Louisiana port city.
“They understood that putting Kentucky whiskey in scarred bourbon barrels would allow them to sell it to New Orleans people, who would prefer it since it tastes more like cognac or ‘French brandy’,” Veach explains.
Rules of Distillation
The production process is equally essential for bourbon manufacture.
The production of maize mash in the U.S. is not adequate. Spirits must mature in a bourbon barrel to be bourbon. In addition, many drinks require used bourbon barrels for brewing.
For bourbon that is not considered “straight,” there is no set length of time for maturation. Some age for several years, while others mature for a few months in their bourbon barrels. However, a bourbon that is less than four years old must have an age declaration label.
Finally, bourbon must be brewed to a minimum of 160 proof (80 percent alcohol) and no higher. And it must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof, or 40% alcohol, to be considered legal.
The Barrel Filling
The first step of coopering barrels is to connect the barrel bars with hot steam. Then place them over a small fire, with the barrel’s top and bottom still open. This procedure, known as toasting, caramelizes wood sugar.
The entire barrel is treated for about 6-12 minutes after the initial fire to a heavier fire treatment. This produces a layer of carbon in the barrel. Finally, the barrel is shut and ready for transportation.
Used bourbon barrels go into warehouses at various levels. Due to temperature differences, the flavor of the bourbon changes from floor to floor.
Bourbon After Maturation
The method and components used to make bourbon impact its overall flavor. Some people describe this whiskey as having a nutty flavor, while others describe it as having a cinnamon flavor.
- Grain: Cornbread, oats, wheat flakes or toasted rye bread can all be in bourbon. According to bourbon expert Fred Minnick, it takes around four years for a bourbon barrel to entirely replace the strong corn aroma with one of caramel or vanilla.
- Nutmeg: Some bourbons have tastes that remind you of eggnog, pumpkin pie or toasted nuts. There is no precise cause for this flavor in virtually all bourbon. However, it might be due to the barley component.
- Caramel: Some bottles of bourbon have a caramel flavor because of the incomplete burning of the barrels during the aging process. Because this process applies to all barrels, each sip may have a delicious apple flavor.
- Cinnamon: The most common variety of rye-based bourbon has a strong cinnamon flavor.
How to Purchase Bourbon Barrels
First and foremost, a barrel of bourbon cannot be purchased from a bourbon distillery. A distillery can legally sell only to a wholesaler, who can only sell to a merchant, who can then sell to a customer.
So, from where to buy used bourbon barrels? If you want to buy a complete barrel, you’ll have to find a liquor store that will take your money. The liquor shop will place the order on your behalf, and you will pick it up and pay for it there.
And if you need used bourbon barrels, you can also ask for that, if they sell used bourbon barrels for brewing.
Rachel Moore works as a marketing manager at Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. Rocky Mountain Barrel Company provides used wooden barrels for spirits, like bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels and wine barrels. Rachel Moore loves her combination of nature, wine and nerdy friends who appreciate her homemade wines.