Yesterday and Today

yesterday and today the barrel

The transformation

The wooden barrel has undergone a transformation from a storage vessel in antiquity to a ripening barrel and a flavouring agent today.
Formerly used as a neutral storage vessel in which food such as grain, water, but also wine and distillates were transported around the world. The Romans brought probably already the first objects, which resemble the today’s wooden barrel into our region.
Today wine, beer, spirits, liqueurs, spices, coffee, chocolate and other things are stored and matured in wooden barrels.
The purpose of maturing in wooden barrels is, as the term already suggests, the targeted modification and refinement of the contents.

A wooden barrel is apparently a tight storage container, but in reality the contents change due to the influx of ambient air from the outside and the ingredients contained in the wood. This so-called maturing and refining process can last from a few weeks to several years or even decades, just think of the old whisky qualities or the old cognac, which generations of cellar masters and master distillers saw passing by during their maturing.

Maturation of Whisky

The picture shows simplified how it looks like after years of maturation in a whisky barrel (on the left the “New Make” on the right the oldest one). The difference in the filling level comes from the so-called “Angels’ share”, the “angel’s sip” or simply: the evaporation of the alcohol.

Refinement

In modern times, the refinement of distillates, spices, wines, even coffee is no longer only oak wood used, other wood species such as acacia, cherry, ash, mulberry tree or chestnut are increasingly used and lovers due to the specific aromas content of the woods.
The barrel must no longer be neutral! It must change and influence the products – the refinement and accentuation of the product is today the aim during storage in wooden barrels.
In addition, the movement of the Craft Brewer has stimulated a large number of pre-filled maturing barrels from former whisky, cognac, sherry, wine and other types. Here, the ripening process is designed to ensure that the stored products experience the aromas of the pre-population and thus the “icing on the cake” of the ageing process.

Bourbonfass Four Roses 190 l
Islay Laphroaig barrel 190 l
Sherry barrel 100-40 l

Differend barrels for re-filling

The consequences

The consequences are a sheer unmanageable variety of products, which are not the same as each other and thus correspond to the spirit of the time – one drinks less alcohol, but is produced finer, more selected and of high quality by hand.
The wood barrel ripeness prevents the standard product and is therefore a marketing argument.
Despite all the enthusiasm for maturing in wooden barrels, the following applies: Nothing should appear artificial or give the consumer the impression of “biting on a piece of wood”, but must be integrative and balanced.
The special attraction is often contrasts to the content, which often needs an opponent, such as a beer fermented with champagne yeast and then matured in a Tequila barrel.

For the followers of the German Purity Law a horror, for today’s scene a highlight and, quite incidentally, equipped with a good contribution margin on sales.
Or a Kirschwasser in a former Bourbon barrel, then a distillate which can be marketed problematically becomes an interesting scene drink which is also suitable for use in mixing. Today the barkeeper scene is an engine for many novelties and ideas around the distillate.

You can find out more about the subject of barrels in the next article.
Markus Eder