A barrel or cask is a hollow cylindrical shape container made up of wooden staves and with surrounding wooden or metal hoops. The barrels are one of the most noticeable symbols associated with alcohol. Barrel making is an art which is known as a cooperage. Who made the first barrel is not known exactly but the history of cooperage is correlated with the history of wine. The person who builds barrels is called a Cooper. Cooper is a trained person who makes wooden staved containers, troughs, tubs, buckets, barrels, casks. Barrels have various uses including storage of liquids such as oil and water, sake, arrack, fermenting wine and maturing beverages such as beer, whiskey, port, sherry, cognac, and wine.
Initial years leading to cooperage
Barrel aging of alcohol is an ancient technique. The barrel was first developed by the Celts. Celts were Northern European tribes who lived around the Alps (currently Germany and France). Around 350BC Celts were using barrel-shaped, watertight wooden containers which could be rolled or stacked. For about 2000 years, barrels were the most convenient type of storage and shipping containers. All type of bulk goods from gold coins to nails was stored in those containers. Ancient wine was fermented stored and transported in clay vessels. By early centuries clay vessels were replaced by wood barrels.
The taste has caught on!
Barrels slowly lost its importance in the 20th century after the introduction of pallet-based logistics. They have still great importance in aging spirits and wines. When beverages are aged or stored in barrels they take on some compounds of the barrel such as wood and vanillin tannins. The presence of these tannins depends on the factors including the origin, the way of cutting and drying the staves and the level of toast during manufacture. Oak barrels continued to be used for centuries and at some point, winemakers noticed and leveraged the effects of barrel aging process. This understanding actually took place in the 19th century. The 19th century was the true age of science.
The practice of scientific thinking trickled down to the average individual especially those who made wine. Navies move to build ships from metal during the 19th century. It is a very poignant transition in the history of oak barrel. The results of these changes led to a wealth of oak, the wood which is perfectly suited for barrel making. At the end of this time, the increase of oak increases the number of oak barrels in wine cellars. And soon people find out that oak barrels have very profound effects on wine. It pushed winemakers to explore, manage and utilize these effects.
Evidence suggests that Romans first used barrels in 3rd century AD by replacing the clay pots and other vessels which were breakable. After transportation of their wines in barrels, Romans and other societies realize that wood barrels impart new, pleasant qualities to alcohol. The contact with wood makes alcohol smoother, softer and even better tasting. Due to the lesser toasting of wood during the construction of barrel, wines develop additional scents such as vanilla, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and when consumed they have additional flavors such as vanilla, caramel, and butter.