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When a product claims to transform a particular market, especially with some kind of fast-forward consequence, we run to the store, purchase the said product and slather it all over.

Similarly, with the discovery of the fact that the barrels can make the spirit delicious, their usage increased exponentially. With applications that not only include adding taste to the spirit, the barrels are also used by many as decorations at home. Still, a lot of people are not aware of the fact that they would have thrown away the wine had it not been the oak barrels. One more thing that people often stay unaware of is the fact that the barrels, instead of throwing away after using for some time, can be reused a lot of times, even 100. Don’t feel uneasy if you are getting the feel of being ignorant about oak barrels.

I don’t blame you

But, before I tell you some astounding facts, let me tell you what the absence of aging in oaked barrels can mean to the wine you will be drinking.

Oaked wines come in oak barrels. Unoaked wines are aged in other barrels including stainless steel containers.

While the difference is material, the distinctions of every bottle of wine mean that a barrel isn’t just a storage solution. It influences the flavor, smell, age, and overall quality of the wine.

Trust me, it is all about the flavor.

The oaked wine offers a complex flavor that marries the acidity and fruity notes of the naked wine with the taste of the individual barrel it’s aged in. You’ll experience tasting notes like vanilla, spices, or coffee that add layers to what would be a fruity wine.

Unoaked wines feature a lighter body than any wine aged in any other barrel. The heavy notes of cedar and vanilla allow the fresh fruity flavors to shine through without being disturbed.

Now that you know what a barrel does to the spirit, let’s proceed with the 15 facts that will leave you awestruck.

1. A cooper is a person who excels in making barrels and winemaking. If you or someone you know has that as the last name, chances are your family ancestors must be a brewer, distiller, or a winemaker. Barrel making is a meticulous craft practiced by coopers, or barrel makers, who are required to work a minimum five-year apprenticeship before being allowed to make a barrel by themselves. A master cooper takes an unprocessed log and makes a barrel with unmechanized tools. The master cooper oversees the whole barrel crafting process, from prepping the wood and setting the staves, to bending and toasting the wood, all the way to the final sanding.

“Oak is to a cooper, just like grapes are to a winemaker”

2. The worlds biggest wine barrel is in Italy and is famous by the name, Heidelberg Tun. It was constructed in 1751 and stands seven meters high, is eight and a half meters wide, holds 220,000 liters (58,124 gallons) of wine, and has a dance floor built on top of it. A staircase allows visitors to climb on top of the barrel for a quick dance!

3. Oak beat out clay back in Roman times to become the standard for storing wine and spirits: Wood became popular during the Roman Empire, as large quantities of wine needed to be moved to help quench the thirst of the Roman armies. Wood is certainly far less breakable than clay and thus much more suitable for travel.

4. The smaller the barrel, the quicker the aging: Small distillers of spirits, or craft distillers, the equivalent of micro-breweries, usually age their product in a small barrel. The size of the barrels has a lot to do with how long the whiskey will take to absorb the flavor.

Smaller barrels age the whiskey more swiftly than the larger ones and that is why most take-home oak barrels are small. That way, the people at home can relish their new blend in a matter of weeks or months, not years.

5. The varieties of red wines that tend to benefit the most from the use of oak wine barrels to include Syrah, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Zinfandel, Chianti, Pinotage, Merlot, Sauvignon, Cabernet and Pinot Noir. White wines that can profit from the oak wine barrels to include Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Grigio.

6. Oak barrels must be filled at least halfway at all times if they are to keep their size. Constant contact with the liquid inside is what allows them to sustain their form.

7. The wood in white oak barrels soaks a part of the liquid stored in it to stay in shape. At least 100 ml per year is its consumption rate. If you store 1000ml, you will end up getting only 900 ml at the end of the year.

8. You cannot just store any kind of alcohol or drinks in white oak barrels. They work only for highly concentrated alcohol spirits like rum, whiskey, and tequila. Storing liquids with a low alcohol content requires expertise and experience in home brewing.

9. The first fully closed wooden barrel came along between 800-900 BCE (Iron Age). Before the 1st century, their use was broad for the purpose of holding beer, wine, olive oil, milk, and water. As transportation developed and trade developed, merchants discovered the fact that these sealed wooden vessels were a great improvement to the fragility of clay vessels.

10. Oakwood is made up of complex compounded chemicals, which end up transferring tastes and flavors to the white and red wines during storage.

11. Only the straightest section near the bottom of the tree is suitable for cask production, and it must be segmented into roughly one-meter logs.

12. A French oak tree may be 80 to 120 years old before being harvested but only produces two barrels due to the fact that their oak must be split, allowing only 25% of the tree as usable for barrels.

13. Barrels are not made 100% watertight: Most professional coopers making barrels for vineyards and distillers won’t consider their job done until the barrels are 100% watertight and ready for use. But for the average consumer ordering an oak barrel online, don’t expect the barrel to reach your door as ready to use.

When barrels are produced, they are made as tight and leak-proof as possible, but they are only watertight after being “cured” by soaking in water, often for several days. This causes the wooden staves to soak up moisture and swell, making the barrel watertight by pressure against the steel hoops.

14. Oak barrels can be reused for 100 years

15. In the world of wine and spirits, the process of drying the barrel is better known as seasoning.

The drying process reduces the moisture found in the wood before it’s sent to the process of becoming a barrel.

Wood is seasoned for 18 months before it is moved out of the warehouse. That time is needed to get rid of the harsh tannins and the raw, green wood flavor. Two years is considered the best seasoning time.

Those facts above are amazing. Isn’t it? Well, thank me later! Let me give you some more insights on the barrels that make the spirits delicious.

One common question that is asked is why is oakwood used for barrels?

In the past, cherry, walnut, chestnut, and other woods have been made into barrels and used to age wine. To put it simply, wine and oak have an affection for one another. Oak calms a wine down, matures it, makes it soft on the palate and beautiful to drink…. but by no means assume that this means that oak tames a wine into being dull: it also makes the wine more interesting and gives it the complexity and depth that cannot develop on its own. Oak is the wise, mature mentor to the young apprentice and just as a mentor grants wisdom on a student, oak grants the complex flavors in well-made wines that are the wine world version of intelligence.

What area to choose to extract oak for barrels?

Just like wine, there are only certain regions and climates where oak grows optimally: some of the most sought-after barrels are made from the wood grown in the woodlands of Limousin and Nevers in France and Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Oregon in the United States.

Why these areas?

Their cold climate forms a slow-growing tree, making a barrel that is optimal for aging wine. Like all living plants, oak is influenced by weather: it grows slower when the weather is cold and warmer when the weather is hot. As we all know, each year a tree sums a new ring to its trunk: this ring is the tree’s growth for the year and will be larger in warmer climates (forming a “loosely grained” wood) and smaller in colder ones (forming a “tightly grained” wood). Barrels made from tightly grained wood will allow their flavors into the wine more slowly, making a wine with better-integrated oak flavors and aromas.

Next time you’re examining an oak-aged wine, you can consider how the oak barrel has influenced the flavor of the wine. It’s an incredible story how this medieval method of storing wines and other spirits, such as whiskey, has become an essential part of the wine-making process.
Did you enjoy learning about oak barrel wines? Would you like to find out more about how your favorite spirits and wines are produced? Or interested to buy an oak barrel for yourself? Rocky Mountain Barrel Company believes that barrels are not just for aging spirits and wine. There are diverse ways used wine barrels can be put to use at your home or in business. To know all these and to buy a barrel, visit Rocky Mountain Barrel Company now.