Not just alcohol, but tabasco sauce and balsamic vinegar are aged in wooden barrels!

It takes more than a year to make the barrels, then the aging process for some products may take another 3 years.

These products remind me of cheese (see my post on “Aveyron, France”) because of the surprising number of variables that can be manipulated:

  • the type of wood
  • where the wood came from
  • how the staves were cut and dried
  • the degree of barrel charring
  • whether the barrels have previously been used to age another product
  • how the long the aging process takes

Britannica makes it clear that barrel-making is a highly-skilled craft:

According to the 1st-century-ad Roman historian Pliny the Elder, the ancient craft of barrel making, also called cooperage, was invented by the inhabitants of the Alpine valleys.  Tight barrels, made to hold liquids, must be constructed carefully of high-grade woods, such as white oak, with bungholes for filling and emptying. Wood for barrel staves and headings is usually air-dried for at least a year, then kiln-dried for 10 to 20 days before being cut and planed to the needed size and finish. A crucial operation is jointing of the edges of the staves and giving them the proper bilge (middle bulge) so that the joints will be tight and the circumference uniform. The bulge gives the barrel added resistance to internal pressure.The most complex part of the operation is called raising the barrel. Staves are set vertically into a head truss ring, and a temporary hoop is placed over the other end. In this arrangement, the staves are passed through a steam tunnel to soften them for drawing into final shape and then dried again. Whiskey barrels are charred on the inside at this point, so that they will develop flavour in the whiskey as it ages.

According to Wikipedia (“Barrel”), although barrels look simple, a lot of thought went into their design:

Barrels often have a convex shape, bulging at the middle. This bulge facilitates rolling a well-built wooden barrel on its side and change directions with little friction, compared to a cylinder. It also helps to distribute stress evenly in the material by making the container more curved. Barrels have reinforced edges to enable safe displacement by rolling them at an angle (in addition of rolling on their sides as described).

Here are some of the variables that can create different types of alcohol:

wine French common oak subtler taste
white oak
American white oak stronger aromas
sake Japanese cedar imparts an unusual, minty-piney flavor
pisco earthenware or oak
straight whiskey oak
Scotch oak and sometimes used bourbon barrels
sherry North American oak more porous than French or Spanish oak
brandy oak transfer certain aromas to the spirit
cognac oak casks made from the Tronçais and Limousin forests.
beer sometimes aged in barrels that were previously used for maturing wines or spirits.


So tabasco and vinegar–really?

Since its invention in 1868, the pepper mash used to make tabasco sauce is aged for three years in previously used oak whiskey barrels (Wikipedia, “Barrel”).

Ever wonder see balsamic vinegar on the store shelf and wonder what it is? Traditional balsamic vinegar is aged in a series of wooden barrels. By law, it must be made from the cooked juice, pulps and skins of specific types of grapes harvested in Modena or Reggio Emilia provinces of Italy. The minimum aging time is no less than 12 years.  Other types of balsamic vinegar, which cannot be called “Traditional,” can have caramel or thickeners and can be aged for shorter times (Wikipedia, “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar”).

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