Wine Barrel, Whiskey Barrel... What's the Difference?
Until now, the only thing I knew about wine and whiskey barrels was that they’re both round.
Seriously. That’s it. Not being a whiskey aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, I had little interest in researching the subject until I noticed the recent rise in the barrel furniture following. I soon found the topic of these “spirited” barrels to be quite fascinating and one of which I’ll share some very general information I uncovered.
Besides that, it's National Wine Day! Hopefully, this will pique your interest in a way that will encourage you to pursue discovering the plethora of information available on these absolutely beautiful, handmade creations.
Our whiskey barrel table is a family favorite that doubles as a workstation and a great place for games.
A few common barrel terms:
Bung: stopper used to close a hole in a container
Bung Hole: hole in one of the barrel staves used to fill up and empty the barrels
Cooper: one who makes or repairs wooden casks or tubs
Heads (aka “lids”): the ends of barrels
Hoop: a circular band of metal or wood put around a cask or barrel to bind the staves together.
Stave: any of the narrow strips of wood or narrow iron plates placed edge to edge to form the sides, covering, or lining of a vessel (such as a barrel) or structure
Tannin: Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds, and stems.
First, there are a few similarities between wine barrels and whiskey barrels:
The wood is air-dried for 2-3 years.
Both store large quantities of beverages.
Those who hand make barrels are called coopers.
Barrels are placed over flames resulting in toasted or charred staves.
Barrel furniture made its debut when recycling and up-cycling became a factor in environmental friendliness.
Usually made of different woods: American and French oak, redwood, acacia, chestnut.
Barrels are toasted over an open flame or oven; toasting refines wine for proper aging.
There are 5 levels of toasting: light to heavy (heavier toast = stronger barrel flavors)
Toasting adds flavor ranging from vanilla to coconut to caramel that is gently released from the wood.
The correct temperature and time affect some of the phenols, sugars and other compounds which rise to the surface of the wood. There they interact with the wine during the aging process.
Wood tannins and wine tannins interact with one another which result in aiding in the mellowing of the wine.
General barrel sizes for wine: 59, 60, 79 gallons
Usually made of oak; American oak is the most widely used for whiskey.
Barrels are charred. This changes the nature of the oak to obtain the best possible synergy between the wood and whiskey; adding smoke is not a primary purpose.
Barrels are charred (generally past toasting to partially burning); the inside is black after being charred about ⅛”.
A charred barrel passes on smoky notes as well as caramel, honey, and many spicy accents.
After years of aging, oak enhances the flavor by adding fruity, spicy and smoky aromas over time.
Charring acts similar to a filter taking out sulfur compounds and reducing the harshness of the whiskey. Char is what adds the darker, amber color to the whiskey.
General barrel size for whiskey: 53 gallons
Huge fan of barrels? Browse through our barrel furniture to imagine how it could look in your own home!