If it weren’t for a practice dating back to some 2000 years ago (perhaps earlier) that depended on wooden barrels for practical whiskey storage, merchants nowadays would not have imagined adding oak flavors to their whiskey nowadays.
In short, it’s great that wood is used to enhance the flavor of whiskey, giving it a more interesting texture than if the beverage was stored in anything completely nonreactive. So what then is this magic unique to oak that makes it the only wood vintners trust for whiskey storage? Whiskey benefits from oak in two specific ways:
For whiskey, specifically, an oak barrel keeps oxidation levels in check. This gradual process helps minimize astringency and maximize stability all at the same time. It gives the whiskey more complex, interlocking aromas aside from their basic alcohol scent. This is the outcome of letting just a particular amount of oxygen to get into the drink.
Oak-Specific Flavors and Notes
Oak has several types of complex chemicals that impact the flavor and texture of any whiskey in a very distinct way. This is felt in the evolution of herby flavors, for example, or those notes of tobacco or tea, and simply the totality produced by tannin as it fuses with the tannin coming from the fermented grain.
With such compounds, a whiskey finishes with delicious nuances. They include volatile vanillin-containing phenols, components that offer a sweet and toasty aroma, and terpenes for the tea or tobacco notes, among several others. The chemical nature of the oak barrel chosen can give various qualities and volumes of flavor and texture, depending on how the barrel was made and what type of oak was used to make it.
Also, American oak offers flavors that are remarkably different from French Oak. Air-dried staves are not the same as those that were dried with the heat of a kiln. Even how the staves are bent causes important variables in the manufacturing process. Each whiskey maker around the world will have their own opinion as to how barrels should be made in order to give whiskey the best flavor. However, everyone agrees is that barrel making is a complicated craft where .amateurs do not thrive.
The good news is, you can find many reputable makers of oak barrels online that you can purchase from. But as always, you need to do a bit of working finding the right maker for you. You can do this on the web as well, focusing on customer reviews. However, read only from well-known independent consumer websites for genuine testimonials, instead of marketing websites that feature misleading reviews.