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 is it about oak – the only wood used to store fine whiskey, by the way – that makes it perfect for the job? Two things:
When it comes to whiskey, an oak barrel makes for controlled oxidation. 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
Inside oak are certain kinds of complex chemicals that affect the flavor and texture of the whiskey in their own characteristic ways. This is evident in the development of those notes of tea or tobacco, for example, or those minty flavors and just the general complexity created by tannin, which combines with tannin from the grain that was used to make the whiskey.
Such compounds add pleasing nuances in a finished whiskey. A few examples would be furfural from the byproducts of carbohydrate breakdown, oak lactones that impart woodiness, and hydrolyzable tannins which are crucial to the astringency or mouth feel of the whiskey. 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-drying staves produce results unique from drying them through kiln heating. 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 of course, you have to do your homework before choosing where exactly to buy. 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.