WINE BARRELS IN THE DISTILLERY WRITTEN BY ANDY GARRISON
flash of inspiration hits and the breakout product you’ve been searching for appears with crystal clarity in your mind’s eye: Napa Cabernet barrel-aged Something or Other! In a fit of vision, you order in a truckload of barrels from a California barrel broker, but the production is slowed by TTB COLA approval and the fact that you don’t actually have any Something or Other. Weeks pass but finally you’re ready to fill the barrels; you remove the bung and take a deep whiff of….Mold! Sulfur! Vinegar! Wine is dramatically more perishable than spirits, and winesoaked barrels can be plagued by a variety of bacteria, molds, and pests which aren’t much of a concern for spirit barrels. While used barrels from wineries can be a great source of affordable high-quality oak barrels, they require special care to avoid the tragedy just described. In conducting interviews, it became clear to me that the best way to approach using wine barrels is as a collaborative act with the supplying winery. A collaboration requires clear intention and precise communication to succeed. Before looking for a supply of wine barrels, think about how you want to utilize the barrels and why. Wine barrels can be split roughly into their usage as a ‘finishing’ barrel or as a ‘maturation’ barrel. Each path requires different handling and preparation of the barrel. With a finishing barrel, the distiller is using already mature spirit to extract additional character from the barrel and absorb some elements of the barrel’s previous contents. This can produce a unique twist on an established product or provide a distinctive blending component to expand the blender’s palette. Wine barrels can give significant color and tannin to a spirit, as well as a variety of aromas and flavors not typically
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