Over the past ten years, whiskey barrel finishes have become more popular in the American craft whiskey market as distillers try out new ways to improve the taste of whiskey. These unique barrel finishes have led to a wide range of tastes and smells and have helped craft distillers stand out in a market full of competition.
Whiskey has always been aged in barrels made of charred wood. During the charring process, the sugars in the wood turn into caramel, which gives whiskey its distinctive color and taste. The longer whiskey is stored, the more of the wood's taste it picks up. But current craft whiskey distillers are trying out a lot of different barrel finishes, which involve moving the whiskey from oak barrels to other types of barrels.
A popular way to barrel finish something is to use wine barrels. Craft whiskey is often aged in wine barrels, which can give the finished product interesting and complex flavors. Red wine-aged whiskey might taste fruity and jammy, while white wine-aged whiskey might taste sharp and acidic. Some distillers age their spirits in barrels that used to hold port or sherry. This makes the spirits even more complex.
Another popular choice for a barrel finish is an old barrel that was used to age rum or tequila. These barrels can add unique and foreign flavors to the whiskey, such as caramel, vanilla, and spices. Some distilleries use barrels that used to hold Scotch or Irish whiskey, which gives the end product even more depth.
Craft whiskey distillers not only use wine and spirit barrels, but they also try out unusual ends like coffee, maple syrup, and even smoked fish. Craft distillers can stand out in a crowded market by using unusual finishes to make tastes and smells that are truly their own.
Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas, is an example of a small whiskey company that uses barrel finishes. Balcones has become well-known for its unusual ways of making whiskey, such as using a lot of different barrel styles. The smokiness of their Brimstone whiskey comes from smoking it over Texas scrub oak, while the sweetness and flower notes of their Baby Blue whiskey come from aging it in blue corn casks.
Westland Distillery, located in Seattle, Washington, is another specialty whiskey distillery that has embraced barrel finishes. Westland finishes their whiskies in a variety of barrels, including sherry, port, and even Garry oak from the Pacific Northwest. Their whiskies stand out from the crowd thanks to the distinctive flavor that Garry oak imparts.
Craft distillers can use their imagination and ingenuity to experiment with new techniques and flavors by finishing their whiskey in oak barrels. Craft distillers can reach a wider audience with novel and interesting flavor profiles by experimenting with different barrel finishes.
However, the use of barrel finishes is controversial in the whiskey industry. Some purists insist that whiskey can only be properly aged in oak barrels, claiming that wine or spirit barrels can dilute the whiskey's original flavor. Others maintain that American whiskey has progressed greatly because to the use of barrel finishes, which allow artisan distillers to experiment with new and exciting flavor profiles.
Despite the controversy, it's undeniable that barrel finishes have become an integral part of the American craft whiskey industry. There will be more interesting new whiskies available soon as artisan distillers continue to play around with various barrel finishing techniques.
Look for American craft whiskeys that have been matured in non-traditional barrels if you're a whiskey connoisseur in search of a unique and fascinating experience. You could end up finding an entirely new flavor combination.