During this show, we discuss many different aspects of barrels and spirit aging. Here are just a few of the terms and concepts you should know:
Staves – These are the small wooden planks that make up the barrel. They are dried (or “cured”) either by kiln, or simply by being exposed to the elements for a period of time. After that, they are selected, fitted between metal bands, and then bent using heat and moisture to form the shape of the barrel.
Grain – This refers to the natural “pattern” of wood cells. There is a method of cutting wood called “quarter sawing” that allows barrel staves to fit tightly with one another. Working with the grain this way is crucial if you want to avoid stave leaks. When staves are quarter sawn, the grain can be perfectly realigned in the final product.
Char – The “char level” is simply the extent to which a spirits barrel has been burnt on the inside to impart flavor to the spirit. The vast majority of spirits barrels are charred, whereas most wine barrels are not charred.
There are four levels (simply called Char 1 – Char 4), each increasing in intensity. Char 4 is often referred to as “Alligator Char” because it leaves the inside of the barrel looking like bumpy alligator skin.
Raising A barrel – This is the process of taking a collection of staves and turning it into a working barrel. There is a lot of eyeballing, rearranging, and bending required to achieve the perfect fit.