Barrel Shortage Effect

Barrel Shortage Effect

The barrel shortage is affecting our American whiskey…

There are just about 27 cooperages in America…

The demand for good aged American white oak is such that most staves are not aged, as they once were, in the open, but kiln dried. Open-air drying (as compared to the more rapid kiln drying) decreases the possibility of barrel leakage, and leaches more tannins from the wood, resulting in a softer, finer finish to the whiskey. Most cooperages won’t even answer the consumer anymore how long the staves have cured. Wine makers often scoff at the quality of “whiskey barrels” and distillers often have no room to complain because they are trapped. Either you get what you get or you get nothing.

There is an art to cooperage. Staves aren’t just wood from Home Depot. The tree they’re cut from should be at least 100 years old, with a straight, unblemished trunk, and be about five feet in circumference. It doesn’t really matter how tall the tree stands, because you’ll be using only the part that extends from the ground to the first lateral branches. You should get at least 2 and at most 4 barrels from that.

There is an art to distillation. The whiskey industry understands the importance of good barrel management in their distillery. This whiskey boom is creating distilleries and a demand for barrels to age whiskey in, but somehow the one weak link in the chain seems to a lack of skilled coopers and the patience required to age wood. Most American White Oak is growing in protected forests east of the Mississippi. Lets hope that the U.S. can manage its forests with sustainability and its production of barrel staves with patience.