hist-brewing: barrels

ulfin at mail.portup.com ulfin at mail.portup.com
Thu May 6 17:03:08 PDT 1999

>I doubt this will help but...
>I have seen some type of small barrel from Panther Primitives
>Also for a twist Jack Daniels had their big empty barrels for sale about $55

JD barrels are what Grandpa used to call a "charcoal barrel".
The inside is toasted black to give the whiskey that ashtray
flavor that some people strangely find desireable.  I have
heard that this was a colonial invention, but I have also
heard that the practice is much older--don't know where the
truth lay.

I had an exchange last year with another brewer (Steven/Odo,
you listening? Don't let me put words in your mouth.) who
contended that the toasted barrels are actually preferable for
beer in that the turpenes have been distilled out of the wood,
thus reducing its flavor.  My personal experience strongly
suggests otherwise, but I haven't yet been as devoted to
researching the issue as I'd like to be.

If toasting does indeed reduce the oaky flavor (ideally
without introducing the charcoal flavor), then it may be
particularly advantageous when substituting the more economical
American white oak for the milder European varieties.

I haven't encountered any evidence that coopered vessels
were commonly used to transport beer in pre-industrial
periods (although I must admit, my "research" has been
extremely casual).  Sure, I see barrels in the Bayeaux
Tapestry, and I know that it was beer that quenched the
thirst of the pox-rotten Normans, but that doesn't mean
that they ever put beer in those barrels.

Beer was a live product; you brewed it and drank it all
within a few days--not really a good candidate for travel.
When did this change?
What did the early beer barrels look like and what kind
of beer should I make to put in them?
I've heard stories about the English Civil War that
make reference to barrels of beer, so I suspect they
existed then (it not being all that long ago), but this
was a 19th century retelling of a folktale and should
be taken with a grain of salt.  Like those dang
Icelandic Sagas...just can't trust 'em.

Dan Butler-Ehle

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