hist-brewing: casks, or charred at the stake

isenhour at uiuc.edu isenhour at uiuc.edu
Sat Oct 23 11:33:20 PDT 1999

  You're right about the charring, too.  The coopers did use the word
  "toasted", but then, I always found it hard to believe the US
  whiskeymakers actually *char* the casks, but I guess they do (ick).
 Our family farm was really near the Wild Turkey distillery where I
 learned that charring the inside of the casks helps give bourbon
 flavor.  In the "old days" it was illegal to reuse them and typically
 distilleries would have huge piles of "spent" casks out back.  You could
 go through and pick one that "sloshed" take it home and put it over a
 fire and heat more bourbon out of the wood.  It was probably around 150
 proof, so you ran it through a coffee filter and added distilled water
 (unless you were drinking unhopped beers and had so much testosterone
 you drank it undiluted:)  A distiller I talked to told me that the
 casks can loose as much as 40% volume over 10-12 years.
 But more to the point, in A Cooper and His Trade, p.35 are the words:
 Before the first Great War, when the popular beers and stouts were
 brewed strong, some casks were actually pompeyed (italics on that
 word), that is charred inside during the firing process, in order to
 allow the beer to mature more effectively in the cask.  Wine casks,
 and casks used for the maturing of spirits are deliberately blistered
 when they are fired, and left rough inside to allow the wine and
 spirit to penetrate the timber to a greater extent, thus helping it to
  I could believe this of the French vs. US or UK oak, but I had always thought
  the differences between US & UK oak could be ascribed to differences in 
  treatment of the wood and in making the casks, since the two are so similar
  in so many other ways.  Perhaps not.
 I believe it is the amount of tannins in the wood.  Apparantly some types
 of US oak is ok for casks.
 217-328-0295                       Master Brewers Association of America
 isenhour at uiuc.edu                   American Society of Brewing Chemists
 University of Illinois/Urbana           Beer Judge Certification Program
 Fermentation Science Instructor            Institute for Brewing Studies

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