Whiskey Aging during a Barrel Shortage

Great whiskey needs time to mellow in wood barrel casks.  However, there is an ongoing barrel shortage as some U.S. barrel manufacturers have difficulty sourcing American white oak lumber.  If your business relies on wood barrels, you should consider stocking up on barrels so you have them available when you are ready for barrel aging in 2014.  When purchased in advance, some manufacturers may let you store them and have them delivered at a later date.

Smart businesses explore alternate supply sources in the event that its usual source dries up or the prices escalate dramatically based upon supply and demand.  You always need a “Plan B.”

Start-up distilleries are not able to wait 3 – 5 years for a first product sale after spending a small fortune on equipment, licensing, barrels and warehousing.  Craft distillers are increasingly using alternate aging materials and systems.  These include small 5-gallon barrels that increase surface area contact between the whiskey and the wood, ultrasound, agitation and pressure chambers and other techniques designed to “cheat time” and bring products to market in weeks or months rather than years.  The goal is to rapidly extract color and flavor from the wood.

Critics still believe that complex flavors in whiskey require time – time for the esterification process to take place.  Young whiskey advocates favor the original grain flavor rather than the vanilla and caramel notes associated with wood barrel aging.  Some distilleries are “finishing” their whiskey in used wine barrels for a few weeks to get some of the more complex flavors from esterification.  Finger Lakes Distilling uses a two-pronged hybrid aging process to produce a quality whiskey with depth.

Good news for local distilleries – a barrel making business in the Adirondacks is coming soon.

Adirondack Barrel Cooperage is a start-up business in Barneveld, New York that hopes to be fully operational by this summer.  It is the first barrel cooperage in New York and Northeast in decades.  They plan to produce 150 white oak barrels per month in 2014 and increase production in 2015.  The cooperage will start with production of whiskey barrels before adding wine barrels and beer barrels to its production.  This is good news for New York distilleries.  Only Washington leads New York in the number of craft distilleries.  The shipping cost of barrels is a significant expense to distilleries, breweries and wineries.  Finding a barrel repair company is an even bigger challenge.

This symbiotic relationship between the growing craft alcoholic beverage industry and the barrel manufacturer is a perfect addition to the New York economy.