Monday, June 25, 2012

What About the Barrel?

This is a "Maker's Mark" Barrel aging "Drum Circle Rum"
   The flavor that makes a rum so special has a direct relationship to the barrel that it is aged in.    Many of these barrels come from whiskey and bourbon makers that are brokered all over the world.    The barrels are first used to lay up bourbon, but because of the rules for bourbon production, they can only be used once.   This provides a great source for barrels to fill the needs of the rum producers around the world.    There are also barrels that are secured from producers of Cognac, Sherry, Scotch, and other varieties of wines to give the rum a flavor that the blender is looking for.

Barrels and Parts at Cruzan Distillery
     The barrels are a large investment for the distilleries, because they will be in use for many years in the case of the better premium rums.   This is why it is so important that the barrels are cared for and kept in good condition.   It is just as important to have a good "cooperage" at the distillery as it is to have a good still.    Barrel parts are as valuable as the barrels themselves.
Cooperage at St. Lucia Distillers
Standard Stacking at West Indies Rum
Distilleries in Barbados
The cooperage (barrel making shop) not only repairs barrels, but will replace a single stave to change the way a specific barrel of rum is aging when there is not enough tannin being released in a specific barrel.    They can repair the barrels and make new one from old ones when different pieces are required for the desired results.   This is an important shop in the distillery and has a huge effect on the final flavor of the product.

Solera System at Abuelo Distillery in Panama

    Once the barrels are filled they are stored in warehouse areas until resting of the rums is complete.   There are two ways that the rums are aged in the barrels.  The first is the most common and really the standard method for rum barrel placement.   They stack the barrels in an upright position in a warehouse and keeping them there for the duration of the aging.     The other method is the solera  method where the barrels are laid on their side and the rum is moved between the barrels during the aging process. ( See my March 11, 2011 article "What is this Solera Aging Process?," to further understand how the whole the system works.)

    The aging of the rums is the most costly of all of the processes.   It requires the asset to sit in a bodega or warehouse of many years before you can realize the profits of your labors.   These warehouses and bodegas take up a lot of acreage and require regular monitoring to protect the investment of the distillery.   It is the sometimes overlooked part of the process of producing fine rum, but it is one of the most important ones.  ;o)
Aging Bodegas of Ron Abuelo in Panama