Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Bourbon Barrel Aftermarket is a Booming Business These Days

Rum Pouring From a Once Used Bourbon Cask
     There's no shortage of bourbon barrel-aged wines and beers, but recent years have shown a trend of sharing between bourbons, wines and beers.  Today, tequila is also jumping on the band wagon aging many of their expressions in the once used bourbon casks. 

     You won't find bourbon notes in a bottle of Tabasco, but one of the pioneers for using bourbon barrels in the food industry, Tabasco's regular pepper sauce is aged for three years in oak, the Reserve sauce spends eight years in the barrel. Since bourbon is essentially the only industry still using oak that's deemed Kosher, Tabasco purchases all of its barrels from whiskey companies.   When the used barrels arrive in the hot Louisiana warehouse, the workers will fill them with water and sweat them.   Tabasco workers grind out the char, place their own metal hoops around the barrel, and create a valve on the barrelhead to allow the mash to ferment. They add salt to the barrelhead, too, to form a hard crust when fermentation is complete. After Tabasco adds vinegar in the manufacturing process, one barrel of pepper mash yields 10,000 2-ounce bottles. And much like the bourbon-making process, there's no speeding up the aging process.   "We've tried bulk aging, aging in fiber glass and different containers, but that wood barrel is what works best for us.   "The mash breathes in the wood."  Also like bourbon, the Tabasco barrels absorb much of the product's essence. Over the Tabasco barrel lifetime of 55 to 80 years, that's a lot of pepper mash.

       It never ceases to amaze me the places that the once used bourbon barrels end up.  The rum industry has used them for many years, but they are finding their way into so many other places.  The trading back and forth of the barrels between beer and rum companies or beer and wine companies also happens to these barrels.