Methods of finishing a spirit

Methods of finishing a spirit

By Lucas de Kock, Cape Cooperage Group

The practice of “finishing” a spirit is not new in the industry, but one that has grown with increasing popularity in the last decade. Finishing provides additional flavour and complexity to a distillate and can also make a tremendous difference in the final organoleptic profile of a spirit in a relatively short amount of time.

There are several different ways to finish a spirit. Depending on what a distiller wants to achieve, they might choose one method over another. New barrels, used barrels, and oak alternatives will all deliver different results.

Based in the US, Independent Stave Company (ISC) manufactures new spirit barrels under the brand ISC Barrels and supplies used spirit barrels through their Kentucky Bourbon Barrel subsidiary to distilleries globally; Cape Cooperage Group provides customer service, spirit specific barrel recommendations, warehousing, and coopering for these barrels.

Understanding oak maturation

Each year, Independent Stave Company’s Research and Development team conducts in-house experiments, laying down hundreds of experimental barrels to further understand oak maturation. Using proprietary equipment and processes, they explore the wide array of flavors oak can produce. From this experimentation, the ISC Barrels Small Batch Series was born. With three types of barrels, Spiral Cut, Wave Stave, and Toasted, this series combines innovation and technology to bring out the best in your spirit.

A choice of four flavour toasts

Offered in four flavor specific toasts (Smoke 1, Spice 1, Sweet 1, Sweet 2), the Toasted Barrels allow ISC to expertly design a barrel program that dials in on a desired flavor in a specific time frame. The toasting process increases the thickness of the red layer (the layer of thermally degraded wood in which most flavor compounds reside) within the stave and as such, has the capability to deliver significant levels of extractives.

Each barrel in this series delivers good flavor when used alone but they are designed as ‘blending barrels’ and as such their individual flavor profiles are more singular. Producers should experiment by using these barrels in conjunction with each other or with classic charred barrels to help direct flavor in specific directions and build complexity.

Wave Stave and Spiral Cut barrels

The Wave Stave and Spiral Cut barrels are recommended for distillers looking to reduce time in barrel without foregoing complexity or color in their final product. They have also proven successful in double barrel finishing. As little as six weeks in a new Wave Stave or Spiral Cut barrel can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the product it contains.

Used barrels

Another consideration for barrel finishing is used barrels. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel, sister company to ISC Barrels, has a comprehensive inventory of once-filled barrels. From whiskey to tequila and more, they are constantly receiving new, freshly dumped barrels perfect for finishing programs. Like chefs in a spice market, distillers seek out these previously filled finishing barrels to help set their product apart from the rest.

Many distillers also finish in previously filled barrels that held fortified, dessert style wines or spirits such as sherry, port, madeira, rum, cognac, and brandy. These used barrels contribute to the sweetness, spice, floral and fruit notes desired by consumers in a spirit’s final character, without the need for undesired or regulated additives such as caramel coloring or sugar. As such, these finishing barrels continue to be the most requested used barrels at Kentucky Bourbon Barrel.

Oak alternatives

One final avenue of finishing to consider is oak alternatives. In the past year, there has been a growing interest from distillers in using oak alternatives to finish their products. Using oak alternatives is an efficient method to enhance flavors in an existing product, add complexity to a base spirit or provide an economical way of creating special release or limited-time products.

Cape Cooperage Group carries the ēvOAK line of oak alternatives in a variety of configurations for barrel finishing – from toasted oak tank staves to fan systems, cubes, and more. With specific products designed with spirit maturation and finishing in mind, ēvOAK utilizes multiple toasting technologies to achieve a variety of flavors desired in the spirits industry.

Cape Cooperage Group provides expertise to distillers on which method of finishing will help achieve their goals. Contact me to set-up a meeting to review your needs and discuss a program unique to your spirit.   

Contact Lucas de Kock:

Mobile: +27 (0)78 149 1871 

Office: +27 (0)21 873 6969

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