Monday, November 14, 2016

New Barrel Research Center in Lebanon, Kentucky, Will Focus on Innovation

Independent Stave Company (ISC) has begun construction of a research center dedicated to oak innovation and experimentation for the spirits industry. It is being built in Lebanon, Kentucky, as an addition to the company’s Kentucky Cooperage campus. Once complete, the new research center will serve as a cutting edge resource on oak maturation for ISC’s distilling customers in Kentucky and around the world.

“We are passionate about spirits, including working closely with distillers to foster innovation and develop new products,” said Andrew Wiehebrink, ISC director of spirit research and innovation.

The research center will include a laboratory, a library of experiments, a tasting room, and offices for ISC’s Kentucky-based research and customer service team.

“We don’t want to just talk about what is possible,” said Jeff LaHue, ISC’s director of strategic partnerships. “Instead, we can demonstrate through blind tastings, sensory science and chemical analysis.”

Since the 1990s, ISC has conducted hundreds of barrel experiments and the company, working with its distillery partners, continues to lay down barrels every year. The company’s innovation team has increased the number of experiments in play for the past three years and many of these projects will come of age for evaluation as the research center becomes fully operational. 

"Independent Stave Company is committed to continuously improving the quality, consistency and variety of the barrels we offer,” said Brad Boswell, ISC president. “This research center is further evidence of how we translate that vision into action to the benefit of our customers."

As part of its mission, the research center will also explore how to enhance structural integrity and recovery yields.

“We are looking at all the elements to build a barrel–oak species, wood age, barrel shape and size, how we engineer the barrels, all the materials used–to optimize the barrels we craft,” said Wiehebrink, who works directly with ISC’s key spirits customers on innovation projects. “We encourage distillers to bring us their ideas and challenges. We know how to transform ideas into reality, with sensory and science-backed results.” 

ISC supplies whiskey barrels to most of the whiskey distilleries in Kentucky and Tennessee. The major exceptions are Jack Daniel's and the other distilleries owned by Brown-Forman, which owns its own cooperages.


Harry said...

Chuck, for years the paper industry and growers serving the construction industry have worked to get faster growing trees (mostly pines) that retain the desirable characteristics of "naturally" growing trees in order to improve yields. Did ISC give you any indication whether the white oak growers have a similarly advanced research program for trees intended for barrels? Also, Does ISC have specifications it gives to growers or does it just buy "wood" and then sort it? Really basic questions, but I am curious how this business works.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The growers are independent. They hire the loggers. The loggers sell to the stave mills, which are part of ISC. From the stave mills the rough-cut staves go to the cooperages for seasoning, then to be made into barrels. Most of the science I've seen involves seasoning, toasting, and other things that happen after the wood is harvested. Trees for whiskey barrels are 75 to 100 years old, typically.

Crown Point Marc said...

I'd be curious to see how wood other than oak would perform in regards to maturing whiskey. I realize you wouldn't be able to call it bourbon, but I'd like to see hickory or walnut barrels given a shot at the big leagues. Maybe this has been tried already and it doesn't work. I dunno.

Anonymous said...

I think there are two factors in play, one the ability of the wood to swell and stay sufficiently tight (there are a number of oak species that are unusable for barrels just for that reason), and two the flavor. I don't claim any expertise in that area, but I could imagine woods like hickory to actually be too aromatic for a long smooth aging process. You don't want to end up with wood juice. But that would have to be explored for each type of wood. I suspect such research has and is being done.

Jim Laminack said...

White Oak has a cell structure called Tylosis. After the tree is felled, Tylosis dams up the capillaries that allow sap to migrate up and down in the tree. If not for this then the whiskey that soaks into the barrel would leech out of the end of the staves. To my knowledge, other species of oak do not have tylosis.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The tylosis also contain the yummy vanilla-like substance that flavors the whiskey.

Tommy tom said...

Watch the deer feeding on the white oak acorns. The trees they prefer will hold the secret to further barrel enhancements.