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Missouri’s white oaks provide ideal birthplace for fine wine, good whiskey

Artisans char whiskey barrels at Barrel 53 in Higbee during the recent White Oak, Whiskey & Wine tour. (Photo by Linda Geist)

December 1, 2017 – Missouri’s hardwood forests are the ideal birthplace for many of the world’s finest wines and whiskeys. White oaks, of which Missouri has an abundance, are the preferred wood for barrels. Swamp white oaks and chinquapins, also common in Missouri hardwood forests, also make good barrels for wine and whiskey.

The type of wood and how it is finished has an impact on the taste of the wine or whiskey stored within. Daphne Bowman, owner of Willow Spring Mercantile in downtown Excelsior, says that it has a lot to do with the tannins.

“The wood in white oak barrels actually provides a substance in the wood that makes it waterproof, but the cell structure of the wood also allows a small amount of oxygen to permeate the barrel staves, which helps soften the tannins.”

Tannins, which are present both in the wood of the barrel staves and the grapes used to make wine, are what makes a wine become more full-bodied and flavorful, Bowman explained.

That impact on flavor from white oak also trickles over to affect the taste of beer.

Neil Wilkerson, owner of Dubious Claims Brewery, opening early next year in downtown Excelsior, says he will use white oak barrels that have had whiskey stored in them in order to age his darker beers, like stouts and porters.

Wilkerson explained that after the beer is brewed, it’s placed in the white oak whiskey barrel and then aged at room temperature for between four to eight weeks. After that, it’s filtered and then kegged. Putting darker beers to age in the white oak whiskey barrels balances the flavor of the beer out, Wilkerson explained.

University of Missouri Extension Forester Hank Stelzer detailed the unique role Missouri plays in wine and spirit production in a recent press release. Stelzer stated it is the “unique cellular features” that make white oak barrels the preferred barrel of wine and whiskey makers, because white oak makes leak-proof barrels. No other state grows as many white oaks as Missouri.

It’s a long journey from woods to whiskey barrel, one that takes approximately 80 years. But for many makers of fine wines and good whiskey throughout the world, it’s worth the wait.

By Samantha Kilgore •

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