Whiskey and White Oak
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
Tennessee Whiskey, Kentucky Bourbon, and White Oak Trees
In the past decade there has been a nearly 40 percent growth in the sales of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey in the United Sates according to the Distilled Spirits Council. Export sales have also grown tremendously. What, you might ask does this have to do with white oak trees.
By law, both bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey must be made from mash consisting of at least 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels. Due to the particular characteristics of white oak trees they are used almost exclusively for the barrel staves that form the barrels used to age bourbon and Tennessee whiskey.
In hardwood trees, vessels are the pipelines that take all of the goodies from the roots up to the crown of the tree so photosynthesis can take place. In white oak trees, tyloses, which are an outgrowth of a cell clog up these vessels. If tyloses were not present in white oak, liquid would leak through the vessels and barrels would not be water tight. With the tyloses present you have a wood well suited to making water tight barrels.
This surge in demand for Tennessee whiskey and bourbon coincided with the downturn in hardwood lumber production caused by the collapse of the housing market in our most recent recession. In May of last year even the Wall Street Journal took note of this issue. I’m not an economist, but rising demand and a decreased supply must least to an increase in price. And yes, white oak lumber prices are up.
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