When it comes to alcohol aging, Oak Barrels tend to be the most common. As a barrel can affect the maturation effects of any liquor, it’s important to understand that different wood or even the geographic location of said wood can impact how that spirit may look or taste. While American Oak Barrels have stood out as an industry standard for years, Japanese Oak Barrels, or Mizunara, have made a recent resurgence in popularity.
As these two native oak barrels can alter the flavor profile of your liquid, you’ll want to better understand how they differ in end result. Here at Brindiamo Group, we work with the best alcohol experts in the industry. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of what you need to know about American Barrels and Japanese Barrels.
Here are some of the differences between Oak Aged Barrels:
- American Oak
- Japanese Oak
- Major Differences
- Brindiamo Group Helps Companies get into the Alcohol Business
Originally used to transport wine, oak barrels were made famous by the Romans. Since then, oak barrels have been continuously used because of their unique properties, such as high density, toughness, and resistance to rot.
Historically, wooden barrels have been used to ferment and age a variety of spirits. However, American White Oak Barrels have always been the industry favorite and in the most demand. Aside from the obvious qualities of strength and durability, American White Oak Barrels contain chemicals such as hemicellulose, lignin, tannins, lactones, and so many more which aid in the maturation process — making these oak barrels an ideal choice for aging.
American White Oak Barrels tend to help spirits mature more quickly than those aged in other types of barrels. American White Oak Barrels are also known for their strong flavor profile. These flavors, enhanced by naturally occurring oils can often incorporate notes of vanilla, coconut, sandalwood, and even cream soda. Contributing to the texture, aroma, and flavors of the spirits stored inside, American Oak Barrels can impact your liquor in a variety of ways.
Here’s what the process of maturation in an American Oak Barrel can entail:
- Filtration: Charred White Oak Barrels contain activated carbon, which filters out unwanted impurities, allowing the stored alcohol to seep into the cracks more easily.
- Hemicellulose: These simple sugars are broken down when heated, which provides a toasty and caramelized aroma, flavor, and color to spirits.
- Tannins: Naturally occurring preservative compounds, Tannins can help maturation by enabling oxidation to create delicate fragrances and aroma profiles.
- Lactones: As a result of lipids in the American White Oak Barrels, lactone compounds increase dramatically during toasting or charring. These then contribute to the spirit’s taste, featuring aromas such as smoky oak and coconut.
Japanese Oak Barrels began to surge in popularity shortly towards the end of World War II. As the Japanese people faced shortages of all kinds, from medicine, food and other daily necessities, a lack of whiskey aging materials became a big one. While this problem was likely not the biggest issue the country was facing at the time, the lack of imported barrels to age whiskey encouraged distillers to begin using the native oak, Mizunara.
Mizunara is currently used to age many whiskies around the world from Japan, the United States, and even Scotland. However, a bottle advertised as a Mizunara oak won’t last long in stores. While many of these Japanese Oak Aged whiskies may spend mere months maturing, the Mizunara Oak Tree needs to be around 200 years old before it can be cut and used for barreling. Due to this factor, a single barrel of Mizunara oak can cost more than $6,000.
In general, maturation does not determine the quality and depth of whisky, but it is critical when it comes to Mizunara. With that in mind, higher-end spirits aged in Japanese Oak Barrels are recommended to be stored for about 18 years. A whiskey aged in Mizunara can offer complex flavors of sandalwood, coconut, spice, banana and even aromatic incense when properly tended to.
When it comes to defining the differences between the two, Japanese Oak tends to be much more expensive. This is simply due to the fact that it takes a Mizunara-aged whiskey almost decades longer to mature than it would in an American Oak Barrel.
As Japanese Oak Barrels tend to incorporate more of a tight grain, the liquid inside can take much longer to incorporate the unique flavor profile that this oak offers. Because of this, and in order to keep up with growing demands, American Oak Barrels will likely still remain popular, due to their availability, flavor aromas, and maturation times. On the other hand, Japanese Oak Barrels will likely continue to be treated as a luxury whiskey aging option.
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