One of the most important processes in the bourbon distillery process is aging – where the liquor gets better with time and begins to develop its distinct aroma, flavor, and color characteristics (such as caramel). By law, all bourbon must be aged in charred new oak barrels before it can be called straight bourbon— but after that, the regulations are fairly flexible about what happens to the barrel afterward. Some distilleries will reuse them for other purposes, some will sell them to private buyers, and some will use them as rickhouses – tall rectangular structures designed specifically for storing and aging spirits. Let’s take a look at how rickhouses impact the bourbon distillery process.
What is a Rickhouse?
A rickhouse is a tall rectangular structure built of either wood or steel. It is designed to store and age distilled spirits, usually bourbon. They are usually located in close proximity to the distillation process so that the aging process can be closely monitored. Some of the oldest rickhouses date back to the late 1700s and were mainly used for storing and aging whiskey in Ireland. The word rick is believed by some historians to originate from the Irish word “righ”, which means king. Traditionally, a distiller’s rickhouse was called a king’s warehouse. Today, they are usually built with concrete or brick bottoms and metal walls because they are more durable than wooden structures.
How Does a Rickhouse Impact the Distilling Process?
Rickhouses are used by distilleries to store and age bourbon, often for years at a time. The type of wood used in these structures impacts how a spirit ages, as well as how it tastes when it is finally bottled. Some spirits like whiskey will spend years in the same rickhouse before they are ever bottled. Oftentimes, the distiller will use different kinds of wood in order to get specific flavors out of their final product.
Why do Rickouses Matter to the Bourbon Industry?
Rickhouses have a huge impact on the bourbon industry because they store and age the bourbon before it is put into bottles. This helps with the quality of bourbon and also impacts how much bourbon is produced, since production can be slowed down by the time-consuming process of barrel-aging. The barrels in a rickhouse are typically aged anywhere from two to six years, which gives the whiskey time to mature in a controlled environment. There are many different types of barrels that can be used during this aging process, but all types will give a different taste profile based on what type of wood was used in construction, how tight or loose the barrel was made, and how much charing occurred during production.
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