Though Herodotus mentions palm-wood casks used in shipping Armenian wine to Babylon in Mesopotamia, the barrel as we know it today was most likely developed by the Celts. Around 350 BC they were already using watertight, barrel-shaped wooden containers that were able to withstand stress and could be rolled and stacked. For nearly 2,000 years, barrels were the most convenient form of shipping or storage container for those who could afford them. All kinds of bulk goods, from nails to gold coins, were stored in them. Bags and most crates were cheaper, but they were not as sturdy and they were more difficult to manhandle for the same weight.
The use of barrels for the transportation of bulk goods slowly lost its importance in the 20th century with the introduction of pallet-based logistics and containerization. However, they are still of great importance in the aging of wines and spirits.
Beverages aged in wooden barrels take on some of the compounds in the barrel, such as vanillin and wood tannins. The presence of these compounds depends on many factors, including the place of origin, how the staves were cut and dried, and the degree of “toast” applied during manufacture. After roughly three years, most of a barrel’s flavor compounds have been leached out and it is well on its way to becoming “neutral”.
Laws in several jurisdictions require that whiskey be aged in wooden barrels.
- The law in the United States requires that “straight whiskey” (with the exception of corn whiskey) must be stored for at least two years in new, charred white oak containers. Other forms of whiskey aged in used barrels cannot be called “straight”.
- International laws require any whisky bearing the label “Scotch” to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years and one day in oak casks.
- By Canadian law, Canadian whiskies must “be aged in small wood for not less than three years”, and “small wood” is defined as a wood barrel not exceeding 700 L capacity.
River Drive’s role in the barrel industry
Starting out as a reclaimed lumber company, we would search the dark depths of lakes and rivers for logs lost in the days of the river drives. Though our salvages were successful, the process of recovering sunken logs is extremely laborious, costly, and heavily restricted by local, state, and federal agencies. It’s certainly not how it’s portrayed on TV, and we knew there had to be a better way.
Working with companies large and small from all around the world, we buy, sell, recondition, and recycle used oak barrels. We’ve revolutionized the world of reclaimed barrels, and engineer new and better ways to produce highly unique and quality products. From something as simple as a bottle opener, all the way to the flooring in a 1,000 sq/ft restaurant in the heart of Dubai, U.A.E. We work directly with cooperages, distilleries, and breweries, and 100% of every barrel we take in is recycled. Any piece of wood that we are unable to use for a product is saved and burned in the furnace to warm us in the winter.
River Drive invites you to join us in preserving and appreciating the historic value that surrounds each of our one of kind and irreplaceable pieces.