Written by Ian Wisniewski
Bourbon distillers are constantly saying goodbye, not just to bottles but also their barrels which can only be used once to age Bourbon. Shipped around the world, these white American oak barrels, charred on the inside, embark on a second career ageing other styles of whiskey, whether in Scotland, England or Wales, across Europe and Scandinavia, or in Australia and Japan. In the Caribbean and South America Bourbon barrels nurture rum, while in Mexico they accommodate tequila.
Such global appeal reflects the benefits a Bourbon barrel provides. Having already been ‘seasoned’ by ageing Bourbon, the influence on a subsequent occupant is mellower, while still dispensing plenty of flavor. Generous quantities of vanilla (the world’s most popular flavor) appear in various guises, whether vanilla custard, crème anglaise, crème caramel, crème brûlée, Highland toffee, butterscotch or cream soda.
Vanilla also enhances other flavors, making fruit notes for example appear richer and riper. And as Bourbon barrels provide fruit notes it’s a case of self-enhancement. Additional contributions include coconut, honey and sweetness. Enjoyable in its own right, sweetness is also a counter-point to dryness, a contrast which makes a whiskey far more interesting. When sweetness and dryness interact, their union creates another asset: richness.
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