Saturday, April 5, 2014
Indiana Oak Is in Whiskey Barrels, But Not Very Much
This is from the web site of a new micro-distillery in Indiana: "Did you know that a significant portion of the whiskey in the world, both in Kentucky and Scotland, is matured in barrels made from oak trees grown right here in Indiana?"
The accuracy of that statement depends on your definition of the word "significant." Other Indiana distilleries have claimed it as well. Basically, the statement is false. They all seem to be getting their information from someone they believe is a good source, who told one of them that the world's largest barrel maker gets 60 percent of its white oak from Indiana forests, but the source's boss says that isn't so.
"At our mill in Southern Indiana," says Brad Boswell, President of Independent Stave Company (ISC), "we process white oak logs from Indiana, all the bordering states and a few other states. I’m sure the person you talked with assumed Indiana forests were the primary if not the only source of logs for an Indiana mill."
The Indiana mill is Blue River Wood Products in Salem, Indiana. Salem is about 40 miles northwest of Louisville. The mill is owned by American Stave Company, a subsidiary of ISC.
For the most part, cooperages neither own white oak timber stands nor log them. The property owners hire loggers to cut the trees and transport them to the nearest stave mill. The stave mill accepts the logs that meet its standards and roughly cuts them into barrel staves and head pieces. The wood is then shipped to one of the company's cooperages. "Unfortunately, we do not publicly disclose details as to which of our mills provide what percentage of raw material to each of our five cooperages," says Boswell. At the cooperage, the oak is air-seasoned for up to two years before being made into barrels.
ISC is based in Missouri, where it has two stave mills and a cooperage. The company has always said that most of the wood for its whiskey barrels is Ozark oak from Missouri and Arkansas. The company's other main cooperage for whiskey barrels is Kentucky Cooperage in Lebanon, Kentucky. The other three cooperages primarily make wine barrels.
The company's fourth stave mill is in Zanesville, Ohio, which is close to Ohio's borders with Pennsylvania and West Virginia. ISC's Log Procurement Division is staffed with 15 buyers who cover more than ten states to supply the four mills with high quality white oak stave logs.