University of Kentucky researchers working to improve bourbon barrel manufacturing

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 5:13 PM EDT
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BREATHITT COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - Before bourbon barrels are built, the staves, or slats of wood that make up the barrel, are dried outdoors for several months to even years.

Through this drying process, they can develop checks and cracks that can create problems later on.

In an effort to understand and combat these issues with the staves, researchers at UK are testing emulsion techniques and shade blankets to hopefully prevent degradation and less loss for these companies.

“It means less trimming, less wood that goes to the boiler for fuel to power kilns and electricity, and more going into those barrels,” said Chad Niman, research specialist in the UK Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Because weather obviously changes throughout the year, researchers said they’ll be getting new stacks of white oak staves throughout different times of the year so they can study seasonal changes to the drying process and degradation changes.

“So for each of the seasonal tests we’re looking at the moisture loss and so every few days we’re going through here weighting these staves and looking at these staves for these checks that are coming,” Niman said.

Improving the drying process of staves also means that once barrels are made and filled, less bourbon would be evaporated away during the aging process.

“Everyone’s heard of angel share and so the less of this type of checking and issues like that that are in those barrels, it reduces some of that angel share as well,” Niman said.

This project is also part of the White Oak Tree Initiative, which is an initiative to draw attention to the white oak resources in our region and how to sustainable source the wood used for bourbon barrel production.

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