Cocktail Of The Week
Brandy Alexander
A skilful barkeep no more looks at his accoutrements than a practiced typist or pianist peers at the keys, but works with both hands simultaneously, full blast, undimmed by the usual dull requirements of routine.

MasterClass

Cooperage - How a Barrel is Born!
A barrel or cask is a hollow cylindrical container, traditionally made of wooden staves and bound with iron hoops or rope. The term "barrel" typically refers to “wooden vessels that are small enough to be moved by hand”. Someone who makes such wooden, iron bound barrels is known as a Cooper. Examples of a Cooper's work include, but are not limited to: casks, barrels, buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins, tierces, rundlets, puncheons, pipes, tuns, butts, pins and breakers.

Traditionally there were four divisions in the Cooper's craft:

The least skilled were the Dry Coopers, so called because they made barrels intended to hold dry goods such as apples, nails, salt fish, etc. These barrels (sometimes referred to as 'slack' barrels) didn't need to be made to very exacting standards and they were often made of cheap or inferior wood since they were usually intended to be used just once.

At the next level of coopering were the Dry-tight Coopers. They made barrels to hold goods such as flour, butter, etc. They needed to work to a far higher standard than the Dry Coopers, but not quite to the standard of those making barrels to hold liquids. Dry-tight barrels would be made of good quality wood, (but not necessarily of Oak) and would be hooped with iron hoops, since they would be expected to last for many years and be re-used many times.

Then there were the White Coopers who made straight staved containers like washtubs, buckets and butter churns which would hold water and other liquids, but did not allow shipping of the liquids. Usually there was no bending of wood involved in White Cooperage.
At the top of the profession came the Wet Coopers, who were so skillful that they could make barrels that could hold liquids. Everyone thinks of beer or whiskey barrels in this context, but many other liquids needed to be carried, such as syrup, vinegar, pickles, or even just drinking water for use on ships during long sea voyages. An Oak barrel made by a Wet Cooper might last fifty years or more. In recognition of their superior skills, Wet Coopers were paid more than ordinary Coopers. Being a Wet Cooper was a very prideful thing and the length of the apprenticeship was around 7 years!
Still today Coopers, or barrel makers, work in a difficult perfectionist trade. The trees selected for barrel staves must be straight and free of knots. Many of the chosen trees are more than 100 years old and cut during autumn or winter when the sap is low. Even if a barrel can pass the test to hold a liquid without leaking, they have many returned for repair because of the slightest abnormality. It is understandable, however because these barrels need to be able to hold their precious cargo for years and a leak of any kind is unacceptable.

Most barrels will start their life as American white oak grown in South Eastern USA. Large distilleries such as Jack Daniel’s have their own Cooperage which make around 2200 barrels per day! The wood is delivered everyday (around 600 tonnes to be exact!) and is then left outside to weather or dry for up to 18 months. When it’s ready it is cut and shaped into staves. It takes 33 staves to make a barrel and a modern day Cooper will make around 260 barrels in an 8 hour shift!

http://videos.howstuffworks.com/discovery/30540-some-assembly-required-making-whiskey-barrels-video.htm

http://videos.howstuffworks.com/discovery/30542-some-assembly-required-barrel-shaping-and-charring-video.htm

Once the new white oak barrels are constructed they are charred, or toasted, for between 25 to 40 seconds, depending on the distillery, to create an inner layer that creates the perfect caramelizing core for the bourbon to seep in and out of throughout the coming years.

When a whiskey ages in a barrel, small amounts of oxygen are introduced as the barrel lets some air in. Oxygen enters a barrel when water or alcohol is lost due to evaporation, a portion known as the "angel's share". In an environment with 100% relative humidity, very little water evaporates and so most of the loss is alcohol. The Whiskey also takes on some of the compounds in the barrel, such as vanillin and wood tannins. The presence of these compounds is dependent on many factors, including the place of origin, how the staves were cut and dried, and what degree of "toast" is applied during manufacture.

A brand new American White Oak barrel will set the distillers back around $250. After around 4 to 7 years when they have finished with the barrels they sell them on for just $15! The barrels are sold to Rum distilleries, Tequila distilleries, Scotch & Irish Whisk(e)y distilleries and a few to Japanese Whiskey distilleries. They then carry on their life imparting a little if their flavour to the next continents’ “water of life”.

http://www.independentstavecompany.com/bourbon_whiskey_barrels