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Go Back   SailNet Community > Out There > Cruising & Liveaboard Forum > Provisioning
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Old 03-28-2011
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Thumbs up The storing of spirits aboard in oak barrels or captain's sea chest

I kept a 1 gallon oak barrel aboard my last boat. Pour in any cheap rum and it would quickly improve in flavor. Also eliminates breakable glass. Carved my boat's name into the top end of the barrel. More than one wench has fallen to the spell of this irresistable spirit rationing method aboard my vessel.

About 10 years ago I saw a photo of a gorgeous captain's spirit chest - a beautifully finished wood chest with bright hardware and compartments to securely hold matching bottles with crystal stoppers. Looked like the fit was so perfect the bottles would never break without a major tumble. This gave me the idea that such a storage system could be built into a boat interior's cabinetry.

There is a keen interest in imbibing on Sailnet so I just wanted to bring up this topic and share my good experience with oak barrels.

American oak barrels are available in 1,2,3,4,5,10+ liter sizes. They are available with brass hoops and storage racks of oak, or you could make your own secure teak cradle. The insides of the barrels are scorched with fire to create a charcoal liner that is the secret to their magic transformation of spirits. Rum or whiskey can be aged this way. Vodka or gin would make no sense. The oak quickly adds the classic vanila profile found in barrel aged spirits. A light rum would quickly become whisky colored with a new barrel, takes longer with an older barrel. Part of the fun is tasting the daily progress!

The barrels come with an all wood bung and tap. The small spigot only allows a gurgling trickle to come out, one possible variation on your social drinking method is to hold the small barrel over your head and let it trickle down the hatch. It is a different drinking experience. These little barrels are huggable and you will be an instant hit if you pull one out of your dinghy at the beach party.

Two internet sites with almost identical product lines of American oak barrels - barrelsonline.com and oakbarrelsltd.com both have their barrels made in Mexico so the prices are reasonable. One site gives free shipping so the bottom line is about the same from each. I would suggest a 3 liter size for your first barreling experience. Follow directions for breaking in a new barrel with water.

Be aware there is a loss called the 'angels share' which is more pronounced in smaller barrels. Long term storage, such as winter layup, would be best done with the barrel empty. But then, emptying it is the fun part!

I guarantee that you will not want to leave your barrel behind in an abandon ship situation. It floats too.
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Old 03-28-2011
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Good stuff! I'm a home brewer and have been looking into this for a bourbon ale.
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Old 03-28-2011
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I always wondered why they go to all the trouble of building oak barrels and scorching the insides. Why not just scorch a few pieces of oak and chuck
'em in the bottle. My best guess is that the barrel makers have a strong union.
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Barrel usage history

An interesting aspect of barrel use is the ancient history of it and the fact that newly made barrels have almost no difference from those used 500 years ago. It's a timeless art and an improvement over animal bladders or clay pots. As to the question why they don't just throw a chunk of charred oak into a bottle, I think the distillers would rather present their product as properly aged before sale. Also the foreign object might be a choking hazard or hindrance to pouring. Doubtful there are still cooperage unions now, although it would be a reasonable way to maintain continuity in this craft requiring highly specialized skills, similar to wood boat building.

Remember the bushel basket and fruit crate era? I do.
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Old 04-07-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Siamese View Post
I always wondered why they go to all the trouble of building oak barrels and scorching the insides. Why not just scorch a few pieces of oak and chuck
'em in the bottle. My best guess is that the barrel makers have a strong union.
Good question. Barrel making is indeed an art, and the few places who still produce, do so with pride and tradition.

Having said that.......

I make wine at home, and do just that with my primary fermentation. It works amazing well, and if the truth ever got out, I bet a lot of quality, mid-range wineries do just that also. Not a big whiskey drinker, so won't comment on their practices. (I am big, but only occasionally drink whiskey )
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Old 04-08-2011
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Popeye, you have made an important contribution here. Sailing is hazardous enough without the increased risk of personal injury from broken glass. I am forwarding a Priority Safety Alert to fellow schooner owners recommending that those who have not already done so repackage their ship's stores in the manner you described. I cast a vote to add to your reputation and urge other readers here to do likewise. If you reach the vicinity of Cape Ann in your travels look me up and I'll treat you to some award-winning Joe Froggers.
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Old 04-08-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Siamese View Post
I always wondered why they go to all the trouble of building oak barrels and scorching the insides. Why not just scorch a few pieces of oak and chuck
'em in the bottle. My best guess is that the barrel makers have a strong union.
Brew shops often sell bags of dried oak cubes with varying levels of charring for exactly the purpose of flavoring without barrels. Beer guys usually soak 'em in whiskey for a few days, then dump 'em into the secondary fermenter for a while.

They get strained out before bottling.
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Old 04-08-2011
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This is a hell of an idea.
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It also works fantastically for mellowing out a harsh mead.
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Old 04-08-2011
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Siamese View Post
I always wondered why they go to all the trouble of building oak barrels and scorching the insides. Why not just scorch a few pieces of oak and chuck
'em in the bottle. My best guess is that the barrel makers have a strong union.
Actually cheaper wineries do just that. The best advertise aged in a genuine oak barrel. That way you get 100% oak flavor and 0% plastic flavor. I have never heard of a whiskey maker resort to such, as the high relative price of spirits deters such mishandling. And most spirit drinkers are fiercly defensive of their favorite flavor and traditional distilling technique. Any changes would go over about as well as the "new coke".
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