Char 4 - The World's Most Popular Barrel
By Chad Spalding
We’ve all heard the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
My job allows me to work directly with distillers and we often find ourselves pushing the boundaries of innovation and experimentation. Yet whiskey makers around the world have built their house profile brands on a classic- the char #4 whiskey barrel. No matter the distillery size, from one barrel a year up to hundreds of thousand barrels annually, this barrel stands alone at the top in making great tasting whiskey.
This particular barrel is the foundational barrel that has been with the company from the beginning and still is the overwhelming favorite barrel type that we craft. Producers often tote the classic whiskey barrel and char level #4 as a key reason their whiskeys are so successful and so consistent year after year.
You may know that during charring, the inside of each barrel catches on fire, and in the brief period that follows, a char layer is created on the wood surface. What isn't as obvious is that the oak chemistry is also being significantly modified in the wood layers as the heat gradually penetrates inward. Wood sugars are caramelized in this process and bring forth rich flavors of vanilla and caramel as the distilled spirit ages. The depth of char that is achieved in char #4 is also ideal for the production of fruit notes through esterification, dark color and mellowing. (Click here if you missed Andrew's recent post explaining the value of esters.)
To get another perspective, I decided to ask our friends behind the successful Old Pogue brand to get their take on the classic char #4 whiskey barrel:
“ISC makes a consistent product and the quality is at the top of the market. The char 4 barrel is the choice for our premium bourbons and has been since we began producing bourbon again in Maysville, KY in 2012. It provides the ideal balance of oak and sweet notes that complement the bold character of the rye secondary grain in our new make whisky.”
It's no wonder that this classic still reigns supreme as the distiller's choice for maturing spirits. The char #4 barrel has proven itself time and time again for lending to robust flavors and the smooth palette whiskey enthusiasts seek out. As the world's most popular barrel, odds are that we will all be raising a glass this holiday season and savoring a piece of it.