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Home Brew Forums > Wine, Mead, Cider, Sake & Soda > Wine Making Forum > Why Oak?
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Old 10-28-2009, 09:59 PM   #1
wendelgee2
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Default Why Oak?

I have a few questions on oak:

1) Why are wines (and beers...and scotches) only aged in oak? I've never heard of people using hickory, or applewood, or elm, or cedar.

2) What is the purpose of toasting oak? Does it prepare the wood somehow? Remove volatile compounds that would not be delicious, perhaps?

3)What is the difference in terms of flavor contribution of a lightly toasted oak and a medium, and a...what comes next, darkly toasted oak?

thanks.

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Old 10-28-2009, 10:37 PM   #2
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Really, cedar? Like licking the bottom of a hamster cage... As for the others + maple, birch, etc., I dunno - probably has something to do with how suitable the wood was to make barrels. Oak probably became an aquired taste. Toasted, probably because the inside of the barrels was charred.

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Old 10-28-2009, 11:01 PM   #3
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You have never heard of other woods because they do not do the same for mead or wine. There are some tannins and vanillin, and other items that are leached into the wine and help condition and flavor it. Why you toast oak is the same reason you cook food. To carmelize the sugars and componds. Diffrent levels of toast do impart diffrent flavors. A heavy toast imparts a chocolaty or heavy carmel flavor, light toast has more characteristics of florals. Medium is more vanilla and carmel. Think about it this way, if you have sugar, carmel, and crem burlee. All diffrent flavors, right, but same substance at diffrent "Toast" levels. Same with oak. Think of oak as a complex concentrate locked up in celulouse. Alcohol extracts it out.

Is it neccessary in all wine/mead? No.

Can it improve a good protion of wine/mead? Yes.

It is a style technique that was discovered by aging in oak barrels and that aging in oak barrels was tastier than in other type of wood barrels. Feel free to experiment with other woods though. You may discover something that is unique and tastes good. I would watch out for poisions woods though. I think that cedar is poisonous if consumed.

There is some notes on oak and mead and bear and wine someware that explains it better.

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Old 10-29-2009, 11:28 AM   #4
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Just another note, you would not want to use a soft wood, too many oils and yucky stuff that just would not blend well with a drink.
I know people who have used mesquite/Kiawi, and I have used Kiawi honey in some meads and the taste can be very strong, some would say overwhelming.
A lot of wineries rotate and blend from new, to old barrels to get the right mix. New barrels will have a strong taste, while the older barrels would not.
I would say experiment, see if you come up with something that you like.

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Old 10-29-2009, 03:34 PM   #5
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Yeah, you gotta be really careful about types of wood in intimate contact with Alcohol.... I wouldn't use any sort of Pine or Spurce -- too much chance of sap leaching into the alcohol and making it taste like turpentine.

Other woods have toxic compounds in them that just aren't safe to drink. Cedar, Almond, Cherry, and many tropical hardwoods comes to mind here... and there are many hard woods that have severe Toxin/allergen problems... I don't want those in my wine thank you very much...

Then, since we don't need Cooperage to Store bulk wine anymore (Glass and Stainless steel work great) -- the only reason to use wood is for flavoring.... so neutral woods like Maple don't get you much of anything....

Then... Some other woods have very bitter off-flavors.. like Pecan, Walnut, and Hickory (if you are curious about their effects, taste some of the spongy black pith inside a Pecan or Walnut...)

Which brings us back to Oak -- which is wonderfully predictable in it's effects on wine....

But... you are welcome to try out whatever you want.... It's your wine afterall.

Thanks

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Old 10-29-2009, 07:07 PM   #6
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Thanks for the comments folks.
Found some interesting info here

http://tapirtantrum.com/?s=hickory&searchbutton=go!

though these woods were tested in bourbon, not used in wine or beer.

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Old 10-29-2009, 07:09 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dos_Locos_Brewery View Post
Really, cedar? Like licking the bottom of a hamster cage... As for the others + maple, birch, etc., I dunno - probably has something to do with how suitable the wood was to make barrels. Oak probably became an aquired taste. Toasted, probably because the inside of the barrels was charred.
For the record, while it's not wine, I had the opportunity to sample Surly Smoke aged on cedar and it was awesome. If the bottom of a hamster cage tasted like THAT, I would buy my kids a hamster.
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:14 PM   #8
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DFH's Palo Santo Marron is aged with Palo Santo wood (a tree from South America).

From their site:

An unfiltered, unfettered, unprecedented brown ale aged in handmade wooden brewing vessels. The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this beer comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted. Palo Santo means "holy tree" and it's wood has been used in South American wine-making communities.

This beer is a 12% abv, highly roasty, and malty brown ale aged on the Palo Santo wood. It was a huge hit at our Rehoboth Beach brewpub when first released in November of 2006, Palo went into full production at the end of 2007.

At 10,000 gallons, our Palo Tank is the largest wooden brewing vessel built in America since before Prohibition (and we have two same-sized Oak tanks right next to it).
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:18 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dos_Locos_Brewery View Post
Really, cedar? Like licking the bottom of a hamster cage...
An example of cedar would be Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale. It is more of an IPA but uses some cedar and comes off very nicely imho.
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Old 10-29-2009, 08:27 PM   #10
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Greek retsina has pine resin in it, tastes quite good.

Oak isn't just for flavouring, the pores in the wood allow a controlled oxidation which is very important in ageing - in tawny port this is the main reason for oak. Over time the pores get blocked, one of the reasons barrels get worse . The slow oxidation gives colour to port, whisky etc. An oaked chardonnay will be darker than unoaked.

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