When we last visited Rolling Thunder Barrel Works, cooper Nate Lindquist was raising skirts.
Now comes the magical part of barrel making. But instead of a wand, Nate uses a blowtorch.
Toasting And Bending
The secret to coopering is heat. Heat is what makes our tough as nails Oregon White Oak easier to bend and shape.
This stage of barrel making begins as Nate places the skirts over small fires in metal buckets called cressets.
There are two things happening here. The fires toast the insides of the barrel to caramelize the sugars in the wood. It’s a lot like toasting a marshmallow. Eating a plain one is sweet, but a toasted marshmallow tastes even better.
Meanwhile, as the barrels toast, hydraulic rings push the open ends of the skirts together until you get something that looks like this.
Toasting is critical because how you toast releases different flavors from the wood. A light toast highlights fresh oak flavors. A medium toast creates vanilla, caramel and bread notes. Medium Plus toasting brings out cinnamon, nutmeg and coffee flavors. Any or all of these flavors will infuse themselves into whiskey and other spirits during the aging process.
Now comes the fun part.
This is one of the most dramatic moments in coopering. Nate will literally set the inside of the barrel on fire.
And waits for about 45 seconds, or until his nose tells him he’s reached the right level of char.
Then he extinguishes the fire with water and a lid to dampen the flames.
Charring leaves a layer of pure carbon that filters the spirits and gives it color. It will also add smoky flavors.
Since we make our own barrels, Nate can create any level of toast and char we want, and customize it to the spirit or beer we will age in the barrel.
This is a big deal because…
While the barrels are still smoldering, Nate slips temporary hoops over the ends.
Hammering them into place with a cooper’s hammer and a driving iron. But he’s not done yet. He and the barrel are off to the hoop press.
The hoop press completes the job of pushing the hoops into place.
A barrel will be hooped at least twice. The first time with temporary hoops to finalize the bending and shaping. Then another time with brand new hoops so that it looks pretty.
Now we have something that’s starting to look like a barrel.
But it still won’t hold water, or whiskey, or beer. We’re missing two important pieces of wood.
Here’s a hint of what we’ll show you in our next story.
More About Rolling Thunder
At Rogue Spirits, we make our whiskey from scratch. We grow our own ingredients at Rogue Farms in Independence and Tygh Valley, Oregon. We roast and smoke our malts at the Brewery and Distillery in Newport. Brewmaster John Maier personally mashes each batch. Our distiller refines the mash into whiskey. And now, thanks to Rolling Thunder Barrel Works, we age our whiskey in barrels hand crafted by Nate Lindquist.
Are there faster and cheaper ways of making whiskey? Of course there are, but that’s not how we do things at Rogue Spirits. There’s something different about handmade, ocean-aged whiskey. We say you’ll taste the difference in every bottle of Rogue Spirits. Join us in the Grow Your Own and Do It Yourself Revolution.