Making Barrels: Forming and Cooking

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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In order to make barrels, the cooper splits the heartwood into pieces, dries them, and forms them into thin, elongated staves, which are then roughly hooped together and heated to make them more pliable and easily bent into the final barrel shape. In Europe, the barrel interior is heated with a small brazier of burning wood scraps to 400°F/200°C. Once the softened staves have been tightly hooped into their final positions, the interior is “toasted” further at 300–400°F/150–200°C, for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the degree of cooking desired: less for wine barrels, more for spirits. In the United States, the heat treatment for whiskey barrels is more extreme. The hooped staves are first steamed to soften them, and then the barrel interior is charred with an open gas burner for from 15 to 45 seconds.