Stoked on The Oak: Making An American Oak Barrel
One of the hallmarks of our wine is the use of American oak barrels. For over 30-years, we have sourced our American oak barrels from the same cooperage in Higbee, Missouri, and in 2015 we became the sole proprietors of The Oak Cooperage. Barrel making is a time-honored craft that requires talent, skill and patience. White oak trees take 80-100 years to grow before they are harvested and sent to the mill where they are cut into long narrow boards called “staves.” The staves are then stacked for another two years before they are cut to the right length and beveled to a slight crescent shape. Each stave is continuously graded for quality and inspected for flaws.
Now it’s time to build a Silver Oak barrel...
Step 1: Set Up
The Master Cooper selects the optimal staves for a Silver Oak barrel. He inspects the grain, sap flow marks, knots, worm holes and even the pattern in the grain. Every barrel has 32 staves carefully arranged in a specific pattern. The set-up is a puzzle as each stave varies slightly in width and a barrel cannot have any gaps.
Step 2: Bending
In order to bend the staves into the barrel shape without cracking the wood, each barrel is warmed over an open fire. Once the outside of the barrel reaches 300˚F, temporary hoops are placed on the barrel by a hydraulic machine to force the barrel into shape.
Step 3: Toasting
The newly shaped barrel returns to the fire for toasting. At The Oak, we ensure an even toast by positioning our barrels over subterranean fire pits. A metal cover is then placed over the barrel to help retain heat. It takes approximately 40 minutes to obtain the medium light toasting preferred for Silver Oak barrels. Toasting crystalizes natural sugars in the wood, releasing aromas of freshly baked bread and roasted marshmallows. The freshly toasted barrels go through another round of quality control after which the barrel is capped with round barrel heads.
Step 4: Hooping
The temporary hoops that had been applied to the ends of the barrel during bending are removed and replaced with two new, clean and permanent galvanized steel hoops on each end. Temporary hoops around the belly of the barrel are removed, but before new hoops are secured, the outside of the barrel is sanded down, creating a pristine and smooth finish. After sanding, the final hoops are hammered and nailed on.
Step 5 : The Final Touches
Each finished barrel is iron-branded with The Oak Cooperage logo and sanded one last time to remove any final scuff marks before being shipped to Silver Oak!