Barrels play an important role in making whiskey. Most whiskey has to be aged in an oak barrel to be considered whiskey. Corn whiskey is the exception to this rule. The history of barrels is the history of whiskey. The earliest reference I have found for the use of charred barrels to age Bourbon is from 1826, but I am sure that the use of charred barrels dates well before that time. This book looks at the history of the barrel and their use throughout history. It is a good read, if a bit repetitive.
Wood, Whiskey and Wine: A History of Barrels. Henry H. Wok. London, Reaktion Books, Ltd., 2014. Contents, Bibliography, Index, Illustrated. 237 pp.
Henry H. Work is a cooper who has worked with wineries in Napa Valley and distilleries in Kentucky. He has written on the subjects of cooperage and wines for several publications. However, he is not a trained historian, and that can be a good thing. His writing is well researched and makes for an interesting read. He does tend to repeat himself as he tells the different parts of the history of the barrel, but that is to be expected. The history is a very long history and there is much overlapping of the use of barrels in different cultures.
The barrel can be traced back to the early Celts in Europe. It was then adapted by the Romans and on to the Middle Ages. It was an important part of the age of exploration as the wooden ships needed barrels to transport and store water and food, as well as the trade goods carried between ports. Work does a very good job telling the story of barrels.
The book is well written and illustrated. There are many interesting photographs and illustrations of barrels being made and used. The table of contents and index make it easy to find subjects. The chapters are well footnoted and there is an extensive bibliography. This is an excellent reference book as well as being a very good read. The book is a good addition to any whiskey library.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller