Skip to content
The Impact of Char and Toast Levels on Chemical Compounds in Oak Barrel Aging

The Impact of Char and Toast Levels on Chemical Compounds in Oak Barrel Aging

A guest post by Badmotivator Legacy Barrels - see the range here: Badmotivator Legacy Oak Barrels

The char and toast levels applied to oak barrels have a incredible impact on the extraction and transformation of many chemical compounds. This process contributes to the development of the flavor and aroma profile in aged spirits. This field of research is large and constantly finding new discoveries. Here, I highlight a few chemical compounds and how they can be influenced by char and toast levels:

Lactones (Cis and Trans): These compounds produce woody, coconut, and vanilla-like notes, lending spirits depth and complexity and yielding a mellowness. The cis isomer, in particular, has the most potential of enhancing the overall aromatic profile of the spirits. American White Oak (Quercus alba) is relatively rich in the cis isomer compared to other oak species.

  • Effects of Char and Toast: Lower char and toast levels increase the extraction of lactones from the oak, increasing the coconut and vanilla-like flavors and aroma in the spirit.
  • Resultant Impact: The more pronounced lactone presence introduces complexity to the spirits, creating a balance among sweet, woody, and fruity notes.

Vanillin: Infusing the spirits with a sweet, creamy, and distinctly vanilla character, vanillin also imparts sweetness to the flavor profile, adding perceived sweetness without the addition of sugar. The conversion to vanillyl alcohol during barrel fermentation further deepens the complexity of barrel aged beers.

  • Effects of Char and Toast: Medium toast encourages the release of vanillin, thereby introducing a delectable touch of sweet vanilla to the spirits.
  • Resultant Impact: Spirits aged in medium toast barrels might showcase heightened vanilla aromas and flavors.

Eugenol and Isoeugenol: Contributions of spicy, clove-like aromas are attributed to eugenol and isoeugenol, imparting a warmth and profoundness that enriches the spirit's overall aroma. The concentration of eugenol during the air seasoning process amplifies these spicy attributes.

  • Effects of Char and Toast: The toasting process tends to increase the release of eugenol and isoeugenol, heightening the spicy and clove-like aromas.
  • Resultant Impact: Spirits aged in barrels subjected to elevated toasting may have a more pronounced spiciness and warmth.

Guaiacol and 4-Methylguaiacol: Responsible for infusing smoky and charred aromas, these compounds are necessary for spirits striving for a woody or smoky profile, such as certain whisk(e)y types.

  • Effects of Char and Toast: A more intense charring process results in elevated levels of guaiacol and 4-methylguaiacol, thus amplifying the smoky and charred notes.
  • Resultant Impact: Spirits aged within barrels with heavy charring may showcase smokiness and charred attributes.

Furfural and 5-Methylfurfural: These compounds introduce sweet, caramel, butterscotch, and almond-like aromas, contributing to an overall essence of sweetness and richness within the flavor profile.

  • Effects of Char and Toast: Higher levels of toasting initiate the production and release of furfural and 5-methylfurfural, thereby amplifying caramel and butterscotch notes.
  • Resultant Impact: Spirits aged in Heavy Toast may showcase a sweeter, and more multifaceted flavor profile, marked by discernible caramel and butterscotch undertones.

The intensity of toast and char in oak barrels shapes the extraction and transformation of chemical compounds on aged spirits. Differing levels of char and toast work together to yield multiple flavors and aromas, enabling distillers to craft spirits that match precisely with their intended profiles.

De Rosso, M., Cancian, D., Panighel, A., Dalla Vedova, A., & Flamini, R. (2009). Chemical compounds released from five different woods used to make barrels for aging wines and spirits: volatile compounds and polyphenols. Wood science and technology, 43, 375-385.

Piggott, J. R., Sharp, R., & Duncan, R. E. B. (1989). The science and technology of whiskies. (No Title).

MacNamara, K., Helle, N., Dabrowska, D., & Baden, M. (2011). Advances in the ageing chemistry of distilled spirits matured in oak barrels. LCGC Europe, 448-467.

Piggott, J. R., Conner, J. M., & Paterson, A. (1995). Flavour development in whisky maturation. In Developments in Food Science (Vol. 37, pp. 1731-1751). Elsevier.

Marco, J., Artajona, J., Larrechi, M. S., & Rius, F. X. (1994). Relationship between geographical origin and chemical composition of wood for oak barrels. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, 45(2), 192-200.

Chira, K., & Teissedre, P. L. (2015). Chemical and sensory evaluation of wine matured in oak barrel: effect of oak species involved and toasting process. European Food Research and Technology, 240, 533-547.

Tarko, T., Krankowski, F., & Duda-Chodak, A. (2023). The Impact of Compounds Extracted from Wood on the Quality of Alcoholic Beverages. Molecules, 28(2), 620.

Previous article Badmotivator Oak Barrels, where tradition meets innovation. Specialising in finely crafted American White Oak barrels, perfect for aging spirits
Next article Distilling in Reflux Mode with the Air Still From Start To Finish