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Rolling with Ryes & Charred Barrels

ICYMI, April’s Whiskey Club was on Monday, and it was all about rye whiskeys that we keep on hand at Dive Bar.

This month’s tasting featured six rye whiskeys. The rye content for each whiskey increased as the sampling went on. For some noses and pallets, as the rye content increased, the ability to smell the different flavors also increased. For me, my ability to taste them decreased as the rye content increased. I was quite fascinated by this based on the feedback other Club members shared with me.

With the first whiskey, Angel’s Envy, the scent did not stand out to me, but its caramel and vanilla flavors were noticeable upon tasting. On the other hand, Bulleit Rye, the second one, had a powerful aroma of caramel and vanilla, but these flavors were less obvious when I tasted it. We also sampled Michter‘s Rye, Jack Daniels Single Barrel Rye and Minor Case Sherry Cask Rye – a great selection of rye whiskey that you can find on the menu anytime. Additionally, the tasting featured a rye that isn’t on our menu – Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whiskey.

Charred Barrels and Proofs At the tasting we also talked about the impact of charred barrels and proofs - which I briefly mentioned last time - and how those things impact whiskey flavors. Charred barrels, which look like the remains of a fire pit after it has been extinguished, are dark and have more debris buildup, creating a darker tone for the bourbon. Charring also “opens up” the wood, making it easier for whiskey to extract different flavors.

The charring process.

Best wood for charring and making barrels? The mighty oak, of course, but most commonly the white oak. Using oak trees to make whiskey barrels dates back to the Roman empire. Today, distilleries and coopers, the guys that make the barrels, continue to use oak to craft their barrels for a couple of reasons – oak is strong and able to withstand shaping during the cooperage process, plus it’s easier to toast or char, which is where all the different colors, tastes and aromas come in to play.

Coopers then vs. now.

Charring the wood primes it, creating chemical changes that enhance the flavor profile. Char levels, which determine how long the barrels interior is exposed to intense heat, are crucial in creating different flavors. A higher level of char has a different effect on the wood’s tannins and spirits. For example, higher chars result in less interactions between tannins and the spirit. Lactones, which are responsible for coconut and woody notes, are lessened as the char increases.

Higher chars also lead to a darker color.

  • Level 1 Char - 15 seconds

  • Level 2 Char - 30 seconds

  • Level 3 Char - 35 seconds (Angels Envy is made in barrels charred at this level.)

  • Level 4 Char - 55 seconds (also referred to as "alligator char" due to its texture)

I could go on and one about the charring process, but that’s probably enough for now. Remember, if you’ve got a topic you want us to talk about, we’d love to hear from you! Send me an email at

Until next time, cheers!

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