While watching How Its Made, I learned today that Tabasco sauce which I absolutely love takes more than 3 years to get ready. They age the peppers for 3 years in something called 'Oak Whiskey Barrel'. What's that? Well, it turns out that Oak Whiskey Barrels are aging barrels made out of Oak and were previously used for the aging of bourbon whiskey. But Why oak? Whiskey Barrels are made out of oak because it is the purest form of wood and it does not infuse strong flavors into the liquid that is stored in it as it matures. The most common type of oak used is American oak or white oak. When do they retire? These barrels are normally retired after 3-4 batches of whiskey aging. After these barrels have served their original purpose, these barrels are re-purposed for a bunch of other things like planters, rain barrels, outdoor furniture or Tabasco in this case! These barrels are also used for fermenting beers since the wood retains the smell of the whiskey.
What is this aging anyway? Aging is related to the chemical changes that take place as a result of reactions with the alcohol and congeners in the spirit through oxidation and extraction of chemicals from the oak. There are various factors which affect this aging process:
- Percent alcohol of the spirit
- The level of charring of the oak
- The temperature and humidity in the warehouse
- The size of the barrel
- The length of time the aging takes place because there is a point in the aging process where the oak contributions can go too far
The barrel lets some air in during this aging process because of the porosity of wood. This results in evaporation. It's not unusual to find only half the barrel full after a 15 year aging process of whiskey. And this loss of spirit due to evaporation is called 'Angel's share'. The humidity of the warehouse plays a role in this evaporation process. If the humidity was high, then it results in evaporation of spirit and hence resulting in decrease in percent alcohol. Whereas if the humidity was low, then it results in the evaporation of water and hence results in an increase in the percent alcohol. Isn't that so interesting?