Oak barrels have long been associated with whiskey. The interaction between these two produce an absolutely magical spirit. But why?
Like many great discoveries, this came as an unintended result of pure circumstance. For a distiller to sell whiskey to other regions, it need to be stored and transported.
Barrel storage for dry good transport dates back to the Celts in 350 BC. Note* there are several claims to possible first barrel use. Being easy to maneuver and stack, the barrels were ideal for use on Celtic ships. Fast forward 2,000 years, by the time distillers were using barrels the technology was a common knowledge form of storage transport.
Considering this, the first distillers to fill a barrel likely did so for storage or transport. What helped to round out the whiskey flavor was long trade routes and father time!
American whiskey barrels patiently travelled the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers via boat before arriving for consumption in New Orleans. It was a long journey and necessary as that is where the demand for good booze was. Hand Grenades anyone???
By the time the barrels were emptied, the aged whiskey had taken a tawny-like color and obtained complex flavors from the wood. It was more refined, delicious, and pure unintended dumb luck!
Had there been bullet trains back then we might still be drinking White Lightning!
As the popularity of Bourbon spread, the practice and art of barrel aging emerged as a defining characteristic of whiskey.