Brad Boswell, a "PHD in Wood" gives an advanced course-OBS Meeting,May 16, 2012
The Owensboro Bourbon Society was pleased to welcome Brad Boswell, President of Independent Stave Company, as our guest speaker at our May 16th meeting held at the Miller House. Brad is the 4th generation Boswell to head Independent Stave Company, the world's largest cooperage (Barrel making company). He was instrumental in the development of Makers 46 along with Kevin Smith and Bill Samuels.
Brad provided an interesting and highly entertaining look into the world of wood and the impact it has on flavor through maturation. One of the most common questions Brad is asked would be "Are you afraid that we will eventually run out of white oak barrels ?"(the barrels required to make Bourbon). Brad dispelled the myth by stating that "not only will we not run out, we have more white oak trees today than we had 50 years ago". Their has been and will continue to be an increase in this valuable resource (so I can now sleep at night:)).
Brad explained that different woods will impart different flavors and react differently based on how porous they are and the climate which they reside. A white oak stave will age much quicker in a climate like Kentucky (alot of rain and humidity) as opposed to other parts of the country. Most of the white oak that is used in the United States comes from Missouri (which is the most dominant state) Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and other states east.
The predominant part of the tree used in making a bourbon barrel comes from the bottom of the tree. 50% of the bottom portion is usable with the other 50% being used for other things (heating ,etc). Interestly, in comparison to French oak which only uses about 25% of the tree for its wine barrels.
The technology around barrel making has improved AND the requirements of each distillery has become much more specific. Basically, Brad stated that "every distillery has its own unique barrel", when he sells barrels to Wild Turkey it is a Wild Turkey specific barrel.
The seasoning of the barrel is key in bringing out the key flavors that each bourbon is striving to attain. Brad mentioned that on average, seasoning usually takes 6-9 months. In addition, roasting the barrel before charring can produce different flavor profiles. When discussing the 4 char levels Brad mentioned that all distilleries use either a 3 or 4 char for the barrel but many will use a 1 or 2 char for the barrel heads. Some artisan distillers are using a 2 char for their barrels however.
The bourbons that we featured this evening included Old Weller Antique 107 (a 7 year old wheated bourbon at a high proof), Jim Beam's Devil's Cut (where the sweating of a barrel is performed to attain that specific flavor profile), Elijah Craig 12 year old (an aged bourbon) and of course Makers 46. Brad mentioned that it took approximately 128 experiments to come up with the formula 46 roast with french oak staves to attain the specific taste proflie that Bill Samuels was looking for.
It is obvious that the Owensboro Bourbon Society had the foremost expert on wood and the impact is has on bourbon in the world. Brad was knowledgeable, gracious and a first class gentleman. He provided a unique insight into the world of wood maturation and bourbon production. I feel that we will be partners for a long time. You keep making the barrels Brad and we will keep drinking the bourbon! Cheers!