Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Whiskey Law: Barrels New & Used
Most American whiskey drinkers know that according to U.S. regulations, bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak containers. But did you know that American rye whiskey, wheat whiskey, malt whiskey and rye malt whiskey also must be aged in new charred oak? In addition, any whiskey labeled "straight," with the exception of straight corn whiskey, must be aged in new charred oak. (Want proof? See the US Code of Federal Regulations, 27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(i) and 5.22(b)(1)(iii)).
A distillery can make a whiskey and age it in used barrels but they cannot call it bourbon, rye whiskey, etc. Some such whiskeys are just labeled generically, such as Early Times' "Kentucky Whiskey." The TTB also recognizes the categories of whiskey distilled from bourbon mash, rye mash, wheat mash, etc. If you see that designation, it means that the whiskey was stored in used oak.
The new oak requirement presents a problem for American distilleries that want to make Scotch style single malt whiskey. Scotch single malts are almost always aged in used barrels (often bourbon barrels), but an American distillery can't call its spirit "malt whiskey" if it's aged in used oak.