Call it a quirk, or whatever else you want, I found myself pondering barrel-making today.

Having been raised partly in a semi-rural area of Ohio, I had witnessed many a cooper at work through various excursions here and there, but that was many years ago and the lessons learned were forgotten as other information filled my databank. And so, with this newfound curiosity piquing my interest, I did a little research.

Most ponderous to me was the ability of the barrels to not absorb or leak the liquid with which the barrels were filled. The questions I had were answered easily by reading through the process on Master Garden Products.

Basically, the wood grain and vein, the assembly, and the aging of the wood are all of equal importance. The grain and vein of the wood must be followed in order to preserve strength, natch. Aging the wood allows it to harden. Okay. I get that.

The assembly, with joints to create adequate seals between slats or staves, must be perfect to create a leakproof barrel.

Solidly held in place by three metal hoops that have been forced into place, the "rose" is then subjected to a trial by water and fire in the workshop, where it takes its final shape. Repeating movements that are part of the most ancient tradition of his art, the cooper seals joints by passing a wet cloth inside and outside the staves, then heating the barrel over a wood fire for approximately 30 minutes. Rendered flexible by heat and humidity, the wood fiber can now be bent by the cooper, who uses a winch to gradually arch the staves and tighten them to obtain the shape of the barrel body. The body is held trussed in place like this until the metal hoops are definitely placed.

The heating of the wood is "toasting", and the amount of toast will dictate the flavor of the product placed in the barrel.

The rest of the process involves the barrel heads and such, and that part didn't fascinate me nearly as much as the rest of it did. Of course, without the heads, the barrel is nothing more than a wooden tube, right?

Anyhow, I got my answers and I feel as though I've recaptured some sort of lost knowledge. No fancy schmancy Da Vinci code necessary, everything was available online.

I'm sure I'll appreciate my barrel-aged whiskey much more than I have in the past. I'll raise my next glass in honor of the cooper responsible for that perfect "toast".

It just occurred to me that, like barrels and wine, people must be well-aged before they can fully express their potential. Call it my little life lesson, proving that you're never too old to learn.

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