Trees: From Seed to Sawdust - Episode 8 - Whiskey Barrels, a Potential new Industry for Irish Oak Trees

The presence of the Oak Tree in our life does not and should not depend on its economic value. However a new use for its wood could be emerging in the form of staves for whiskey barrels. In this programme Monica meets farmer Ger Daly who grows oak trees, Bernard Walsh of Walsh Whiskey, Audrey Gleeson of the Independent Stave Company, Ian Leonard from Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ireland and Enguerrand Vandenbossche from Tullamore Dew Distillery
Oak accounts for only 2.7% of our Irish forests which is low compared to Sitka Spruce which accounts for 51.1% of the trees in Ireland.  In this programme we meet farmer Ger Daly who, in 1999 planted an Oak Forest with the help of Coillte.  Ger talks about the process of getting the oaks established, the Scots Pine as nurse trees, and the pruning that he did on them to help them grow straight with a long stem.  Now 22 years later a potential new use for these oak trees has emerged - as staves to make whiskey barrels

Bernard Walsh is founder and managing director of Walsh Whiskey based in Carlow.  Bernard explains the role of the wood in adding flavour to the whiskey and the traditions around using ex-bourbon barrels.  Because whiskey distillers are always experimenting, Bernard does not rule out using Irish Oak barrels as a 'finish' in the maturation process.  But, he says, 'we need to think long term.  Plant now for the next century'

The Independent Stave Company is a relatively new company which imports barrels to Ireland to furnish the growing demand for casks.  Audrey Gleeson of the Independent Stave Company explains what they do and indicates that they are already visiting oak plantations in Ireland to see if Irish Oak could be used in barrel making

In the meantime, the coopers are re-gathering in Ireland and a profession that had all but been lost is getting a new lease of life.  Ian Leonard is running Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ireland, a new cooperage in Kildare and Enguerrand Vandenbossche is a French cooper working from Tullamore Dew Distillery.  They talk about their work and about the real need to train more Irish coopers to sustain the growing whiskey market in Ireland.  

And while Ger Daly's oaks slowly come to maturation for their potential use as staves he takes his time to enjoy them and be with them - something that as he gets older, he appreciates more.
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