It’s enough to make us want to hug a tree. In a Popular Science excerpt from his new book, The Flavor of Wood: In Search of the Wild Taste of Trees From Smoke and Sap to Root and Bark, Artur Cisar-Erlach takes a trip to Austria. There he drops in on the catchily named Cooperage Schneckenleitner, fifth-generation masters at fashioning barrels from oak and other woods.
Cisar-Erlach learns that when it comes to aging spirits and wines, oak casks rule because producers seldom order anything else, even though the world is home to upward of 100,000 tree species. This being PopSci, a chemistry lesson ensues.
What you need to know: whiskey aged in oak contains as many as 4,000 non-gaseous compounds, according to some studies. The wood’s chemical components, including cellulose, sugar and a polymer called lignin, help give the drink its flavor and color. Any questions?