Reviving New England Cooperage Through Specialty Whiskey

Mike Simmons at UNH Sawmill
Mike Simmons instructing a student how to operate the UNH sawmill, part of the Forest Technology program, UNH Dept. of Natural Resources and the Environment.

UNH Cooperative Extension is taking steps to revive a regional commercial cooperage industry through applied research, public-private partnerships, and supporting niche products.

Brain Brew Custom Whiskey is the first distillery outside New England to purchase and use certified New England white oak – a component of their award winning whiskey. Doug Hall, founder of Brain Brew Custom Whiskey notes: “As a former NH native, I was very excited to learn from the UNH research of the unique character of New England Oak. When we used it in our WoodCraft Finishing method we were amazed at the smoothness it provided to the whiskey." Hall went on to explain, "But don't take my word for it - judges at the prestigious 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition awarded our New England wood - Paddle Wheel Bourbon, a Silver Medal and awarded our New England wood, Deck Hand Rye, a unanimous choice Double Gold -- Both products are available in New Hampshire."

White oak (Quercus alba) is used in barrel construction to flavor and age alcoholic beverages including wine, whiskey, cider and beer. Due to higher costs of production and manufacturing challenges, New England’s once robust cooperage industry saw its last commercial cooperage close in 1999.

There are a few, smaller, commercial cooperages throughout New England that are leading the way, but the regional industry is not at a viable scale. UNH Cooperative Extension is working with researchers, local coopers, local and national alcohols manufacturers, loggers and sawmills to showcase the unique attributes of New England white oak and smooth out the supply chain.

Andy Fast, Forest Industry Specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension says: “Reinvigorating a regional cooperage industry that is at an appropriate scale will benefit everyone – our restaurants, breweries, distilleries, loggers, sawmills, and consumers of the product. We are grateful to all the good people supporting and working with us on this effort.”

For more information about certified New England white oak, visit www.nhlocalwood.org.