White Oak 101: Inside the Essential Whiskey Resource

Whisky isn’t whisky without the barrel it’s aged in. Whether it’s the vanilla and caramel notes of bourbon, or the rich, fruity influences of a sherry finishing cask, many classic whisky flavors can be attributed to the barrel—and more often than not, it’s made out of white oak. Since barrels curve and trees are straight, not all wood types are equal when it comes to barrel-making. White oak triumphs because of its density and strength—those elements make it able to stand up to being bent and curved into staves, while still maintaining its structural integrity. Here, we break down some of the key metrics of this crucial whisky resource.

White Oak by the Numbers

  • Some white oaks can produce 2,000 to 7,000 acorns per year
  • American white oaks clock in with 12 to 24 inches of growth per year
  • White oak is often known as “stave oak” because of its frequent use in barrels
  • The average trunk diameter is 3-5 feet
  • A white oak can live for centuries
  • White oak prefers slightly acidic to neutral soil
  • It prefers full sun or partial shade
  • The average height of a white oak is 80-150 feet
  • About 33% of America’s hardwood resource is white oak

famous white oaks

Mercer Oak
Location: New Jersey
Age: 300 years old
Height: Unknown
Died: 2000
Fun fact: Named for American Revolution general Hugh Mercer.

Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church White Oak
Location: New Jersey
Age: 600 years old
Height: 100 feet
Died: 2017
Fun fact: George Washington apparently picnicked under the tree.

Mingo Oak
Location: West Virginia
Age: 600 years old
Height: 145 feet
Died: 1938
Fun fact: Was at one point the largest living white oak.

Wye Oak
Location: Maryland
Age: 460 years old
Height: 96 feet
Died: 2002
Fun fact: Was the state tree of Maryland until its death.

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