For more than 4 years I have explained in my presentations to architects and designers the difference between Red and White Oak. “Tyloses” in White Oak give the wood a closed cell structure making it resistant to rot and water. I use a device to distinguish the difference in porosity between Red and White Oak, which lies with the letter “W”. I say that the “W” for “White” (Oak) works with “water”, whiskey” and “wine”. You can build a boat with White Oak, not Red. Likewise you can build wine and whiskey barrels with White Oak, not Red.
As you settle down with a nice glass of whiskey or bourbon, keep in mind that the delicious brown liquid in your glass was aged in a Quartersawn White Oak barrel. Right now the world is experiencing an unprecedented surge in demand for whiskeys and bourbons of all kinds. Distilleries can’t produce it fast enough. Even if they could produce at a significantly higher volume, they would have trouble procuring the barrels.
The cooperage business has basically gone through the roof. What this means is monumental pressure on the White Oak resource, driving up prices for logs. At the same time that the world has developed a voracious appetite for whiskey and bourbon, it has also developed a strong desire for White Oak flooring. What all of this means for the consumer is that the price of White Oak flooring, especially Quartersawn, is going to increase significantly over the next couple of years. Here is an example of the bourbon industry sounding the alarm. This is an excerpt from a press release from Buffalo Trace last month:
BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY UPDATES
BOURBON INVENTORY SHORTAGES
FRANKFORT, FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY
May 8, 2014
The bourbon boom shows no signs of letting up. At Buffalo Trace, the 228 year – old Distillery continues to take steps to mitigate the problem, but shortages still remain. About a year ago, Buffalo Trace Distillery warned consumers a shortage was looming, but many markets across the nation are just now feeling the full effects.
“We’re making more bourbon every day. In fact, we’re distilling more
than we have in the last 40 years,” said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller. “Still, it’s hard to keep up. Although we have more bourbon than last year when we first announced the rolling blackouts, we’re still short and there is no way to predict when supply will catch up with demand.”
At the moment there seems to be no easy resolution to the conflict between the barrel stave mills and lumber mills like Frank Miller. The cost of the quartersawn White Oak barrel as a factor in the selling price of a bottle of Bourbon is insignificant. This allows the stave producers to consistently outbid Quartersawn mills for logs. No one is predicting how high logs costs will go in the coming weeks, months and years, but expect to see price increases for lumber and flooring on a regular basis. Maintaining timber sustainability remains a primary goal for the hardwood industry. This foretells of a continuing battle for a resource whose volume is constrained.
If White Oak is your choice for flooring, expect to pay a premium for the reasons outlined here. However, Red Oak pricing should stay relatively stable in the coming years. In terms of appearance and performance in a floor, Quartersawn Red Oak will produce a gorgeous floor of similar strength and longevity.