About Our Barrels
TABASCO® Sauce is made with just three ingredients—peppers, salt, and vinegar. While the ingredients may be simple, a lengthy aging process helps develop the complex flavor that makes TABASCO® Sauce unique. Our white oak barrels, which store the red pepper mash as it matures, are the unsung heroes of the aging process. Coy Boutte, who manages the barrel warehouse and oversees the pepper mash aging process at McIlhenny Company, shares his insight into how these barrels play an integral role in the production process.
Q&A WITH COY BOUTTE:
What type of barrels does McIlhenny Company use to make TABASCO® Sauce?
We use decommissioned white oak bourbon barrels sourced from different distilleries around the country.
How are the barrels used in the production process?
After red peppers reach the perfect shade of deep red, they are carefully handpicked, mashed, and mixed with a small amount of salt on the same day. This pepper mash is then transported to Avery Island, La. where it’s put into white oak barrels in the barrel warehouse. The barrel tops are then sealed with salt to form a natural protective barrier that also allows for the release of gases produced during the slow fermentation process. Pepper mash is aged in these barrels for up to three years before it’s blended with high-quality distilled vinegar for 28 days, strained, and bottled.
Is there any leftover bourbon or alcohol from the barrels that seeps into the mash?
No, when the distilleries retire barrels, they completely remove any traces of alcohol. Once McIlhenny Company receives the barrels, we open up the barrels, remove the char and wash them out before rehooping them with stainless steel rings.
What happens to the barrels after the aged pepper mash is removed?
After the pepper mash is removed, they are cleaned of any mash residue and taken to the mash warehouse. At the mash warehouse, the barrels are placed in rows and inspected for any damage. If the barrels are determined to be of good quality, we will cover them, retighten the stainless hoops, and wax the bung on the side the barrel before filling them up with fresh pepper mash again.
How many times is a barrel re-used?
It depends on the barrel—there are a few barrels in the barrel warehouse that are nearly 80-90 years old since they’ve maintained a good condition! However, a barrel is typically used 15-20 times on average, which is about 35-40 years.
What happens to barrels that can’t be reused?
When we determine that a barrel can’t be reused, we break down the barrel and send the wood out to make TABASCO® Wood Chips. The barrel’s stainless-steel hoops are reused for other barrels.
When did McIlhenny Company begin using barrels?
When TABASCO® Sauce was first produced, stoneware jars were primarily used to age the pepper mash. By 1900, McIlhenny Company had switched to solely using white oak barrels. The reason for this switch is unknown, but the barrel-aging process has been an essential step in the production process for nearly 120 years.
How many barrels are in the barrel warehouse on Avery Island?
Currently, we have about 73,000 barrels in the barrel warehouse. Approximately 20,000 to 22,000 barrels are put into production each year, and the warehouse holds around 68,000 to 73,000 barrels in a given year.
About Coy Boutte:
Coy Boutte was born and raised on Avery Island and is the fourth-generation member of his family to work for McIlhenny Company. Over his nearly 14-year history with McIlhenny Company, Boutte worked his way up from the island’s mechanic shop to the barrel warehouse, where he now oversees the pepper mash aging process.