Wood DNA-Testing: Removing Guesswork from Aged Bourbon

Penelope Bourbon harnesses wood-scanning technology to precisely age bourbon

Sun 14 May 23


Under the quiet stillness of an ordinary Wednesday evening, Penelope Bourbon’s CEO and founder, Michael Paladini, found himself deep in a brainstorming session with Robert Crandell, a regional sales manager for Tonnellerie Radoux and Pronektar. As reported by Billy Steele in Engadget, the discussion focused on the OakScan technology from Radoux, a French cooperage with deep-rooted expertise in French oak’s unique characteristics.

With Oakscan®, Radoux is building up the largest database on the chemical composition of oak.

The OakScan technology, a revolution in the world of wine, has been meticulously designed to analyse polyphenols in the wood. These compounds significantly influence the wine’s appearance, flavour, and aroma. Crandell highlighted the precision and consistency brought by OakScan, saying, “Even if you’ve gone to great lengths and you bought wood from the same forest, you still aren’t getting the same sort of precision and consistency [as with OakScan].”

By utilising this technology, Radoux can assign each piece of wood a barcode and a letter indicating its “tannic potential.” OakScan thus helps create barrels with a specific polyphenolic index (PI), which ensures the wine’s compatibility with the selected wood’s tannin profile.

Wood-DNA testing is used extensively across industries. Footage courtesy of @GTTNetwork

Craig Holme, Radoux’s national sales manager, further explained the technology’s potential, noting, “If someone wanted a Voges-style barrel, we could work that out based on tannin level. We can be more precise on what [the results are] going to be.”

“We can be more precise on what [the results are] going to be. Someone else will get a barrel that may be from two different trees [in that forest], and they might be completely different.”

According to Holme, Radoux can pull 1,000% extracts from the staves that they can then put in a sample of a prospective customer’s product to show them what it will do.

OakScan was originally developed with the wine industry in mind to analyse barrel staves’ chemical characteristics. Yet, the technology’s application has expanded to include thinner tank staves, allowing quicker extraction. This innovation was especially beneficial for handling larger volumes of wine.

The success of OakScan in the wine industry sparked curiosity about its potential in the spirits sector. This led to a collaboration with Penelope and another micro-distiller; as Crandell revealed, “OakScan hadn’t really been used extensively in the spirits industry, except for a small, experimental project.”

Photo credit: Penelope Architect

Penelope, known for sourcing aged bourbon from MGP and innovatively blending it, decided to experiment with OakScan. After their Penelope Toasted Series Bourbon won gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2022, they aimed to replicate the success with Penelope’s Architect Bourbon. Here, the bourbon’s flavour profile is directly influenced by the specific type of wood used for secondary ageing.

Penelope developed six different “builds” or stave selections in their journey to create the Architect Bourbon. Yet, the essence of OakScan allowed these variations to remain consistent and repeatable. Reflecting on the potential of OakScan, Crandell said, “[OakScan] not only gives you the ability to be precise, but it also gives you the ability to be creative. If you know what the end result is going to be, you can change the end result – you can control the end result.”

Currently, OakScan’s analysis of French oak is exclusively used in the Architect series, but both Paladini and Penelope COO and founder, Daniel Polise, are open to future explorations. Polise concluded, “We’re constantly playing with different woods and finishes. So whatever matches next, we may release. It just works like that.”


  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


Related Articles