There’s nothing like that moment when the bottle cork pops! The sound makes everyone hold their breath for a second like a tiny moment of shared anticipation and acknowledging you’re about to share something special.
I’m nostalgic for the times when corked 750ml bottles were popular in beer, but when you learn more about where corks come from, it’s not too surprising they’ve dwindled.
How Natural Bottle Corks are Made
The corks that seal beer, wine, and some spirits bottles are made from a natural resource: the bark of a Cork Oak. Rather than typical woody tree bark Cork Oaks grown the spongy substance we recognize as cork.
All trees are a slow growing resource and these special oaks are no different. It takes around 30 years for a Cork Oak’s bark to provide a high quality harvest that can be made into bottle corks! The spongey, porous cork layer must be harvested by hand. Highly trained specialty workers carefully separate the bark from the tree because damaged areas of the tree will cease to produce bark. The delicate cork must also be harvested in one piece in order to provide the maximum number of bottle stoppers
The trees must be healthy in order to produce a usable amount of cork. It takes about seven years for the tree to grow enough bark for a harvest. So a cork producing farm is a serious time commitment!
Next time you pop a special beer bottle, take a minute to thank the cork trees and their respective tree farmers that make these tiny natural wonders possible.
The video below shares more about cork harvesting and processing procedures.
What About Synthetic Corks?
Synthetic bottle corks are made from plastic compounds, usually polyethylene. Since these corks aren’t made from wood they don’t allow a bottle to “breathe” as it ages. Some experts, especially those in wine, think this makes the wine worse quality. However, synthetic bottle corks are a necessity because natural cork resources are so scarce.
Another alternative to natural corks is the screw top. Screw tops and synthetic corks are a good option for wines that are intended to be consumed young.