Aging Spirits What Can Barrels Do

The aging process for spirits is a deeply unique experience that transforms a simple drink into an aromatic one. If you ask any distiller, you’ll find that almost everyone has their own preference and approach, fueled by different philosophies, techniques, and family-based methods. While people don’t seem to agree on the best method, they all agree that aging, in essence, is important for the production of high-quality spirits, especially for aromatic drinks like whiskey and wine. As a customer, it pays to learn about the barrel-aging process if you want to make an informed decision and get the crème de la crème. To help you wrap your head around this concept, we’ll be providing you with an overview of the barrel-aging process and its effects.

What is Barrel-Aging?

As the name suggests, spirits are aged in a wooden barrel, which is only the simple version of the definition. Barrel-aging is full of variables, requiring knowledge and proper crafting skills, which can take years and years of training and experience. When you think about it, mixing air and liquid in various wooden settings to produce an aromatic drink is a pretty magical and beautiful process. The type of spirit matters when choosing the barrel, for example, new charred oak barrels are specifically used for bourbon.

A professional distiller takes into consideration barrel type, level of char, and history with previous spirits, not to mention the humidity and temperature when settling on the duration of the aging process. Wooden barrels are the perfect instruments for aging because they let oxygen seep slowly into the alcohol, in addition to adding a very aromatic wooden flavor to the spirits. Barrels that have aged spirits before can still imbue another spirit with the original’s flavor.

Selecting a Barrel

The process of selecting a barrel is a very important one because the overall flavor is heavily affected by the type of barrels used. The most common type used across the states is American white oak, but many distillers use different options like French oak, maple, and others. When you’re thinking about buying your next barrel, you can opt for mini oak barrels so you can conveniently make your own Kentucky, Bourbon, Scotch, and Brandy at home. These barrels can also make great gifts for those who love proper spirits.

The Purpose Behind Aging

According to prominent whiskey distillers, the main enticing part of the whiskey flavor comes from the aging process alone, 60% of flavor as presumed. Barrel-aging is what puts whiskey into a whole different league from many other spirits, which makes it a crucial step in producing the whiskey we all know and love. Removing barrel-aging from the process will only make the whiskey cringe-inducing and less flavorful. Learn all the different whiskey types here.

It’s important to understand that barrel aging is not only done to enhance the taste and aroma of a spirit, but also reduce the pure ethanol content that produces a harsh effect on the throat. The original reason behind using wooden barrels was mainly due to their efficiency in transportation. They weren’t easy to shatter under the harsh conditions of transportation, in addition to being easily rolled instead of hauled due to their round shape. It didn’t take long for people to realize that wooden barrels added a lot of flavors and enhanced the aroma of their drinks, which then made them turn barrel-aging into the art we know now.

The Type of Spirit and Its Aging Technique

Not all spirits are affected by aging the same, due to their chemical structure, ethanol content, and other variables. As a good rule of thumb, aging is always better done on spicy and deep flavors, such as whiskey, scotch, rum, and bourbon. On the other hand, you won’t find a lot of distillers aging mild-flavored spirits like gin, vodka, and tequila, especially when the barrel wouldn’t add significantly enhanced flavor.

Elementally, it all boils down to the distillation method used. The two main types are pot distillation and column distillation. The potting method uses a pot of fermented liquid and collects evaporated particles. Column distillation forced the fermented liquid through waves of columns using the steam itself. The high temperature of the steam used is equivalent to the temperature needed to purify the spirit. The majority of spirits that work well with barrel-aging are pot-distilled spirits, with the exception of bourbon, which is column-distilled.

As you begin to develop a love for high-quality spirits, you’ll start to appreciate barrel-aging more. Knowing more about this authentic and traditional method will help you make your own spirit. It’s hard not to appreciate spirits that you’ve made yourself, not to mention that you’ll gradually see improvement in the quality, flavor, and aroma with each barrel you age.