Generally, there is an age limit of 21 years for being eligible to consume alcohol, but for aging spirits, there is no age limit and it is stored for years. The tradition of aging spirits in a barrel goes back to the Bronze Age. During that time, goods were stored in barrels for transporting from one place to another. People must have realized that the flavor of the content in the barrel was changed due to the storage in the barrel.
While aging an alcohol, you need to take care of a few things, such as the vessel and the chemical reactions that will take place inside the container to change the character of the alcohol. One needs to be expert on these things for aging spirits in a barrel.
Several types of barrels are used for aging spirits:
- Wooden barrel made of oak
- A charred oak wooden barrel in which spirits like bourbon is aged
- Used barrels to age spirits, i.e. barrels used previously to age other spirits, mostly wine
Why are spirits aged in a barrel:
As we grow mature with passing time, similarly liquor also gets refined and matured when stored in a barrel to age. This is done to get the desired flavor and taste from a liquor. The main objective of aging spirits in a barrel is to eliminate grating from the raw spirit and refine it through the wood of the barrel. You can easily notice the difference between a liquor which is stored for fewer years and the liquor which is stored for more years. The taste of a liquor which is aged for 5 years will be harsher and lighter compared to liquor which is aged for 20 years.
You need to decide how you want your spirit to taste like. Based on that, you can figure out which type of used barrel to be selected.
4 interesting facts of aging liquor in a barrel are:
Oak barrel: Almost anything can be aged or stored in an oak barrel. Whiskey, rum, brandy, tequila, wine, beer, etc. can be stored in an oak barrel.
Type of barrel: Aging of spirit depends a lot on the type of barrel. Primarily, there are two types of barrels: American and French oak. French ones are used to creating spirits for smoky and spicy flavor. American ones are used for creating vanilla flavor. There are other types of barrels available too, such as European and Japanese barrels.
Charring of barrels: The charring of barrels effects heavily on the flavor of the spirit. Heavily charred barrels will create strong flavors while lightly charred barrels will create mild and sweet flavors. However, more charred barrels does not necessarily result in more wood mixture in the spirit inside the barrel.
Barrels can be reused: There is a notion among the general masses that barrels, but in fact, the barrels can be used for a maximum 10 years.
There are other significant things to be considered for aging spirits.
The location where the spirits are aged holds utmost importance. This is because of the climate. The temperature and humidity vary according to the location, and these things have a huge impact on any product. For example, bourbon, most of the time, is aged in a dry climate whereas scotch is aged in a humid climate. The climate decides how long a spirit has to be aged. In a hot climate, the aging process is less compared to cool climate.
- Rum, if prepared in New England will take 2-3 years longer to age than the rum prepared in the Carribean region.
- Whiskey and brandy are generally prepared in the regions located in the northern hemisphere where there is heat and cold are at peak during their seasons. Hence, they are aged for a longer period.
Duration and type of barrel:
The time period taken for aging a spirit is also a key factor as it will have a direct effect on the spirit. For example, bourbon is aged in a fresh unused barrel while scotch is aged in a used barrel, in most cases, a barrel in which bourbon was aged. Hence, scotch requires a longer time to age as used barrels take time to have an impact on the flavor of the spirit. But it is worth a wait as there will be an essence of the flavor which was aged previosly in the barrel. The longer the spirits are aged, the higher its price. There is certain time period predefined to age various kinds of spirits such as:
- Single malt scotch and Irish whiskeys have to be aged for at least 3 years before bottling them
- Some tequilas have to be aged for at least 1 year and not more than 3 years.
- While rum has no such age limit defined.
- Vodkas and gins are generally not aged in barrels
Usually, the age of the liquor is mentioned in the bottle. This is basically done for branding the liquor in the market. A kind of USP for the liquor to sell off. The age that is mentioned on the bottle’s label is generally the sum of all liquor that is aged in the barrel. For example, if the label says, the whiskey is aged for 25 years, it comprises of the age of all the blended whiskeys that were aged before the final product was aged.
Flavor of the barrel:
The flavor of the spirit depends on the choice of barrel. For example, the flavor of whiskey will be a bit of oakiness or charred oak flavor. This is because the spirit is constantly in touch with the wood of the barrel, hence, it picks up the woody flavors. It all depends on the type of wood used in the barrel. Distilleries usually experiment with the type of wood to age spirits, while a spirit fan will always look forward to having new tastes and flavors.
The flavor of the spirits is highly influenced by aging it in used barrels. Used barrels are preferred to get a mix of a flavor of the spirit originally stored and the spirit stored after. Some liquor which are aged in a used barrel are:
- As mentioned before, whiskey and scotch are aged in a used barrel. The barrels in which sherry was stored, are usually chosen for whiskeys. This is why whiskeys have a bit of sweetness and flavor similar to wine.
- Tequila, rums, and whiskeys also prefer barrels in which bourbon was aged.
- Some brands also make use of non-familiar woods for a barrel to store spirits. This will help them to create a unique flavor and set them apart from other brands.
How spirits change while aging in a barrel:
There are 3 ways of spirits getting changed in a barrel when kept for aging. They are:
Subtractive: In this way, the less wanted flavors are removed from the spirit.
Additive: In this way, colors are flavors are taken from the barrel
Interactive: In this way, the spirit reacts with the wood, oxygen and with the char of the barrel
Warehouses and spirits:
In the recent times, research has all the answers, as now warehouses, where the barrels are kept with spirits are also modified with the required temperatures for spirits to age. There are even underground bunkers and the barrels are also kept on one another. The level of a barrel stored is also influenced by varying temperatures. As the top floors of the warehouses are dry so the water gets evaporated faster, while the bottom floors have moist temperatures, hence the alcohol gets evaporated quickly than water.
Cycles of spirits aging:
High temperature causes the expansion of the wood of the barrel and so the spirit which is stored inside the barrel can flow into the wood’s pores. Whereas, low temperature causes the wood to shrink and the liquid is forced out. This phenomenon of storing the liquid in heat and cold one after the other is termed as cycles. Generally, some distilleries simulate the temperature of their warehouses to increase the number of cycles of aging spirits in a barrel. The cycles help the spirit to cause interaction with the wood and the flavor of the wood can be mixed with the spirit.
The change in the spirit depends on the choice of barrel, that is, the new one or the used one. This will result on how much the wood of the barrel will have an impact on the liquor. The science of aging spirits is complex, yet interesting for people who are enthusiasts of trying different flavors of spirits. As it’s said, “Time has all the answers”, you cannot escape time. The phenomenal chemical reactions cannot be possible artificially, even if it is tried, you may not get the same result. It’s all about choosing good drinks, savoring its taste and ultimately loving what you drink!
At Rocky Mountain Barrel Company, we have a great collection of used barrels. Surf through our collection of used barrels for your business needs, contact us today or add to quote!