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All spirits come out of the distillery in their most pure form, no matter what raw ingredients were used in the process. However, the finished barrel-aged spirits that we all love and cherish are almost always different in color, flavor, consistency, and texture.
The liquor-making process is considered incomplete without aging alcohol in barrels to impart subtle hues, aroma, and flavors, especially in spirits without herbs or additives. The barrel acts as a time capsule of taste and fragrance by allowing organic interaction of alcohol with the wood to break down long-chain proteins and promote maturation by oxidation.
If you have tried aging whiskey in oak barrels and are now considering other spirits to experiment with, this post is tailored for you. You can also read our other blogs to learn more.
Why Is Barrel Aging Used?
Barrel aging spirits of our favorite liquor labels help achieve the desired flavor, shade, and aroma we crave. Since the raw spirits need to be refined post distillation, wooden oak barrels are used worldwide to remove harsh compounds and add flavor to liquor.
While aging spirits in oak barrels burn off the undesired flavors, it also gives the ethanol some time to break down charred wood sugars and impart the characteristic smokiness and sweetness to the liquor. However, the final taste profile depends on the type of barrel used in the aging process.
American White Oak and French Oak are most commonly used to make whiskey casks. They are used in the liquor aging process because both impart their unique flavor profiles. Distillers often experiment with several barrels to explore new and enticing flavor notes for their spirits.
Barrels are reusable, and it is common for some spirits to be aged in used wine or sherry barrels for a sweeter flavor. However, Bourbon and Rye Whiskey can only be aged in new charred oak casks because charring the spirit aging barrels alters the wood chemistry and creates new compounds to be extracted during the entire process.
What Are The Effects Of Aging Alcohol In Barrels?
Most spirits are transparent, have little flavor apart from a heavy grain taste and an undesirable burning finish directly out of the stills. However, barrel-aged spirits take on the wood’s characteristic color and flavor notes to become more amber or golden brown in appearance, while unaged alcohol remains clear.
Aging spirits in oak barrels change them in three significant ways during the entire process:
- Subtractive changes remove the less desirable flavors from the spirit.
- Additive changes impart colors and flavors to the spirit depending on the type of barrel wood.
- Interactive changes induce chemical reactions with the charred wood and oxygen in the barrel.
How Long Do Barrel Aging Spirits Take?
Not every liquor variety requires the barrel aging process. Typically, colored spirits like whiskey, Scotch, and bourbon have specific aging requirements, whereas clear spirits like vodka, gin, and white rum don’t need aging.
- Wine ages uniquely due to its low-proof and yeast-packed nature. While other spirits only age when stored in barrels, wines continuously evolve and age in the bottle itself.
- Bourbon’s flavor is frozen in time and won’t change or age out of the barrels. However, it must be aged at least two years to be labeled straight bourbon.
- The same time requirements go for rye whiskey to be called straight rye whiskey.
- Single malt scotch and Irish whiskey must be aged for at least three years.
- Añejo tequila must be matured for at least a year but not more than three years.
The variety of barrel-aged spirits also affects how often they can reuse them before being discarded or used only for storage.
- Tequila can be barreled in the same container up to ten times
- A single barrel is used to age wine only once.
- Whiskey casks can be reused up to four times.
- Rum can be aged in the same barrel up to seven times.
Location matters not just in real estate but also in barrel aging because the climatic conditions significantly affect the entire process. Humid climates like the Caribbean, where most rum is aged, usually take less time than spirits aged in drier conditions. The same stands true for Bourbons and Scotch.
Different Spirits Aged In Used Whiskey Barrels
Aging different liquor in used whiskey casks is good for sustainability and influences the flavor profile of the spirits stored within. Many brands experiment with different kinds of barrels to create new flavor mixtures in the finishing phase of spirits.
After aging whiskey in oak barrels, distillers reuse them to prevent spirits like Scotch from being overpowered by the new woody flavors. For example, barley whiskey pulls many flavors from the wood, thus adding to its flavor profile. Some of the most notable experiments are listed below:
- Middle West Spirits finishes its signature OYO vodka for an undisclosed time in used whiskey casks, resulting in a golden vodka with an oaky and nutty taste.
- The XO by Mount Gay Distilleries is a rum blend aged between eight to fifteen years in used whiskey barrels (Bourbon), adding a rich, oaky taste that complements its inherent sweetness.
- The Blue Swift by Martell is the first-ever cognac finished in used whiskey casks (Kentucky Bourbon) to introduce lovely notes of vanilla and oak in the cognac’s dried fruits base.
- Barrel finished tequila from Corazon is aged for up to nineteen months in Buffalo Trace Distillery barrels, producing an earthy and nutty tequila.
- The Sacred Bond by Christian Bros is the first bottle in bond brandy aged in used whiskey barrels (Bourbon) for four years, resulting in a flavor-packed and oaky collaboration of grape and grain.
- The Aviation American Old Tom is aged in straight malt whiskey casks for a year, offering the spirit a copper hue and pleasing vanilla and oaky notes.
- California’s Apothic Inferno red wine is aged in used whiskey barrels of charred oak for sixty days to add darker and more complex flavors to an already richly fruity wine.
At Rocky Mountain Barrel Company, we have a large selection of used whiskey barrels for sale you can purchase to age a variety of other spirits. You can browse through our range here.