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Choosing to buy oak barrels to age your wine, rum, bourbon, beer, or other spirits is a great way to save money. While several types of wood can be used for aging, it’s generally agreed upon that white oak wooden barrels are the most popular choice for aging spirits and wines.
However, if you decide on getting American or French oak barrels instead, you should try and find the best quality used oak barrels for sale from our store to keep within your budget.
There are many reasons why oak barrels are preferred over other types of woods when it comes to storing beverages. But how can you make sure that you’re getting the most out of your used oak barrels before you discard them as scrap, or repurpose them? Here are some tips:
1. Don’t let your barrel sit empty for too long at a time.
An aged oak barrel is a delicate instrument. Remember that your barrel is “used” and was once home to another spirit and has its own unique character. To get the most out of your used oak barrels, use them regularly so that they don’t dry out. You can store olives in them, make your own olive oils or vinegar, and marinate fruits or vegetables in them – the world is your oyster (stored in a delicious whiskey vinegar)!
While used whiskey barrels are made of incredibly sturdy wood, they will rot over time if not kept damp. To help avoid this, store whatever you can in your barrel when you’re not aging your own spirits in it. It is silly to have empty barrels sitting around when there are other things you can use them for!
If you must store spirits in oak barrels for aging them for any length of time, we recommend keeping them for less than six months at a time unless you like the taste of an aged whiskey seeping inside. If this happens to be the case and you want to play around with having the taste of multiple aged whiskeys inside all at once to create something entirely new – go right ahead!
2. Make sure your barrel is toasted and charred, not seasoned.
If you prefer to buy oak barrels, make sure they were toasted and charred (heated over an open flame), not seasoned. A seasoned barrel will only provide some mellowness and roundness of flavor to your spirit, whereas a charred barrel will add smokey flavors from the charring process. Barrels are sometimes sold after being seasoned (soaked in water) to give them a new appearance.
If you intend to use the aged oak barrel for aging beer or wine, be sure that they only previously used it for hard spirits or wine, and not beer! The residual hop oils in a beer-seasoned barrel may impart unpleasant flavors onto your final product.
3. Understand what your barrel has aged in the past.
Knowing what your oak wooden barrels have aged in the past will help you determine how to best use your barrels in the future. If your barrel has previously been used to age spirits or wine for a long time, you can repurpose it as a planter or decoration.
If you want to use your oak barrels for aging different spirits, make sure that the barrel is not used for aging red wine. Red wine is more likely than any other type of wine to leave residue inside an oak aging barrel. The longer red wine undergoes oak barrel aging, the more residue it leaves behind.
4. Learn how to maintain your barrel.
Your newly purchased oak barrels are an investment. They will not only improve the quality of your wine, but they will last for years to come and can be used for aging other spirits as well! The most important thing you can do to maintain your used oak barrels is to clean them on a regular basis. The following tips will help you learn how to best undertake proper care and maintenance of your oak wooden barrels:
- Wash or rinse the barrel with hot water before using it.
- Do not use soap or detergents, as these can affect taste and smell.
- Use a bottle brush to remove any stuck-on residue.
- Rinse thoroughly with hot water once you’ve finished cleaning the barrel.
5. Know how to season your barrel correctly.
For those who want to age liquor, used bourbon barrels can be an excellent investment, whether you’re planning on using them in your home or at your distillery. But before you put any alcohol into the barrel, it’s important to season it correctly. A barrel is seasoned by filling it with distilled water and leaving it to sit for several days. There are two ways to do this:
- Fill the barrel with water, set a plate over the hole in the top of the barrel, and weight down the plate so that none of the water can escape through evaporation.
- Fill the barrel with water, plug all holes in its surface (including bunghole seals), and leave it alone for anywhere from 24 hours to several weeks so that any wood pieces that have been loosened by heat during previous use will soften.
Be absolutely certain that any solution you spray into your used oak barrels is free from bacteria or other minerals. Suppose there are bacteria or minerals left behind when you spray your barrel with a sanitizing solution. In that case, they could contaminate whatever liquid goes into your barrel. Also, if you make alcoholic beverages in your home distillery business, this could cause problems when inspecting agencies come around.
How long can you use an aged oak barrel?
The short answer: it varies. It depends on whether the barrel has been previously used to age wine or whiskey and how many times it’s already been used. As a general rule, the longer you use a particular barrel to age your spirits or wine, the less flavor (and, more importantly, color) the barrel will impart in your final product.
Most winemakers rotate used oak barrels every two years to reduce this effect. If you’re aging spirits in smaller barrels, you will likely have to cycle through different oak barrels more frequently than if you are using a full-size oak cask (56 gallons or more).
With a bit of care and maintenance, used oak barrels can be kept in service for up to two decades. Even if your barrel starts to leak or come apart, don’t despair. You still have options: repurpose it as a piece of furniture (or as planters), or use it to age other liquids, sauces, and condiments.
At Rocky Mountain Barrel Company, we offer a wide variety of used oak barrels for sale. So you can get in touch with us to find the most suitable oak barrels for aging your next new drink!