Barrel Ageing FAQ
Ageing spirits can be a bewildering hobby. There are many aspects to consider when ageing spirits, and a few new things to learn. We’ve compiled a barrel ageing FAQ that will answer your questions and keep you informed.
What are the barrels made from?
All our barrels are made from high quality American White Oak. American white oak imbues a mellow, vanilla and caramel flavouring. This is most commonly used for ageing whiskies.
Oak barrels get burned on the inside to toast or char the surface. This opens up the surface and creates vanilla and caramel flavours from the sugars in the oak. The carbon in the charred wood acts as a filter to mellow the alcohol for a smoother drink.
There are 7 levels of charring, relating to the length of time the barrel is subject to the flames. Charring causes different chemical changes in the wood sugars. The grade of charring offers different qualities to the ageing process.
Our medium charred barrels are level 4, meaning they burn for around 55 seconds. A no. 4 char is known as an “alligator char” due to the surface resembling an alligator’s skin. This is a common universal char level.
Most distilleries will use a char level of 1 to 4. Char levels 6 and 7 are rarely used.
No glue, paraffin, or nails are used in our handmade barrels.
Glue and paraffin could affect the flavours imbued by the wood. Nails could pierce the wood and cause leaks.
When a barrel is cured, the swollen wood holds the parts together tightly, so there is no need for nails or screws.
Don’t worry, this can happen in transit. This is why you need to cure the barrel. Curing causes the wood to expand, seal up gaps and hold everything together.
Curing is preparing your barrel for use by soaking the wood.
Barrels get cured for 2 important reasons. If your barrel is dry it will absorb your precious spirit, so letting it absorb water first reduces this loss. When the wood is soaked it expands, sealing any leaks and holding the barrel together.
Curing your barrel involves filling it with water for up to a week, and monitoring it for leaks. Please see our Oak Barrel Curing Guide for more information.
If you look after your barrel, it could last for 8 to 10 years. Never let your barrel dry out, and follow our Oak Barrel Care Guide for full details.
A leaking barrel is normal. The curing process takes up to a week, and is essential to identify any leaks.
When you find a leak in your barrel, apply some barrel wax to seal the hole. As the wood absorbs water during curing it will expand and naturally seal most gaps.
Curing the barrel before use is very important to remove any leaks. If you find any large leaks during ageing you might have to re-cure the barrel and start again. See our Barrel Curing Guide for more information.
Small leaks can be sealed with barrel wax.
Oak barrels are commonly associated with ageing whiskies.
Barrel ageing promotes experimentation so you are free to age any spirit that you would like to benefit from the American white oak profile.
American white oak gives toasty, vanilla, caramel and coconut flavours, and a mellow finish to the sharp alcohol.
Try ageing other spirits such as bourbon, rum, brandy, tequila, port and sherry.
Cocktails based on high alcohol spirits can also benefit from ageing. For example, an Old Fashioned – a sweet cocktail based on whisky – will interact well with the vanilla and caramel flavours.
You may even use an oak barrel to age beer, wine, vinegars and hot sauces. However, please note that the medium char on our barrels is not usually used for wine.
We recommend sourcing a suitable guide for ageing these alternative options as they will have different requirements from the high alcohol spirits we reference throughout our guides.
When a spirit is stored in a barrel it interacts with the wood and takes on its characteristics. Charring the inside of an oak barrel brings out the vanillin, tannins and lactones and caramelises the wood sugars.
Because charring opens up the surface of the wood it allows the spirit to interact more closely with these elements.
Charred American white oak gives toasty, vanilla, caramel and coconut flavours.
The charcoal on the inside of the barrel also acts as a filter for removing impurities in the alcohol. It’s the charcoal filtering that produces the mellowing effect for a smoother drink.
This is entirely up to your own preferences. You might enjoy a sharper spirit aged for only a week, or you might prefer a mellower spirit aged for a year.
American white oak imparts a mellow finish and imbues vanilla and caramel flavours. The charcoal in the charred surface filters out the impurities of alcohol for a smooth drink. The longer a spirit is aged the more it will take on these qualities.
Small barrels will age spirits up to 10 times faster than large distillery barrels. This is because our small tabletop ageing barrels have a higher surface area to content ratio. This lets the spirit interact with the wood faster.
Sample your spirit every week until it suits your taste. Because the ageing process is relatively quick you might over-age your spirit so regular checks are essential.
The ageing process will also take longer the more the barrel is used. Re-charring will help maintain the effectiveness of your barrel. See our Barrel Care Guide for more information.
The Angels Share is a term given to the portion of spirits that evaporate while in the barrel.
Because ageing is a slow process, evaporation is a very natural occurrence. Curing your barrel is essential to retaining moisture and reducing the amount lost to the angels.
Storing your barrel in cool damp conditions, like a cellar, will reduce the chance of evaporation. If you live in a warm, dry environment we recommend wetting the outside of the barrel to retain the moisture.
The Devil’s Cut is a term for the portion of spirits that get absorbed in to the wood of the barrel.
Absorption is expected during barrel ageing as wood is a porous material. Curing the barrel ensures the wood is already filled with moisture, so less of your spirit gets lost in the wood.
The Devil’s Cut can be a useful tool for further batches of aged spirits. When the wood absorbs some of its contents, the qualities are imparted on the next batch.
Some distilleries will age spirits in barrels previously used for wine or sherry.
We recommend using different barrels for different spirits and flavour profiles. However, using the Devil’s Cut as an ageing tool can yield some unique results.
During ageing, natural evaporation occurs. The sugars from the alcohol are left behind on the surface of the barrel. This is normal, and even acts as a natural sealant. You can leave this on the barrel, or clean it off if you want to keep your barrel looking nice.
After ageing for many weeks or months, it is normal for your spirit to take away some of the charred charcoal surface. This can be filtered out when decanting by using a fine strainer.
The charcoal on the charred wood filters out the impurities and makes a smoother drink, so is an important part of the ageing.
Your ageing barrel must not dry out, so store it in a cool environment with a controlled temperature.
If the barrel begins to dry out this can create new leaks, and will cause evaporation in your spirit. If you live in a warm, dry area, make sure to regularly wet the outside of the barrel with a damp cloth.
Between batches, store your barrel filled with water so the wood does not dry out.
See our Oak Barrel Storage Instructions for more information.
Rotating your barrel ensures the wooden staves equally absorb any liquid. This helps reduce the amount lost in evaporation. When you lose some spirit to the angels, this leaves air in the barrel. As a result, the staves at the top run the risk of drying out, which can cause leaks.
These small tabletop barrels age spirits quicker than large distillery barrels so they will lose a lot less in evaporation. Rotating the barrel is not as necessary in these small barrels, but is a good practice to maintain.
If your barrel dries out between batches, you have broken the first rule of barrel ageing – don’t let the barrel dry out!
Try to revive your barrel by going through the curing process again. Read the full instructions in our Oak Barrel Curing Guide.
If you still have leaks in your barrel after re-curing, try submerging your barrel in warm water for a couple of days. This will affect the overall look of your barrel, but is the best chance you have to repair the barrel.
Please note that letting a barrel dry out can unfortunately put it at the end of its life. Sometimes re-curing a barrel won’t work.
If you are ageing the same spirit in subsequent batches, the barrel will not require cleaning between batches. If you intend to age different spirits with different profiles on each batch then you will need to clean after each batch.
Please note that cleaning your barrel reduces its effectiveness and lifespan. We recommend having different barrels for different spirits.
Barrel cleaning kits are readily available online. These will include dissolvable cleaning tablets, neutralising acid and sterilising tablets.
See our Oak Barrel Cleaning Guide for more information.