Some say drinking whiskey is not for the faint of heart. There are many people out there who would prefer a lighter kind of alcohol, or just can’t handle the heat. Then, there are the people who absolutely love drinking whiskey in all its variations; they’ll go on and on about bourbons and scotches and whether they prefer their whiskey neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of water. Such whiskey enthusiasts are likely to try aging whiskey at home a time or two. This is not an easy task, and many people won’t get it absolutely right the first time. Still, there are some basic steps every at-home whiskey ager should know.
Here are the fundamentals of aging whiskey at home.
1. Choosing and Preparing the Oak for Aging Whiskey at Home
Although it’s hard to get whiskey aging just right, the materials needed are pretty simple. They are:
- unaged, raw whiskey
- a mason jar
- a piece of oak
- a fire pit, or some other controlled area for a flam
Unaged raw whiskey usually looks and smells like moonshine. It’s crystal clear but the scent packs a serious punch. This is not something most people would like to sip on, but it makes a great base for aging whiskey at home.
Most raw whiskeys will do. The trick is to find the right piece of oak for this project. Once charred (over the controlled flame you need to make), this is what will add flavor and body to the whiskey.
You can choose to use one big piece of oak, shavings, or even make your own white oak barrel. Barrels are the traditional whiskey-aging tool, used to hold whiskey for years at a time as the inner lining of the barrel infuses the alcohol. Pieces of oak are the at-home fast track.
To prepare your oak, start the fire. Get a good flame going, then hold the oak piece steady for a few minutes at a time. The goal is to get nice, bold char marks on all the edges of the wood.
You can look up exact measurements for this if you’d like as well. The measurements will tell you how long to hold the oak piece over the fire and how hot the flame needs to be.
2. Combining the Oak and Whiskey
Once the wood piece is ready, let it cool.
In the meantime, get the raw whiskey and pour it into the mason jar. Depending on how much whiskey you want to make, you may have to pour one bottle into multiple mason jars, and repeat the step above with different pieces of oak.
This may sound like a lot of work, but it allows you to have some fun with the process! Just one bottle of raw whiskey can turn into two or three (or more) variations of whiskey. You can vary where you place each mason jar and how long you let the piece of wood soak.
However many jars you decide to fill up, though, this is really where the whiskey aging process begins. Place one piece of oak into each mason jar, then seal the jar tight. You can store it inside or outside.
Some people like to keep their whiskey-in-the-making on their kitchen counter. This allows them to watch the progression of color from clear to caramel every day.
Others like to place their mason jar outside somewhere (out of children’s reach and away from pets, of course). Leaving the jar outside causes the oak piece to expand and contract based on temperature changes. This can speed up the aging process, or create an entirely different whiskey from what you’ve set up inside.
3. Waiting and Adding Flavor
Now, all you have to do is wait – really, just wait, for a while. Your whiskey will start getting color first. Within a week or two, actually, it will look dark and delicious.
But, to get the taste you’re looking for, you’re going to have to wait anywhere from a few months to a year. In fact, many whiskey-lovers who age whiskey at home will do so for up to three or five years.
These are people who are well-versed in the art of aging whiskey, and often have different cycles going. So, they’ll have one batch that will be ready within the next few months, and another that will take longer to complete, and so on.
Just when you think the whiskey is ready to go, though, consider adding some extra flavor. Many ready-to-make kits and barrel providers offer flavoring oils. These are made to add a special touch to the essence of the whiskey.
If you sit back and think about it, it makes sense. A Johnny Walker Red Label definitely has more of a kick to it than a Maker’s Mark or Jameson. Similarly, there’s a significant taste difference between Crown Royal and Jack Daniels, just to mention a few common names in the market.
At the end of the day, your favorite whiskey may turn out to be none of these. The more you practice aging at home, the more you may come to like your unique whiskey’s flavor above all others.
The Taste Test: What Aging Whiskey at Home Always Comes Down to
You won’t know how well your attempt at aging whiskey at home has gone until you give it a taste test. But, don’t just store it away for a year and forget about it. The best way to age your whiskey at this point is to do regular taste tests.
This allows you to add a bit more flavor, or maybe just a splash of more raw whiskey if you think you’ve gone overboard. For more insights and tools to create your drink of choice at home, click here.