Barrel Aged Bourbon

Bourbon aging barrelsMany micro-distilleries are faced with the problem of  trying to make their liquor more drinkable without having to age it for at least four years. This can be due to a lack of money or patience, or both and it means that instead of being assured of barrel aged bourbon, you run the risk of buying and drinking something that isn’t really barrel aged bourbon in the sense that we know.

Of course, the first rule of making something to drink is that it should actually taste good, regardless of how you make it and some producers have tried to address this dilemma. Their bourbon still tastes good even if it isn’t strictly barrel aged bourbon. On the other hand you run the very real risk of buying something described as rye whiskey or bourbon, when what you are drinking is neither of those.

The general consensus of opinion still maintains that it takes four years to make good quality, drinkable barrel aged bourbon and this is especially true in places such as Kentucky which is known for the stuff. Some major distilleries have been producing three year aged bourbon and the taste is just not the same as four year old bourbon. And just think – in Ireland or Scotland they really have a lot of patience as they age their whiskey for ten or even twelve years.

A new type of charred oak barrel was one of the solutions arrived at in the United States, to create something that tasted as much like barrel aged bourbon as possible. That innovation, along with the use of rye and corn instead of barley malt led to the production of a delicious yet distinctively different drink.

Because rye is more dominant than corn in American rye whiskey, the drink should perhaps be called rye bourbon instead and following the same logic, it should be wheat bourbon instead of wheat whiskey. Mash bill is the only variant allowed according to US law, and the new style of charred oak barrel is required for all of these. Most of these used barrels are shipped overseas, rather than being deposited in landfills.

So as can be seen, today’s micro-distillers are trying to come up with a drink tasting like barrel aged bourbon, but without having to wait those four years to drink it. Most of these distilleries don’t offer a product that has been aged for over two years, although it is fair to say that they are trying and no doubt things will improve before too long. The product has to get better, despite the lack of aging or many of these smaller companies will simply go out of business.

Four years of aging is the minimum for barrel aged bourbon, if you ask people in Tennessee and Kentucky, two states where they really know about such things. Of course, the longer the better, and five or six years, even ten or twelve is much preferable to four years. However, the result tends to be a drink that is distinctively wood heavy if aged beyond ten years, although it still doesn’t taste bad.