Barrel Aging For Quality Liquors

white oak barrels

Barrel aging is the most important part of creating some of the finest tasting spirits and wine. After barrel aging for a few to several years, spirits taste smoother and acquire some taste from the wood from which the barrel is made. The most popular wood used to make the barrels is oak, although some liquors and wines require other types of wood to give them the flavors that are unique to each type of liquor.

The most popular liquors aged in barrels are whiskeys and brandies. These are exposed to barrel aging for at least three years before it is bottled and sold. Some tequilas and rums are also placed in barrels and aged for flavor, but not all liquors are aged. The general rule of thumb for aged liquor is that the longer they are kept in barrels, the more flavorful they become and the longer the barrel aging, the more expensive the liquor.

Determining the Age of a Liquor

Whether or not liquor is aged in the first place will depend on the type of liquor. For example, while single malt whiskey is aged for a minimum of three years, aged tequila is placed in a barrel for a minimum of one year and should not be aged for more than three years. Rums may or may not be subjected to barrel aging, and vodka does not require aging.

The most obvious way to tell the age of a liquor is to look at the label on the bottle. When liquors have been aged for several years, manufacturers tend to display this as proof of their quality barrel aging.

When liquor labels do not reveal an age, there is a good chance the distillery has not kept to a specific barrel aging guideline and has added its own methods for extra aging and improving the taste of the spirits. For instance, Maker’s Mark goes through the barrel aging process for close to six years before it is tested for taste and it is either approved for bottling or aged for a while longer.

Determining the Age of Blended Liquors

Liquors that are sold as a mix will be labeled at the age of the least aged liquor and the other liquors will be at least that old or even older. A 25 year old scotch may contain liquors that have been aged for longer than a quarter of a century.

How Guidelines for Barrel Aging are Determined

The typical climate of the region in which the liquor is aged is the biggest contributing factor. Colder climates increase the length of barrel aging. This is why most whiskeys, which are aged for longer, are barreled in the northern areas, while tequila, a product of Mexico, and most rums (products of South America and the Caribbean) are put through shorter barrel aging due to the warmer climate. The cooler the climate, the longer it takes for barrel aging to produce the best liquor. A hot climate speeds up the process of barrel aging. A good, aged tequila requires just two to three years before it is ready for consumption. Rums come from all around the world and can be made in different climates. This means the length of barrel aging depends on the area in which it is made.

Most brandies and whiskeys are made in the northern parts of the world, where temperatures vary throughout the year. With temps that go from hot to warm, to very cold, quality barrel aging requirements are longer. The most northern areas subject whiskey to barrel aging for the longest amount of time.