Curing, Cleaning, and Storing Your Small Oak Barrel

Red Head Oak Barrels offers quality American made oak barrels for aging all your own spirits, wines, sauces and more. However, before you can use it, you must cure it.

Process To Cure Your Oak Whiskey Barrel

  1. The first step is to fill and empty the oak barrel a few times to remove any leftover debris.
  2. Next, insert and hand tighten the spigot.
  3. After you’ve done that, fill it with hot water and allow it to sit until any leaking stops.This could take a few minutes or a few days.  Be sure to keep the barrel(s) in an area where the leaking water will not have any negative affect, like a sink, bath tub or bowl.
  4. Once any leaking has ceased, turn the spigot to the on position and allow all the water to run out. Let the barrel sit empty for about four hours.
  5. Lastly, put the barrel on the stand, with the bung hole facing up, and fill with your favorite wine or spirits. Seal with your bung.

Curing Cleaning Storing Oak BarrelClean Your Oak Whiskey Barrel

To clean your barrel, you will need Barrel-Kleen which Red Head Oak Barrels provides. Dissolve the solution in a gallon of water and then pour this into the barrel. Allow to soak for 24 hours. After this, rinse the barrel completely. Then, dissolve the neutralizing acid in a gallon of water and fill you barrel with this solution. Allow to soak for 15 minutes. Empty the barrel and rinse a few times with water.

For storing, fill the barrel with filtered or distilled water and be sure to check it every few months to see if it needs to have more water added; you don’t want the wood to become dry.


Getting Rid of Mold Or Smells In Your Barrel

While mold can be rare for oak barrels, it might happen. In order to get rid of it, the water rinse is the best to clear out the barrel completely.

If your barrel has a weird odor or discoloration on the inside, try using sodium percarbonate or sodium carbonate. These two break down into hydrogen peroxide when combined with water so they are safe to use and won’t mess with the safety of your oak barrels (while still getting rid of all the bad things inside).

Even though the barrel will still be safe, the chemicals do break down the flavoring in the wood and won’t keep your whiskey tasting as intense as it once used to. You won’t want to use the chemicals for each cleaning – only when you have to. Only use them to get rid of gross build up in the barrel.

Common practice for us is to mix a tablespoon of sodium percarbonate or soda carbonate per gallon of water to make a mold-cleaning solution. You should make enough solution to fill up most of the barrel, otherwise the problem could still continue. Swirl it around the barrel to cover all areas of the wood to get rid of the mold or smell. You can also scrub using a brush tool to help make sure all of it comes out.

Even if mold only grows on the exterior of the barrel, you’ll want to get rid of it. Mold seeps through wood and could ruin your barrel’s interior and your whiskey that’s aging.


Optional: Protecting Your Barrel During Storage

After cleaning, dry the barrel completely. If you want to refill it soon, within a month or two, you can keep the barrel empty. Otherwise, there’s a few things you can do to prevent mold and other growth in the barrel.

This isn’t something we typically recommend but you can light a sulfur burner inside the barrel, this will prevent mold but is slightly dangerous. Warning – do not use sulfur gas if the barrel aged spirits.

(Warning: Sulfur gas is very toxic, so if you want to for any reason – skip this step).The safe way to go about this is to light the sulfur disc or stick and put it into the barrel on top of a disc holder as quickly as possible. Do not touch the barrel with an open flame, if there’s any confusion you should be trying to submerge it into the barrel through the bung hole. You’ll need to try to close the bunghole as quickly as possible. It is incredibly toxic to breathe in sulfur dioxide.

You only have to wait five to ten minutes – then take out the sulfur disc with the holder. Close the bunghole again as quickly as possible to trap the sulfur dioxide inside.


Option 2: Citric Acid

Since sulfur dioxide is toxic to humans, we have another method we use as well. This method is a lot easier and less involved but not always as effective.

Make the citric acid solution using citric acid (100% pure food grade is best – otherwise use whatever you have and potassium metabisulfite (common product for winemaking – should be able to easily get this in its typical form and is safe). Dissolve 1 tsp of citric acid in 2 tsp of potassium metabisulfite with one gallon of hot water. It’s best to fill the barrel up as much as possible with the solution – so make as much as your barrel can nearly hold. 

You can keep this solution in your barrel long term if you aren’t planning on using it for a bit, but we don’t recommend anything past 6 months.

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