The Reason for Aging Whiskey
Whiskey barrels are used, like many other traditions that have become common, due to the necessity for aging whiskey. In early times, vessels similar to whiskey barrels were used in the production and shipping of wine. Such whiskey barrels have withstood the time test, because fortunately, the time alcoholic beverages spend in wine or whiskey barrels brings positive changes to the smoothness and character of the beverage stored inside. The consumers of the beverages stored inside whiskey barrels, noticed that generally, the more time the spirits were kept inside the whiskey barrels, the smoother the flavor they developed. Thus, there was a consumer demand for spirits aged in whiskey barrels.
The Changes That Take Place During Aging in Whiskey Barrels
When spirits are stored in whiskey barrels, changes in humidity and temperature can cause the alcohol to through of the wood forming the whiskey barrels. This natural movement allows gentle filtering of the alcohol. The compounds that are more volatile in the beverage may even evaporate and escape through the grain of the whiskey barrels. Aging in whiskey barrels also allows tannin and vanillins to be absorbed from the wood, giving a unique color and flavor to the spirits. This intrinsic process of aging in whiskey barrels leads to an overall effect of a finished product that offers additional character and smoother flavor, than the firey, clear spirit that was originally placed inside the whiskey barrels.
How Whiskey is Aged in Whiskey Barrels
Whiskey can be aged in one of two ways. The easiest, fastest and cheapest is to place oak chips that have been charred into a bottle or jar of spirits. These chips can naturally filter the spirits inside the vessel and allow the wood to give flavor to the spirits. However, the jar or bottle does not allow volatile portion to evaporate as they would through whiskey barrels. Therefore, the producer must open and close an impermeable container on a regular basis to artificially allow the trapped vapor to escape the container and fresh air inside. For those interested in using this process, Amazon.com offers relatively cheap, high quality aging chips made of American Oak.
A second method, which is less complicated but more expensive is to buy charred whiskey barrels. The method is easier as the evaporation of the alcohol and introduction of oxygen into the spirits take place automatically. Users do not have to open or close the vessel in order to allow evaporation to take place, as they do so naturally through the wood. Once the whiskey barrels are in your possession, they should be filled with water to cause swelling of the staves in order to prevent leakage from the barrel. This process may require several hours and can take several days. Barrels that are not hydrated will allow the spirits to leak through cracks in the staves when it is filled initially. Hobbyists can also find affordable, good quality whiskey barrels through Amazon.
How Long to Leave Spirits in Whiskey Barrels
Aging of whiskey can be accomplished in a short time when done at home. Most of the time, the ratio of the surface of the volume of a whiskey making kit for DIY aging is much greater than that used in commercial units. In the industry, the distillers age their whiskey in 53 gallon whiskey barrels for the sake of economy. With the home kit with a 1 liter oak barrel, the ratio is 400-500% larger, giving the wood much more contact with spirits. While this is less efficient from the standpoint of the amount of wood needed to create barrels needed to age the same volume of whiskey (and thus the reason for the larger barrels in the commercial industry) the additional surface area can accelerate the aging of the whiskey. The same perfection in aging that can take years in the commercial facility, can be accomplished in just a few months when one uses the small, half gallon barrel.
One of the dangers is over oaking of the spirits in the smaller barrel, however. This indicates allowing too flavor from the barrel to be imparted to the spirits. To prevent this, one should draw a small amount from whiskey barrels to determine the quality of the aging process. Once the beverage reaches optimal color and flavor, it should be stored in a glass container.