The process of aging in barrels stands as a crucial stage in developing intricate and rich flavors, captivating the palates of discerning enthusiasts of spirits. It’s this very process that imbues each bottle they savor with fullness and a delightful array of complex tastes. Grasping this method enables a deeper connection and a heightened appreciation for whiskey and various spirits, surpassing the experience of simply consuming them directly.
Much like an art exhibition that displays information about an artist’s background and processes through text on walls or paragraphs written on wall boards about their work process, barrel-aging provides a window into their process as an artist. To learn more about the right barrel for aging and how it impacts the spirits, reach out to a leading barrel-making company now!
Along with the right type of barrel for the aging process, climate and temperature also play a key role. Climate plays an oxidative role during an alcohol’s maturation process. Although evaporation contributes to the loss of valuable compounds that give depth and character to spirits, high humidity levels lead to greater water absorption by the spirit as it ages.
Barrels are crafted from a variety of wood species, each showcasing its distinct properties. Hickory, oak, and maple are prevalent choices. Each wood type possesses different phenols, tannins, and organic compounds, contributing to distinctive flavor profiles. Moreover, during this process, bacteria and yeasts interact with the liquid, imparting a blend of funkiness and sweetness, ultimately shaping the unique characteristics of the final product.
Below Discussed are the Five Things You Need to Know About Barrel Aging:
1. The barrel Style
Barrel aging is one of the cornerstones of creating great whiskey, accounting for as much as 60% of its flavor profile. Used whiskey barrels extract flavor compounds into any liquid stored within them, such as lactones that impart floral aromas and flavors like coconut, phenolic aldehydes (vanilla), and simple sugars like caramel. A new barrel may even absorb any lingering remnants from previous spirits or beers stored there or the natural flavorings of its wood if used, or simply absorb newer ones!
Barrels provide oxygen and tannins that aid in wine’s structure and maturation process, leading some winemakers to age their wines in used bourbon barrels before blending them together to form their final product. To learn more about why choosing the right barrels for the aging process is important and their impact on spirits, get in touch with a leading barrel-making company now!
2. The Barrel Size
Barrels are available in diverse sizes to accommodate a range of liquids, including wine, spirits, and other beverages. Traditionally, barrels are primarily constructed from wood, although alternative materials like metal have been utilized. The size of a barrel is a critical factor in the aging process of alcoholic beverages. Smaller barrels boast a larger surface area-to-volume ratio, allowing for more contact between the liquid and the wood during aging.
However, it’s important to note that smaller barrels may accelerate evaporation rates, potentially impacting the flavor development of the final product. Consequently, winemakers often opt for larger barrel sizes, which are commonly used for aging cognac and sherry, as they help maintain flavor integrity while aging larger quantities. On the other hand, smaller barrels are favored when aging spirits in smaller batches, offering more control and flexibility in the aging process.
3. The Right Temperature
Wooden barrels have played a crucial role in history, serving as essential containers for the storage and transportation of various liquids like beer, wine, olive oil, rum, and chili sauce, especially over long distances. The value of a watertight wooden barrel was immense, ensuring that these beverages could be transported without spillage. Temperature control within the barrel was pivotal, affecting the oxidation rate, where higher temperatures sped up the process but also posed a risk of introducing bacteria that could spoil the contents, particularly for delicate liquids like beer. Thus, managing temperature was key to preserving the quality of the liquids during their journeys and storage.
Barrel aging works best in cool, damp conditions. This allows the brewer to control how much oxygen enters their barrel at any given time and reduce oxidation rates as much as possible. The level of char on the surface of the used whiskey barrels also affects how much oxygen can pass through it, with different levels offering different characteristics.
4. The Right Pressure
Oak barrel aging is one of the most effective ways of aging spirits, as an oak barrel holds liquid under sufficient pressure. As time goes on, this pressure causes compounds from both liquid and wood to transfer back and forth during aging; for this reason, it’s vital to age your product at just the right moment. Pressure in a barrel also has an impact on how much ethanol evaporates out, known as the angel’s share. This phenomenon helps explain why older spirits tend to cost more.
Barrel aging is a blend of art and science, requiring months or even years to achieve the desired results. However, recognizing the time-intensive nature of traditional barrel aging, alternative systems have been devised to simulate similar aging processes. These alternatives involve using various types of wood, which can be toasted or charred in specific ways to attain the intended flavors. One of the key advantages of these alternatives is the ability to achieve desired flavor profiles in shorter aging times, providing a more time-efficient aging option.
5. The Right Time for Aging
Before the widespread adoption of metal containers, barrels were the go-to choice for storing and transporting a wide array of items. Their lightweight construction made them particularly valuable during extended sea voyages. Moreover, the use of wood barrels significantly influenced the flavor, aroma, and finish of the liquids they housed or transported. Yet, what was often underestimated was the substantial transformation these flavors and aromas would undergo over time spent maturing or being transported within the wooden confines of the barrel.
Over time, beer will seep into every crack of an oak stave, extracting flavors and compounds such as lactones and phenolic aldehydes. Breweries often repurpose aging barrel from past batches of beer to maximize flavor and character without wasting them. But when using multiple batches in one barrel, it’s essential to closely monitor flavor progression to not overwhelm the beer with oaky elements from its surroundings.
Why Aging Barrel?
Barrels are integral components of the brewing process as they provide a controlled environment for fermentation and aging, helping prevent too much oxygen from reaching the beer during its fermentation stage. Charring of barrels produces tannic acid, which helps mellow bitterness while simultaneously decreasing amounts of acetic acid produced during its fermentation phase. Learn more about the right barrel for aging by connecting with the barrel experts or barrel-making company!
Beer aging, particularly in barrels, can be enhanced through the introduction of probiotic bacteria like Lactobacillus. This bacteria is added during the brewing process and further incorporated into barrels during storage. Lactobacillus contributes sweet and fruity notes, effectively balancing the tartness in certain sour beers. While barrel aging presents numerous advantages, it’s important to note that not all types of beer are suitable for this technique. For instance, India Pale Ales (IPAs) lack the necessary body to effectively withstand and benefit from barrel aging.
Choosing the right aging barrel is vital for the right aging process of the spirits. It also involves the storage and aging of spirits in wooden barrels for added depth of flavor and elegance to their spirit. This practice adds depth of character, complexity, and distinction. Making great barrel-aged spirits depends on many variables, with climate and temperature playing an especially big part. If you are wondering how a barrel impacts the taste and flavor of spirits and why choosing the right barrel for aging is important, reach out to a leading barrel-making company now!
Rachel Moore works as a Marketing Manager at RMBC. RMBC provides used wooden barrels for spirits, like bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels, and wine barrels. They are proud to partner with 1400+ breweries internationally.