Surfing purists talk about using the right kind of balsa wood to craft a premium board. In the world of liquors and alcohols, we hear a lot about spirits and cocktails that are barrel-aged. Today we take a look at barrel aging and what it all really entails.
Like crafting a good surfboard, and many other things, to do it right, you need good wood. And good wood is dependent on time, size and temperature.
Time in barrel of course has a huge impact on the flavor of a spirit, but there are countless other variables (beyond what I have listed here.) These are some of the big ones.
- Type of Wood: The two main options, American and French oak. The grain in American barrels is not as tight, which allows liquid to flow more freely in and out of the grains, hence resulting in more flavor. French barrels also tend to be more expensive.
- Size: In smaller sized barrels, more of the spirit is exposed to the surface area of the barrel, so it ages a lot faster than in larger sized barrels.
- Char: Spirits age faster in charred barrels and develop a stronger oak flavor. Charring aids in the movement of the spirit in and out of the oak.
- Temperature and humidity play huge roles. More alcohol evaporates from barrels stored in high humidity areas, causing the percent of alcohol to decrease, and vice versa in low humidity.
- Altitude: The aging process is sped up at sea level where the temperature is higher and air pressure is low (think delicious Caribbean rum). Aging processes that occur at high altitudes are slowed due to the cooler temperatures and thin air.
- Prior Content: Whether or not the barrel is new or has previously aged another spirit impacts the flavor profile of what you are aging.
- Static or Dynamic: In a static aging process the spirit is aged in 1 barrel. In a dynamic aging process, there is blending of different aged spirits across multiple barrels.
Speaking of Prior Content, Bourbon, by Law, Has to be Aged in New Charred Oak Barrels.
The properties that bourbon receives from the wood of the barrel are essential to the taste, and would be diminished if a barrel had already been used. This leaves a whole lotta’ barrels up for grabs once the bourbon is finished aging. Some go to rum, some are sent to Ireland & Scotland – but only 3% go to making one of our favorite spirits – tequila!