The Barrel in Barrel & Ashes
Howdy, I’m C. Blaine Adams, the Bar Program Director at Barrel & Ashes. As our name implies, we know a thing or two about wood finished spirits, and we’d like to share some of that know-how.
First things first…what exactly is barrel aging, and why is it important?
As you may or may not know, almost all spirits come off of the still as clear as water. On just sight alone, it would be hard to tell the difference between rum, whiskey, vodka, and gin because they would all look basically the same. That’s where barrel aging comes in. Distillers take that fresh whiskey, put it in a barrel, and let it sit. This is where the brown color of “aged” spirits comes from, it is also what really gives aged spirits their distinct flavors. A majority of all barrels are made of some type of oak. The longer the spirit sits in the barrel the more of it is lost to evaporation, also known as the angels share, and the flavors change drastically. This is why a 3 year bourbon tastes different than a 5 year bourbon, and a 5 year bourbon is different than a 10 year bourbon. All of those bourbons could be the exact same distillation, in the exact same warehouse, but the time difference makes them almost totally different whiskeys.
This brings us to aging at home.
You may have seen small oak barrels for sale online or DIY sites (or at Barrel & Ashes if you’ve sat at our bar!) It’s true, you can bring all the excitement of waiting and possibly even more waiting to your own home. So before you start filling your barrel with some sweet booze, there are a couple of things you need to do first.
For starters, you want to decide what you want to put in your barrel.
You could put in an un-aged spirit and add some of that sweet oak flavor, or you could add an already aged spirit to give it a nice finish, or even age your favorite aromatic, aka boozey, cocktail a nice oak finish. Just know that what ever you decide to put in the barrel, that you will lose about ten percent and that you are augmenting the flavor to be more “oakey” and “mellow.”
Once you have decided what you shall be aging, you need to prep your barrel.
To do this you need to fill the barrel with filtered water and soak the entire barrel in filtered water for at least 24 hours. Once it has soaked, take it out and let it sit full of filtered water for about 2 days. While it is sitting be sure to check for leaks, the smaller oak barrels tend to have a few minor leaks. These leaks tend to go away after soaking if they don’t be sure to get some organic bee’s wax to melt over if the crack is leaking.
After the barrel has sat for a few days full of water and all leaks are taken care of, then it’s go time.
Empty out the water and immediately fill with your project. Now that your barrel is full of the alcohol, put it somewhere dry, out of the sun and away from anywhere that would have drastic temperature changes.
Once that spot is found, place your barrel there and get ready for the fun part… waiting.
Feel free to check the flavor periodically and drain whenever you are satisfied with the flavor. The minimum amount of time I would wait is 15 days.
This is one of our barrel aged cocktails “The Good the Bad the Smokey“. This particular batch has been aged for 4 months with moonshine, mezcal, Luxardo, and Fernet Branca.