Barrel aging is a way to mature a distilled spirit for optimal flavor and ripeness. Many distilleries age their richer varieties (brandy, whisky, dark rum) in oak for an extended period of time, as it colors and enhances the taste. Barrel-aging also promotes a smoother finish with many of your favorite cocktails and can easily be done at home.
At Home Barrel Aging
To begin, you’ll need a wooden barrel to house your liquid. We recommend oak because it imparts a smooth and silky flavor, but other wood varieties, like maple and hickory can also be used. A thicker barrel will produce a higher quality finish. Many wine and spirit shops sell aging kits that include everything you’ll need to get started.
Spirits that Age Well
Not every liquor lends itself to this method. Spirits with higher alcohol percentages, like scotch and brandy, are best suited for the aging process. Most clear spirits, like vodka and tequila, taste better when bottled immediately after being distilled. Whichever you choose, use it to make one of your favorite cocktails, and serve it at your next party or intimate get-together.
Barrel Aging Tips
If you’re aging a cocktail with bitters, use a higher proof spirit to balance the intensity. Place your barrel in a cool, dark area, like the pantry, basement or cellar. Once you’ve secured and stored your barrel, make sure to check it regularly for leaks. Trace amounts of liquid may seep out, but bigger leaks can compromise the quality.
Traditionally made with whisky, the Old-Fashioned is a classic cocktail with timeless character. Swapping the whisky for bourbon offers a more mellow texture. Use the recipe below as inspiration for your next at-home barrel aging session.
Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned
- 2.25 liters Bourbon (3 750ml bottles)
- .75 cup sugar
- 1.75 oz Angostura bitters
This recipe fits a 3 liter barrel.
- Stir all ingredients together in a large pitcher to dissolve the sugar. Funnel into 3 liter barrel. Age for a month or to taste.
- The bitters will settle a bit so be sure to swirl the barrel around before you pour yourself a drink.
- To make a cocktail, pour 3 oz from the barrel into a mixing glass with ice.
- Stir to chill.
- Strain into rocks glass over a single large ice cube.
- Garnish with an orange peel.