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Oak Ageing Barrels ~ FAQs & Care Instructions

Before you start to enjoy your aged spirits, its very important that you go through the process of curing your barrel . If you don’t cure the barrel you will not be able to use it. Curing is the process of soaking the wood so that it does not absorb your precious spirits during ageing. Having the wood absorb moisture will make it expand. The curing process helps to get rid of any gaps in the wood, and gives the hoops a tighter grip. When you first receive your barrel, you may notice small gaps in the staves, or loosened hoops. This is normal as changes in temperature and humidity will cause the wood to expand or shrink in transit. As our barrels are handmade and they have had a long journey before reaching you. Do not nail or screw the hoops into place. This will damage your barrel. Before curing your barrel tightly insert the spigot using a rubber mallet.

What is Barrel Curing?

The curing process helps you identify leaks in your barrel. All barrels are made without any prolonged contact with moisture, so they are as far from ready as they can be. When you fill your barrel for the first time there will almost certainly be leaks.

How Long Does it Take to Cure a Barrel?

The curing process can take up to a week, but this is an essential part of barrel ageing. Each barrel is unique, as the wood from each tree is unique. There is no set time for the barrel curing process.

How to Cure an Oak Barrel

  1. Rinse your barrel 3 times with water to remove any loose charred debris. Fill the barrel from the top, and flush it through the spigot
  2. Fill the barrel with warm water and insert the bung. Make sure to fill the barrel to the top until you can’t fit any more in. Every part of the inside of the barrel needs to be in contact with the water
  3. If you identify leaks in your barrel, apply a small amount of barrel wax to the leaking area. Push the wax in to the hole until the leaking stops
  4. Top up the water after fixing any leaks
  5. Leave the barrel in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. We recommend placing on a drip tray to prevent damage to any surface
  6. Check for leaks periodically and apply barrel wax where needed
  7. Regularly top up the water to ensure all parts of the barrel absorb water
  8. The barrel is ready when it can hold water for at least 3 hours
  9. Once your barrel has stopped leaking, rinse it through 3 times
  10. Allow the barrel to dry for 3 hours before filling with your spirits

Your barrel is now ready to age spirits. Read our guide on How To Barrel Age Spirits for more information.

Ageing spirits is a lengthy process. No two batches will be the same, and the desired result will depend on your own personal tastes. Find out how to age spirits with this easy to follow guide.

Filling The Oak Barrel

When filling your barrel, use a funnel to keep spirits from spilling on the outside of the barrel. Fill the barrel to the top until you can’t fit any more in. Tightly insert the bung. Any air inside the barrel can affect the ageing process.

How Long Do I Age My Spirits?

There is no rule for ageing your spirits. This depends entirely on your own personal tastes. We recommend testing your aged spirits every week until it suits your taste. Use a wee dram glass to sample so you don’t get too tempted to drink the whole batch! Once you are happy with your aged spirit, decant it in to a glass bottle(s) to stop the ageing process. A small tabletop barrel has greater contact ratio than a professional 55 gallon barrel so can age spirits up to 10 times faster. It will vary depending on the size of your barrel, but a rough guide is that 1 month in our mini oak barrels is equivalent to 1 to 1½ years in a 55 gallon barrel.

How Do I Store My Ageing Barrel?

During ageing, it is best to store your barrel in a cool environment with a controlled temperature. The barrel needs to stay damp to minimise any evaporation. Keep out of direct sunlight. If you live in a warm and dry climate we recommend you wipe the exterior of the barrel with a damp cloth every week to stop it drying.

The Next Batch

Some of the flavours of your aged spirit will remain in the barrel (the Devil’s Cut), so consider this when using the barrel again. You may want to experiment with a previously used barrel to impart different flavours in to your next batch. Regular cleaning of your barrel will reduce its lifespan, so we recommend using separate oak barrels for separate spirits. Please see our Barrel Cleaning Guide for more information.

Ageing Barrel Help Topics

  • How to Cure an Ageing Barrel
  • How to Clean an Ageing Barrel
  • How to Store an Ageing Barrel
  • Ageing Barrel FAQs

Once you have the spirit ageing bug, you will want to dive back in and have another go. Drinking your spirit will take a lot less time than ageing it, so the sooner you start again, the sooner you can enjoy your spoils. Learn how to clean an ageing barrel to prolong its lifespan and maintain its effectiveness. When you have decanted your aged spirit from your barrel, how do you prepare for the next batch?

How often do I clean my barrel?

If you intend to age a different spirit in the barrel and don’t want to retain any flavours from the previous batch, then clean the barrel before using. Note that cleaning the barrel is not a guarantee of removing the flavours of the previous batch. We recommend using different barrels for different spirits. When using a barrel for the same spirit, there is no immediate need to clean it between batches. Cleaning your barrel will take away some of the charred surface and shorten its lifespan. We recommend you only clean the barrel every couple of years. With proper barrel care, your cask could last for 8 to 10 years.

Please Note: If you are using your barrel to age wine, beer, or low alcohol content spirits, we recommend cleaning after each batch. However, as mentioned before, this will reduce the lifespan of the barrel

How Do I Clean My Oak Barrel?

Please source a barrel cleaning/maintenance kit to clean your barrel, and follow all included instructions. A good barrel care kit will include:

  • Cleaning Tablets
  • Neutralising Acid
  • Sterilising Tablets

To clean your oak barrel, follow these simple steps.

  1. Fill the barrel with a solution of cleaning tablets and warm water
  2. Leave to soak for 24 hours
  3. Empty the barrel and rinse through 3 times
  4. Fill the barrel with a solution of neutralising acid and warm water
  5. Leave to soak for 15 minutes
  6. Empty the barrel and rinse through 3 times

These guidelines are a basic set of rules. Please refer to the cleaning solution instructions for the correct solution ratio and soaking times.

Re Charring

The charring of your barrel will slowly lose its effects with each batch and slow the ageing process in new batches. It is the charred surface that helps the spirit interact with the tannins and vanillin in the wood. Charring your barrel should be done every 2 to 3 years to maintain the lifespan and retain its effectiveness during ageing. To re-char your barrel, use a butane lighter with a flexible neck. Flexible lighters are available in hardware and camping stores for lighting campfires and barbeques.

How to Re-Char An Oak Barrel

  1. Remove the bung and spigot from the barrel
  2. Leave the barrel to air dry for 3 hours
  3. Insert a flexible butane lighter in to the spigot hole
  4. Ignite the lighter and slowly turn the barrel to add a fresh char
  5. Rinse the barrel to remove any loose debris
  6. Fill the barrel with a solution of sterilising tablets and water. Leave for a few minutes, then empty
  7. Rinse the barrel 3 times

Storing An Oak Ageing Barrel

If you don’t plan to use your barrel for a period of time, make sure to store it filled with water mixed with storing tablets. Store the barrel in a cool, temperature controlled environment. Empty and refill the barrel with a fresh solution of water and storing tablets once a month. Please see the respective storing tablet instructions for the correct solution ratio. When you are ready to use your barrel again, empty the storage solution and rinse 3 times with warm water.

Drinking a batch of aged spirits will take less time than making a new batch, so you will want to start again as soon as possible. But, if you don’t plan to use your barrel for a while, storing it correctly will keep it healthy and ready for when you want to use it again. Rule 1 of barrel ageing club: don’t let your barrel dry out! If looked after well, your oak barrel could last up to 8 to 10 years. Oak barrels must be stored with water to ensure they don’t dry out.

How Do I Store An Oak Barrel Between Batches?

Source a barrel cleaning kit, which will contain suitable storage tablets. Please see the respective storing tablet instructions for the correct solution ratio.

  1. Fill the barrel with a solution of storage tablets and water
  2. Store in a cool, temperate controlled area
  3. Once a month, empty and refill the barrel with a fresh solution of water and storing tablets
  4. When ready to use the barrel, empty the storage solution and rinse 3 times
  5. Follow our Barrel Cleaning Guide to retain the full effectiveness of your barrel.

My Barrel Dried Out, What Do I Do?

Letting the barrel dry out is a big no no, and you should ensure this doesn’t happen at all. But, if this unfortunate event has happened to you, there are some steps you can take to try and bring your barrel back to life.
Curing the wood is an essential part of ageing barrels, so start by going through the curing process again. The curing process will take longer this time around.
If your barrel still has leaks after curing, try submerging the barrel for a couple of days.
Leaving the wood to go dry can cause a build-up of bacteria. Make sure to sanitise the barrel use a solution of sterilising tablets and water.

What are the barrels made from?

All our barrels are made from high quality American White Oak. American white oak imbues a mellow, vanilla and caramel flavouring. This is most commonly used for ageing whiskies.

What does medium char mean?

Oak barrels get burned on the inside to toast or char the surface. This opens up the surface and creates vanilla and caramel flavours from the sugars in the oak. The carbon in the charred wood acts as a filter to mellow the alcohol for a smoother drink. There are 7 levels of charring, relating to the length of time the barrel is subject to the flames. Charring causes different chemical changes in the wood sugars. The grade of charring offers different qualities to the ageing process. Our medium charred barrels are level 4, meaning they burn for around 55 seconds. A no. 4 char is known as an “alligator char” due to the surface resembling an alligator’s skin. This is a common universal char level. Most distilleries will use a char level of 1 to 4. Char levels 6 and 7 are rarely used.

Are glues or nails used to make the barrel?

No glue, paraffin, or nails are used in our handmade barrels. Glue and paraffin could affect the flavours imbued by the wood. Nails could pierce the wood and cause leaks. When a barrel is cured, the swollen wood holds the parts together tightly, so there is no need for nails or screws.

My barrel has been delivered with loose hoops, what can I do?

Don’t worry, this can happen in transit. This is why you need to cure the barrel. Curing causes the wood to expand, seal up gaps and hold everything together.

What is curing?

Curing is preparing your barrel for use by soaking the wood. Barrels get cured for 2 important reasons. If your barrel is dry it will absorb your precious spirit, so letting it absorb water first reduces this loss. When the wood is soaked it expands, sealing any leaks and holding the barrel together.

How do I cure the barrel?

Curing your barrel involves filling it with water for up to a week, and monitoring it for leaks. Please see our Oak Barrel Curing Guide for more information.

How long will my barrel last?

If you look after your barrel, it could last for 8 to 10 years. Never let your barrel dry out, and follow our Oak Barrel Care Guide for full details.

Why is my barrel leaking?

A leaking barrel is normal. The curing process takes up to a week, and is essential to identify any leaks. When you find a leak in your barrel, apply some barrel wax to seal the hole. As the wood absorbs water during curing it will expand and naturally seal most gaps.

I have a big leak, what can I do?

Curing the barrel before use is very important to remove any leaks. If you find any large leaks during ageing you might have to re-cure the barrel and start again. See our Barrel Curing Guide for more information. Small leaks can be sealed with barrel wax.

What can I age in an oak barrel?

Oak barrels are commonly associated with ageing whiskies. Barrel ageing promotes experimentation so you are free to age any spirit that you would like to benefit from the American white oak profile. American white oak gives toasty, vanilla, caramel and coconut flavours, and a mellow finish to the sharp alcohol. Try ageing other spirits such as bourbon, rum, brandy, tequila, port and sherry. Cocktails based on high alcohol spirits can also benefit from ageing. For example, an Old Fashioned – a sweet cocktail based on whisky – will interact well with the vanilla and caramel flavours. You may even use an oak barrel to age beer, wine, vinegars and hot sauces. However, please note that the medium char on our barrels is not usually used for wine. We recommend sourcing a suitable guide for ageing these alternative options as they will have different requirements from the high alcohol spirits we reference throughout our guides.

How does an ageing barrel work?

When a spirit is stored in a barrel it interacts with the wood and takes on its characteristics. Charring the inside of an oak barrel brings out the vanillin, tannins and lactones and caramelises the wood sugars. Because charring opens up the surface of the wood it allows the spirit to interact more closely with these elements. Charred American white oak gives toasty, vanilla, caramel and coconut flavours. The charcoal on the inside of the barrel also acts as a filter for removing impurities in the alcohol. It’s the charcoal filtering that produces the mellowing effect for a smoother drink.

How long does it take to age spirits?

This is entirely up to your own preferences. You might enjoy a sharper spirit aged for only a week, or you might prefer a mellower spirit aged for a year. American white oak imparts a mellow finish and imbues vanilla and caramel flavours. The charcoal in the charred surface filters out the impurities of alcohol for a smooth drink. The longer a spirit is aged the more it will take on these qualities. Small barrels will age spirits up to 10 times faster than large distillery barrels. This is because our small tabletop ageing barrels have a higher surface area to content ratio. This lets the spirit interact with the wood faster. Sample your spirit every week until it suits your taste. Because the ageing process is relatively quick you might over-age your spirit so regular checks are essential. The ageing process will also take longer the more the barrel is used. Re-charring will help maintain the effectiveness of your barrel. See our Barrel Care Guide for more information.

What is the Angel’s Share?

The Angels Share is a term given to the portion of spirits that evaporate while in the barrel. Because ageing is a slow process, evaporation is a very natural occurrence. Curing your barrel is essential to retaining moisture and reducing the amount lost to the angels. Storing your barrel in cool damp conditions, like a cellar, will reduce the chance of evaporation. If you live in a warm, dry environment we recommend wetting the outside of the barrel to retain the moisture.

What is the Devil’s Cut?

The Devil’s Cut is a term for the portion of spirits that get absorbed in to the wood of the barrel. Absorption is expected during barrel ageing as wood is a porous material. Curing the barrel ensures the wood is already filled with moisture, so less of your spirit gets lost in the wood. The Devil’s Cut can be a useful tool for further batches of aged spirits. When the wood absorbs some of its contents, the qualities are imparted on the next batch. Some distilleries will age spirits in barrels previously used for wine or sherry. We recommend using different barrels for different spirits and flavour profiles. However, using the Devil’s Cut as an ageing tool can yield some unique results.

What is the sticky stuff on my barrel?

During ageing, natural evaporation occurs. The sugars from the alcohol are left behind on the surface of the barrel. This is normal, and even acts as a natural sealant. You can leave this on the barrel, or clean it off if you want to keep your barrel looking nice.

My spirit has “bits” in it, what are these?

After ageing for many weeks or months, it is normal for your spirit to take away some of the charred charcoal surface. This can be filtered out when decanting by using a fine strainer. The charcoal on the charred wood filters out the impurities and makes a smoother drink, so is an important part of the ageing.

How do I store my barrel?

Your ageing barrel must not dry out, so store it in a cool environment with a controlled temperature. If the barrel begins to dry out this can create new leaks, and will cause evaporation in your spirit. If you live in a warm, dry area, make sure to regularly wet the outside of the barrel with a damp cloth. Between batches, store your barrel filled with water so the wood does not dry out. See our Oak Barrel Storage Instructions for more information.

Should I rotate the barrel?

Rotating your barrel ensures the wooden staves equally absorb any liquid. This helps reduce the amount lost in evaporation. When you lose some spirit to the angels, this leaves air in the barrel. As a result, the staves at the top run the risk of drying out, which can cause leaks. These small tabletop barrels age spirits quicker than large distillery barrels so they will lose a lot less in evaporation. Rotating the barrel is not as necessary in these small barrels, but is a good practice to maintain.

My barrel has dried out, what can I do?

If your barrel dries out between batches, you have broken the first rule of barrel ageing – don’t let the barrel dry out! Try to revive your barrel by going through the curing process again. Read the full instructions in our Oak Barrel Curing Guide. If you still have leaks in your barrel after re-curing, try submerging your barrel in warm water for a couple of days. This will affect the overall look of your barrel, but is the best chance you have to repair the barrel. Please note that letting a barrel dry out can unfortunately put it at the end of its life. Sometimes re-curing a barrel won’t work.

How often should I clean my barrel?

If you are ageing the same spirit in subsequent batches, the barrel will not require cleaning between batches. If you intend to age different spirits with different profiles on each batch then you will need to clean after each batch. Please note that cleaning your barrel reduces its effectiveness and lifespan. We recommend having different barrels for different spirits.

How do I clean the barrel?

Barrel cleaning kits are readily available online. These will include dissolvable cleaning tablets, neutralising acid and sterilising tablets. See our Oak Barrel Cleaning Guide for more information.