Barrel-aged spirits taste better and smoother than the alcohols in their raw form. Learning how to barrel age your own spirits at home is a great way to get spirits such as whiskey, tequila, or rum that taste and smell exactly how you like them.
Make custom cocktails at home using your very own barrel-aged spirits. It’s easier than you might think. What are your favorite spirits to keep on hand?
What are Spirits?
Most of your favorite cocktails come from the mixing of spirits with other flavors and ingredients (don’t forget the garnish, either!). There are six foundational spirits in most cocktails:
These spirits have unique flavors and characteristics that make them perfect for pairing with various flavors and ingredients in cocktails. Most often, they are delicious by themselves, too.
When these spirits, or alcohols, first come off the distiller, they taste raw, harsh, and intense (think moonshine or cheap vodka). To smooth their flavors and intensity, distilleries age spirits in oak barrels over long periods. The aging process for alcohol and other spirits adds flavor, complexity, and smooths the spirit’s rough edges to make it more desirable to the consumer.
While it’s illegal in almost all states to distill your own spirits (without a license), you can buy raw alcohol and age it yourself in mini oak barrels for home aged spirits. You can age single spirits or blended spirits for a custom old fashioned or Manhattan at home. You can even age other ingredients in oak barrels for custom sauces, vinegar, and sweeteners.
Barrel Aging at Home:
- Hot Sauces
- Soy Sauce
- Vinegar (apple cider vinegar, anyone?)
- Vanilla Extract
- Maple Syrup
- Custom Cocktails (Old Fashioned, anyone?)
Why Barrel Age Your Own Spirits at Home?
The DIY bandwagon is a long one for a reason. There is a certain inexplicable sense of satisfaction that comes from making things yourself. Hobbies create a sense of pride and joy that boosts your self-confidence and gives you something engaging and fun to do when you’re not hustling at your 9-5er all week. Plus who doesn’t want delicious cocktails while trying to unwind?
Some people love to share their hobbies with others. And others keep their fun to themselves (Whiskey lasts longer when you don’t share it with your neighbors).
Share your hobby for barrel-aged spirits and cocktails with friends and family members at:
- Dinner parties
- Backyard BBQ’s
- Sporting events
- And more!
Make your signature cocktail night even more enjoyable by making your signature mix with your very own barrel-aged spirit.
What does the Oak Barrel Do to Spirits?
You can buy most alcohol either aged or unaged. Vodka is typically the only spirit that is unaged and keeps its crystal clear appearance. Correct me if I am wrong, but something about aged vodka sounds unappealing.
Distillers used oak barrels as a necessary way to ferment and store alcohol during long trips from the distiller to its final destination. The distillers discovered that the oak barrels often changed the spirits’ flavor and color and changed them in a good way! The oak barrels added a fruity sometimes vanilla flavor and a golden color to the spirits they were storing and moving.
Freshly distilled alcohol can have a strong, intense flavor that is difficult for many people to enjoy. The oak barrels calmed down the alcohol’s flavor intensity and added a smoothness to the final product. The oak barrels added a unique color and aroma to the spirits that people found pleasing. Thus, the oak-aged process was born!
Barrel-aged Vs. Unaged Spirits:
How to Barrel Age Your own Spirits at Home:
Barrel aging your spirits is quite simple. All you need are a few supplies and a quiet cool place to store your barrel.
For this example, we are going to be making barrel-aged whiskey from Moonshine.
- 5 liter Oak Barrel, interior charred. This barrel comes with a stand, spigot, and bung (seal)
- 1-2 Gallons of your favorite Moonshine. About 1 1/2 gallons of Moonshine will fit inside your barrel.
- Time: Smaller barrels age whiskey more quickly. You’re looking at three weeks to three months to get the flavor and color you desire. Home aged spirits rarely take over a year.
Prep the Barrel:
It’s essential to prep your barrel before you pour your moonshine right in. Any new barrel or a barrel that hasn’t been used in a while will need to swell so that the liquid doesn’t leak from inside.
When you first get your new barrel in the mail, rinse it out. The inside of these barrels is charred to add flavor and color to your spirits. Pieces of charred wood and dust are likely inside your barrel. Rinse and swirl your barrel out with hot water.
Put in the spigot and fill your barrel with water. Seal the barrel with the bung or the seal on the top of the barrel.
Leave your barrel filled with water for 24-48 hours to allow the wood to swell and seal any gaps between in wood. Your barrel is sufficiently swelled when no water leaks from your barrel.
Rinse the Barrel Again:
After you’ve prepped your barrel, fill it halfway with water and swirl the water around inside the barrel and then dump it out. This final rinse gets out any remaining pieces of charred wood and anything else that may have fallen into your barrel.
Fill Your Barrel:
Once prepped and ready, filled your barrel with your chosen spirit. A 5-liter barrel will fit just under 1 1/2 gallons.
When you are ready to age spirits, be prepared to lose some volume to evaporation. With smaller barrels, the aging process works more quickly, so you will lose less liquid to evaporation.
Distillers call the alcohol lost in evaporation, the “Angel’s Share.”
Tasting Your Aged-Whiskey:
Wait at least two to three weeks before you start taking samples to taste. Once you get your whiskey to your preferred taste and color, it’s time to strain and bottle your spirit. It is possible to “over-oak” your whiskey, so it’s crucial to start tasting your whiskey after the first couple of weeks.
Bottling Your Aged Whiskey:
It’s impossible to tell how much of your whiskey you will lose to the angel’s share (evaporation), so be prepared to have less aged-whiskey than moonshine you started. If you started with 1 1/2 gallons, you’re likely looking at bottling a little bit under that.
We love these bottles for bottling and storing your home-aged spirits.
We Recommend that you fill your barrel right away with another spirit to age; otherwise, you have to start the swelling process over again when you are ready to age another spirit.
You can use an oak barrel 3-4 times before it loses its impact on flavoring your spirits.
How to serve barrel-aged whiskey?
First, you should try your barrel-aged whiskey by itself.
- Smell your whiskey
- Observe the color of your whiskey
- “Sip and Savor” by keeping a small amount of whiskey in your mouth for a moment and then taking another small sip.
- Take note of the aftertaste after you swallow the whiskey.
- Add Ice: Ice will cool and slightly dilute the whiskey, giving you a chance to notice your whiskey’s more subtle flavors.
Can you barrel age cocktails?
Once you’ve aged your first batch of whiskey, bourbon, or tequila, it might be time to try a blend of a cocktail. Some popular barrel-aged cocktails include:
- Old Fashioned