Historically barrel ageing started from a long established tradition to store spirits in the wood barrels as they travelled long distances causing a change of colour, aroma and flavour which was able to persist until today.
Why Do we age spirits?
Aged spirit has more enjoyable flavour and aroma, ageing softens the burn of alcohol, smoothing out and integrating flavours together.
6 Factors which influence barrel ageing
1, Type of Wood
There are typically 2 types of wood barrel used today
American Oak (fuller taste, oaky flavour, sweeter taste with hints of vanilla and caramel)
French Oak (more complex, hint of spice and more tannins)
2, Char Levels
This is basically degree to which distillers char oak barrels before filling it with spirit intended for maturation.
Lightly Charred – Toasted flavours
Heavily Charred – Spicy, Smoky flavours
3, Size of Barrel
Smaller barrel imparting the flavours much faster than bigger one which can be formulated in the surface area to liquid ratio.
4, Efficiency of Barrel used
The new oak barrel is gonna work much more quickly to impart flavours than the one used for second or third time. Also, the flavours of spirit or cocktail used in the previous barrel are gonna have the impact on the one being aged in the same barrel for the second time. Irish or Scottish whiskies can be aged in used barrels such as those previously used for bourbon or sherry ageing.
5, Temperature and climate
Temperature and climate influence the amount of ethanol and water which evaporates from the barrel during maturation. Barrels which are stored in humid conditions lose a greater proportion of alcohol than those stored at the less humid areas.
6, Time of ageing
Time seems to be the most unpredictable factor in terms of barrel ageing and the product can change from good to bad in the matter of days or years. Although most of the changes occur in the first year of ageing and after some time ageing stops completely with no further effect on the product.