Preparation, preparation, preparation. Curing an oak barrel is an essential part of the ageing process. If you don’t cure the barrel it will leak and absorb your precious spirit.
To enjoy your aged spirits, you must first go through the process of barrel curing. 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 hand made in America, they have 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Top up the water after fixing any leaks
- Leave the barrel in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. We recommend placing on a drip tray to prevent damage to any surfaces
- Check for leaks periodically and apply barrel wax where needed
- Regularly top up the water to ensure all parts of the barrel absorb water
- The barrel is ready when it can hold water for at least 3 hours
- Once your barrel has stopped leaking, rinse it through 3 times
- Allow the barrel to dry for 3 hours before filling with your spirits
Your barrel is now ready to age spirits.
How to Barrel Age Spirits
Follow our simple guide to learn how to barrel age spirits. Our American white oak ageing barrels give a toasty, smooth, caramel flavour.
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 the supplied 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.
How to Clean an Ageing Barrel
Cleaning your ageing barrel can actually decrease its lifespan. Learn how to clean an ageing barrel the right way.
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.
- Fill the barrel with a solution of cleaning tablets and warm water
- Leave to soak for 24 hours
- Empty the barrel and rinse through 3 times
- Fill the barrel with a solution of neutralising acid and warm water
- Leave to soak for 15 minutes
- 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.
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
- Remove the bung and spigot from the barrel
- Leave the barrel to air dry for 3 hours
- Insert a flexible butane lighter in to the spigot hole
- Ignite the lighter and slowly turn the barrel to add a fresh char
- Rinse the barrel to remove any loose debris
- Fill the barrel with a solution of sterilising tablets and water. Leave for a few minutes, then empty
- 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.
How to Store an Ageing Barrel
The golden rule of barrel ageing is to never let your barrel dry out. Find out how to store your barrel effectively, ready for your next batch.
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.
- Fill the barrel with a solution of storage tablets and water
- Store in a cool, temperate controlled area
- Once a month, empty and refill the barrel with a fresh solution of water and storing tablets
- When ready to use the barrel, empty the storage solution and rinse 3 times
Follow our Barrel Cleaning Guide above 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.