Using Whiskey Barrels to Age Beer, Wine, and Spirits

Aging your beer, wine or whiskey in oak barrels can elevate the rich flavors into something more than when it started. Yes, you can age in stainless steel or even glass vessels; this will allow the wine or whiskey to mature and give time for the remaining solids to drop out but it will not impart any warm, smoky or vanilla flavours.

Barrel aging allows for the slow oxygenation of the liquid, smoothing out the tannins and rounding out the harshness, while introducing the character of the wood into the beer, wine or whiskey. American oak is the most popular wood used in North America. It brings a rich vanilla flavor to the table and yet allows the underlying notes of your wine or spirit to shine through.

Whiskey Barrels to Age Beer = Interesting Flavors Ahead!

Beer Barrel

Using whiskey barrels to age beer is not a new phenomenon. The first instances of beer being placed in whiskey barrels wasn’t to age it perhaps, but to ship it. In fact, the origins of the famed India Pale Ale (IPA) hark back to needing a method to preserve the beer during the long passage from England to India. A higher alcohol content, added hops, and barrels were the key to satiating many an Englishman’s thirst in the colonies.

Choosing The Right Barrel For Your Beer

When it comes to home brewing beer and aging it yourself, it’s important to select a barrel that will complement the beer flavors rather than overpowering or even opposing the natural undertones of the beer.

Generally, choose a bourbon barrel or whiskey barrels for darker, richer beers such as stouts, porters, and brown ales. These barrels would also be good for experimenting with IPA’s to see how the hoppiness balances with the charred, smoky, and vanilla flavors the wood imparts.

Using a wine barrel in place of a beer keg is a great choice for lighter ales, red ales, wheat ales and moving into barley wines also. The fruity flavors of the residual wine and the toasty vanilla flavors of the wood work well with these beer resulting in a more rounded flavor profile and a deeper complexity.

It’s really all up to the brewmaster though; they are ultimately in charge and can mix and match barrel types and beer styles to come up with all kinds of interesting flavors.

Elevate Your Wine Making Process: Use Whiskey Barrels Instead

It’s true that it’s usually wine barrels that are used to age whiskey, and not the other way around but there’s no reason why, during the wine making process, you can’t switch it up and use whiskey barrels during your wine making.

You’ll need a full bodied wine to take on the power of the whiskey; think Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than Pinot Noir or Gamays. Experiment to see which wines are best in whiskey barrels and which are better in scotch or bourbon barrels. Also, switch up the time spent in the barrels to find the perfect combination of barrel, time, and varietal to elevate your wine making to a whole new level.

Innovative Wine Makers Are Turning To Whiskey Barrels

There are some wine industry leaders who are innovating their approach to aging wine also.

Southern Belle Shiraz out of Australia first took the leap in 2008, convincing wine makers to age some of their valued stock in whiskey barrels to create a ‘heady, fruit-driven bomb of a wine, with a nose full of vanilla and a spine cobbled out of…oak’.

Jacob’s Creek released a Cabernet Sauvignon in 2012 that had been aged in Irish Whiskey barrels. They are careful to use well aged barrels to allow only the subtler flavors to come through thus not overpowering the wine but instead elevating it to a new and interesting flavor profile.

Yes, You Can Age Your Own Whiskey And Other Spirits

Many people don’t realize that, even if you’re not interested in home distilling, you can still age your own whiskey and other spirits. Although the whiskey you’re buying at the store has already gone through an aging process in an oak barrel, you can add even more depth of flavor and complexity by continuing the process at home.

Whiskey Barrel

Convenient Sizing Makes Home Aging Possible

Most whiskey barrels for home use are conveniently smaller so you don’t have to worry about aging tens of liters of spirit at any one time. You can get the same smoky flavors and vanilla undertones from a small dispensing barrel as most of them have a toasted inside just like their larger counterparts.

The best part about the dispenser option is that you can taste the change in the spirit as you continue to enjoy it. Each glass will be different from the last; keeping a tasting journal will help you find the optimum time in the cask for your taste.

Wine, whiskey, and beer masters have been using whiskey (and other) barrels to impart flavor into their spirits for hundreds of years. It’s a deep history that you, too, can enjoy and experiment with to elevate your next batch to a whole new level.