A good post on the impact of environmental conditions on barrel aging of whiskey

A nice, easily readable post for folks curious about whiskey over on DrinkSpirits this morning. It talks about barrel aging of whiskeys, the difference between Scotch and Bourbon aging, and how environment matters more than the number years in a barrel. Plus, empirical proof! The Buffalo Trace folks aged the same distillate for an identical length of time in three different locations in their aging warehouse, and got very different results which you can buy and taste for yourself.

Among the key points of the article:

  • Bourbon (i.e American whiskey) must be aged in new charred oak barrels, whereas Scotch is aged in previously used barrels, often bourbon barrels. Yes, we Americans ship a lot of our used barrels overseas for use in aging other spirits.
  • Bourbon usually reaches optimal flavor somewhere around 8 years, whereas Scotch takes several years longer.
  • Kentucky has much wider temperature variation than Scotland. Bigger temperature swings mean the whiskey expands/contracts more, thus passing through the wood in the barrel more.
  • Just because it’s aged longer doesn’t mean it’s better. You can over-age.
As you can imagine, the same environmental considerations apply to rum, which ages in a very hot Caribbean environment.
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