Are you into aged liquors? If you love bourbons and other spirits coming from a barrel, there are a couple of things you should know. Here, we will go through barrels age and explain how it can affect the taste of the spirit.
Oak Tannins, Bragging Rights, a Sense of History, and Little Else
Have you ever wondered why the price of some drinks can be so high? It’s not rare to hear about a bottle of whiskey going for thousands of dollars. But what makes it so special? You probably saw labels on bottles saying how a drink is 20 years old. The majority of people believe how older means better.
Each drink will age differently. It’s not the same having a 40-year old bourbon and a 40-year old wine. It turns out that the majority of good whiskeys will start at around ten or twelve years. As you increase the age, the quality will improve. For example, eighteen or twenty-one-year-old Scotch is incredible.
But beyond that, the whole purpose is ruined. Over the years, the oak from the barrel will overpower the taste and everything else that you might find in the bottle. So, the primary idea would be to find a perfect spot for the Scotch.
If it’s too young, the taste might be a bit weak, but if you leave it too long, you might as well go on and suck an oak. While the prices of ancient bottles are quite high, it has more to do with things other than taste.
Someone might be into collecting things, and for them, this might be a piece of history. Each bottle has a story, and they might look for something that has a history on its own. No one buys a 50-year old Scotch to drink it. If they did, they’d be tasting only oak tannins, bragging rights, and a little bit of history.
Two Key Factors in Aging Spirits
To understand how to find a sweet spot of a spirit, you’ll need to know what the factors that will affect its aging are. There are two main factors of aging liquor — the barrel and the climate.
Now, there are no requirements as to how long the whiskey must age. It can be as little as three months and go up to decades. The reason why barrels are so important is due to the production process. Once the making process is over, the clear spirit will be placed in a barrel. This spirit is also known as “white dog.” Most commonly, barrels are made from American oak, and they will give the liquid recognizable color and taste.
The longer it stays in the barrel, the more it will affect the taste. Now, leaving the spirit too long in the barrel will ruin the taste, and it will make it bitter. Usually, new barrels will make it age faster, and the same can apply to heat.
While the lifespan of barrels is quite long, the companies today are using them only once. In the past, it was common for barrels to be reusable, but recent regulations prevented it.
As for the climate, heat can have a significant impact on the aging process. Naturally, everything is not black and white, and there are no universal rules that can apply to anything. The easiest way to notice if the aging process is done is to taste the bourbon and see for yourself.
Bourbon and Rum: Best Aged 5–12 Years
As we mentioned, the law states how bourbon must be made in brand new charred oak barrels. Consequently, it won’t take a lot of time for it to absorb the flavor from the oak. That also means that bourbon matures a lot faster compared to other spirits following a similar process.
The optimal age for bourbon is between five and twelve years. During this period, the immaturity of the white dog will be completely gone, and the spirit will have a unique flavor and taste. Naturally, if you leave it even longer, the quality will improve. However, the difference won’t be as significant. Some companies let the bourbon age even for twenty years, and it’s great. But going beyond the age of twenty-one is never a good idea.
A similar thing applies to vintage rum as well. Some manufacturers love mixing rum of different ages, but the golden spot seems to be between ten and twelve years.
Scotch Whisky: Best Aged 12–25 Years
Traditionally, Scotch is aging in used barrels. As a result, it will take longer to absorb the flavor and improve the taste. You can compare it to making tea. If you placed the same bag in boiled water, it would take a lot longer to get the flavor since there is a lot less flavor to draw out.
Additionally, Scotland has a humid climate, which will slow down the process of evaporation. Of course, getting the perfect taste is a bit trickier, and it mostly depends on what you’re trying to achieve. A safe spot is between twelve and twenty-five years. Of course, this only means that the spirit has stayed in the barrel for a specific amount of time. Once it is bottled, the aging stops.
Armagnac: Best Aged up to 50 Years
Finally, we should talk about cognac. Similar to rum, it’s often made with a blend of different ages. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a single vintage bottling that can be decades old.
Naturally, this won’t come cheap. But if you are looking to celebrate a special occasion, you might want to go for Armagnac. The reason why Armagnac can age for such a long time (longer than cognac) is that it is distilled once.
The aging process can take forty or even fifty years, and many manufacturers love using the same barrel over and over again. But even this ultra-aged spirit has its limit, and we wouldn’t recommend going over the fifty-year limit.