Homebrewing is growing tremendously in popularity, including home barrel-aging for whiskey. While it’s a complex process, home barrel-aging is completely doable for the average person who’s willing to learn. You likely won’t be making huge batches, so it’s important to be patient and follow the steps to the letter. Create the best whiskey brew by following this guide.
Finding a Whiskey Barrel for Sale
Most distillers use larger barrels when making spirits, which are often a standard 53 gallons. These aren’t practical sizes for homebrewers, but a smaller boutique distiller can likely provide 10 to 15-gallon barrels that are great for home brewing.
However, you may have to shop around to find a small distiller willing to sell just one or a few barrels. Your distributor can help you pick the perfect barrel for your homebrew, but a charred white oak barrel is the best choice for whiskey.
The Brewing Supplies You Need
Once you find a barrel, there are just a few more materials you need to start homebrewing. For the base, you can use an already-aged whiskey, an unaged/white whiskey, a raw distillate, or a blend of any bases. You can also add charred white oak sticks or Infusion Spirals to your brew to speed up the aging process or add more flavor.
Finding A Homebrew Kit
Some distributors, retailers, or even breweries might also sell small-batch kits, including whiskey barrel age kits. So, instead of buying an individual barrel and gathering all the brewing supplies separately, you can get everything you need all at once—except for the alcohol or distillate. A typical homebrew kit will include a small barrel, barrel cleaning tools, and flavoring supplies.
Getting the Barrel Ready for Homebrewing
While you’re preparing the barrel, find a place to store it that’s away from any direct sunlight, as sunlight impacts the taste of your brew. The main thing you’ll need to do is swell the barrel, which helps prevent leaks. An easy way to do this is to fill the barrel with hot water and leave it for several days. During this process, it needs to be kept in a room temperature location, so the wood won’t over-swell.
How Long to Age Your Whiskey
Fill up the barrel with your choice of brew materials and get it close to the top while leaving a tiny pocket of air. Over time, the wood will transmit its flavor to your whiskey. About once a week, open the barrel for a few moments to let fresh air replace the trapped alcohol vapor.
Using a smaller barrel means your batches will age faster than those of commercial brewers because the wood-to-whiskey ratio is more in your favor. A raw distillate or white/unaged whiskey typically needs to age for 3-6 months. An already-aged whiskey should only need 1-2 months.
Packaging Your Brew
Once your whiskey is perfectly aged to your liking, get the canisters ready. Corks and glass bottles are ideal, but any air-tight container will do. If you added charred white oak sticks to your brew, use a cheesecloth to strain the brew first. Make sure it’s a caramel, golden, or dark brown color before you declare it’s ready for packaging.
Cleaning The Barrel
The average spirit barrel is good for two uses—after that, it won’t be able to give you the ideal flavors. If you are going to reuse your barrel, you will also need to clean and sanitize it before using it again.
Don’t use harsh chemicals or soap, as this can remove flavor or soften the wood. First, clean the barrel by taking it through several rinse cycles, then fill it with warm water and let it sit overnight. Then use steam, hot water, or a sterilizing solution to sterilize the barrel.
Good Presentation Is Everything
Even if you’re not planning to sell your homebrewed whiskey, it’s still an accomplishment to celebrate. Whip up some classic whiskey cocktail recipes and turn your homebrewing into a special event for your family and friends. Once it’s been aged and packaged, set up a beautiful display from Creative Barrel to unveil it.
Learn more about our custom barrel displays, including stain options and laser engraving, on the Creative Barrel website, or contact us with questions.