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Howdy folks, I’m Jeff from Moonshine Distiller, and welcome back for another hearts episode. This time we’re going to be talking about the different ways you can age and flavor your spirits. Typically, most whiskeys are aged with oak, and you’ve got two ways of doing this. The cheaper and easier way is toasted oak chips. The more expensive and time-consuming way is aging it authentically in an American oak barrel. All of the barrels here at Moonshine Distiller are American white oak, and they’re hand-made and charred with a number 3 charred finish on the inside.
The main difference between oak chips and an oak barrel is the complexity and flavor you’re going to get. With an oak barrel, they make it, they leave one of the heads intact on one side, and they shoot a big flame in there, which chars the inside. As you can imagine, this leaves a gradient of char and toasted oak, from completely charred on the inside of the barrel, to completely untoasted oak on the outside of the barrel. This kinda gives you the whole spectrum of complexity, because as the oak is toasted in different temperatures, different compounds are produced. Some temperatures will give you that toasty flavor, some temperatures will give you the vanillins (that bourbon is so common for), and the char on the outside will actually help remove some of the impurities.
Oak chips, on the other hand, are a little bit less complex. Since they’re so thin, they’re toasted at one level all the way through. So, depending upon the toast level, you’re going to get mostly vanillins, or mostly that toasty flavor, and it’s just not going to be as complex as an oak barrel will be. However, for a lot of spirits like moonshine or just something simple, especially if you’re going to be mixing it with coke or fruit juice or anything, that oak chip flavor will be just fine. However, if you’re looking to make something you want to sip neat or on the rocks, I would highly recommend one of our oak barrels.
The oak barrels, on the other hand, do take a little bit more time. The oak chips, you really only need a week or two. The barrels, depending upon the size, can take anywhere from a couple of weeks, all the way up to several months. As the barrel gets bigger, the surface area to volume ratio actually decreases. So with small barrels, you have a lot more surface area for the amount of liquid you have inside. This causes it to absorb that oak flavor much more rapidly. As the barrel gets bigger and bigger, it takes more and more time for that oak to impart its flavor into the spirit, because the spirit will have to soak farther into the oak to absorb more flavor.
Additionally, with oak barrels, some care and preparation is needed. When they arrive to you, they’ll probably arrive very dehydrated, since they’ve been stored here in our dry Colorado climate (in addition to the charring process, which also drys them out). To cure your barrel, you’re going to need to soak it in water. A lot of people either just add water (which will probably drain out like a sieve in the beginning), or they can completely submerge it in a trash can or large plastic barrel. As the oak absorbs that water, it’s going to swell and actually seal everything shut. Usually, most pinhole leaks in the barrel will stop within a couple of days. However, we recommend that you let it sit with the water for about 7 days to make sure it’s sealed completely.
In the case that your barrel does have a larger hole in it, and does not seal after 7 days, there’s a couple of options. The first is to take a small toothpick and shove it into the hole. Alternatively (and this is the approach I typically use), you can heat up the wood with a hair dryer or heat gun, and then you can drip a little bit of candle wax wherever it’s leaking. Usually, if it is leaking, it’s around the seam here by the head of the barrel. So what I’ll do is I’ll either take a blow torch or a heat gun, heat that area so the wood will absorb the wax readily, and then just take a lit candle and slowly drip wax on the area. Just a little bit of wax is all you need, preferably from an unscented candle, and it should completely seal the barrel for you.
Lastly, sometimes the barrels arrive with these metal bands out of place and loose. All you need to do is take a screwdriver, set the barrel flat on the table, and slide the ring back to where it’s snug, and then using the screwdriver, slowly tap it down with a hammer until it sits snugly in place. As long as it’s snug when the barrel is dry, as soon as you get that barrel wet, again that wood’s going to swell and it will hold everything together nice and tight for you.
So that about sums it up folks, thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you next time..