Oak barrel aging has many benefits, which is why you went ahead and bought a barrel for yourself. Your new wood whiskey barrel has just arrived and you can’t wait to pour in your spirits and start aging them. But wait! If you do, it will leak like a sieve and your precious spirits will end up all over your counter.
Well, shoot! Why does this barrel leak so much?
Simply put, new wooden oak barrels aren’t perfectly sealed when they first arrive. With so many pieces, it is very hard for even the best woodworkers to get a perfect seal. But this is why oak makes such a great wood for whiskey barrels (other than it’s flavor, of course). As the wood absorbs moisture, the wood begins to swell, the staves press against each other, and an air-tight seal is formed. The barrel charring process does the reverse and dehydrates the wood, making the barrel seem very leaky when it first arrives.
So, when the oak whiskey barrel arrives, you will want to make sure to re-hydrate or cure your barrel. In addition to helping seal the barrel, curing the barrel will also cause water to be absorbed into the oak rather than your precious alcohol. This is why we suggest curing your wooden whiskey barrel even if it doesn’t leak from the start. The process does take at least a couple days, but good things come to those who wait!
To cure your barrel:
- Place the spigot snugly into the hole in the head of the barrel. Usually, twisting it in by hand will be enough, but you can lightly tap it in if you’d prefer. Just don’t tap it too hard or you will dislodge the head of the barrel.
- If any of the hoops came loose during shipping or handling, now would be a good time to slide them down the barrel until they are secure. As the wood swells, they will become even more firmly seated.
- Fill your barrel with warm water and don’t worry, yes, barrels will usually leak at this point (so it is best to put it in a pan or sink to catch the water).
- Periodically, top the barrel up with more water. You will need to do this more frequently at first, and less frequently as the wood swells.
- After the barrel stops leaking (can take anywhere from 2-7 days) and there are no longer large damp spots on the outside of the barrel, you can drain the water from the barrel and fill it with your whiskey/rum/brandy/etc.
If there are any leaks that don’t stop after a couple days, there are probably larger pores in the oak that did not seal with the swelling. But have no fear! This can still be fixed. The best way to take care of this is to heat the area with a heat gun (or hair dryer if you don’t have a heat gun) to warm and dry the surface Then, drip some melted wax onto the leak and area surrounding the leak. You can use any type of unscented wax, but we prefer beeswax.
Aging time will vary depending upon the size of the oak barrels for whiskey you purchased. Large oak barrels have a longer aging time. For more information on the aging process, we highly recommend reading our page on Aging Your Own Whiskey, Moonshine, and Other Spirits..