An oak barrel needs to be cured before it can be used for aging. Curing can take up to a week but your success depends on it, so don’t skip this step!
It’s a simple process that involves soaking the wood and allowing it to expand. You’ll get a watertight seal since the swelling eliminates small gaps in the wood and gives the hoops a tighter grip. More importantly, it will help you identify any leaks—especially if your barrel is new.
Here are the steps:
- 1. Use a rubber mallet to insert the spigot.
- You’ll want to flush your barrel 3 times to remove any loose debris. Add water through the top hole and pour it out through the spigot.
- Now, fill your barrel with hot water. (Don’t stop, fill it all the way to the top.) Every part of the interior surface should come into contact with water.
- Insert the bung and place your barrel on a tray. Let it sit for at least 48 hours or up to 3 days.
- Got a leak? Top up with water and continue to let the barrel sit until it stops leaking. A small amount of barrel wax may also be applied where needed.
- No leak? Empty the barrel and give it a final cleanse by rinsing it out three times (see Step 2).
- Your barrel is now ready. (Next up: How to Barrel Age Your Spirits)
With proper care, your barrel should last you several batches. To prolong its life, use maintenance tablets after every 2-3 batches to sanitize the inside of your barrel and prevent mould (just be sure to rinse out your barrel a few times after this step).
Storing your barrel
Never let your barrel dry out between batches. Seriously. Never.
If you’re not ready to age your next batch, grab a glass of water and drop in the right number of maintenance tablets based on your barrel’s capacity:
- 1 tablet for our 1, 2 and 3 L barrels
- 2 tablets for 5 L
- 3 tablets for 10 L
- 5 tablets for 20 L
Once dissolved, pour the solution into your barrel and fill it completely with water. Store in a cool place and keep the exterior clean by wiping it down with a damp cloth.
If your barrel does dry out, repeat the curing process. If that doesn’t rescue your dried-out barrel, try submerging it in warm water for a few days; this might affect its appearance, but it may also help revive your barrel.