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)
Never ever let your barrel dry out between batches. Seriously. If you’re not ready to use it yet, keep the cured barrel filled with water at all times to maintain its seal. Store it 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.
And never nail or screw the hoops into place. It will only damage your aging barrel, unless you’ve decided to use it for decorative purposes only.