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scotch/whiskey barrel/kit? (making, aging, storing)

i'm looking into getting my husband a whiskey/scotch barrel for his birthday but am confused by the options i have. please help!

i'll be the first to admit that i know very little about spirits. my husband enjoys scotch and has joked about getting a barrel imported and engraved to age here at home. well i'd like to get a custom barrel engraved with his name, but i'm don't understand how these barrels work.

it seems you can actually MAKE whiskey/scotch in them? is this really possible? i've visited distilleries in scotland, and it seems much more complicated than adding essence to grain alcohol.

ideally the barrel i get for him would be multi-purpose - storing his current bottles of scotch for fun presentation/dispensing when we have guests, aging whiskey/scotch if he chooses, and then making it if he's really ambitious.

any thoughts? i came across this link (http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/201...) as a start but am focusing on the options where i can custom engrave his name, like this: http://www.mancavegifts.com/personali...

would be good to understand what exactly one can really do with one of these barrels, as it's not too clear to me from the descriptions.

thanks, hounds!

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  1. A lot of the whisky distilled in Scotland is actually aged in used Bourbon barrels that are shipped over from the distilleries in Kentucky. You might as well contact the distilleries there.

    I think the notion of making/aging your own whisky is a little farfetched. Any whisky worth drinking would need to be aged at least 3 to 5 years or much longer. Would your husband really want to wait that long?

    There are a number of artisanal distilleries making malt whisky that have spring up in the U.S. in the past 5 to 10 years. You might want to contact a couple of them.

    http://www.thedailymeal.com/25-top-cr...

    3 Replies
    1. re: DavidT

      Just to clarify, are you interested in buying an empty barrel or a barrel full of whisky that has been distilled in Scotland and is already being aged?

      1. re: DavidT

        i'm probably more interested in buying an empty barrel and giving my husband the choice of what to do with it, whether that's making his own scotch whiskey or just filling it with scotch he already has as a novelty (although i'm guessing that would affect the flavor of whatever he ends up putting in it??)

        thanks!

      2. re: DavidT

        i heard that the smaller the barrel, the faster the aging since there is more surface area exposure. so if i got him a 1-2L barrel, the aging can happen quite quickly.

        anyway, thanks for the link - i will check it out!

      3. There are a number of companies that make whiskey aging kits. They usually come with a small barrel and a bottle or two of unaged whiskey. You pour the bottles into the barrel and let it age on your own. How good they are, I can't tell you (though I'm not optimistic). There are also some companies that sell oak pieces you can stick in a bottle of unaged whiskey to age it.

        I think the whole thing is mostly gimmick. From a tasting perspective, I'd rather have my whisky aged for me by the pros.

        1. As a distiller I have to honestly say, don't do it. The kits are just gimmicks. I personally know some of the distilleries selling those kits, and it's a fun thought, but...

          Using a small barrel doesn't age/mature the spirit, it just flavors it with a rough, charred wood taste. The flavor of spirits aged in a small barrel is unmistakeable, and I can instantly recognize it in blind tastings. You need a full size (53 gallon) barrel to actually age a spirit, and 2-5 years. Plus there is the whole black mold issue, where it grows in buildings that have barrels of spirits aging, due to evaporation of the spirits from the barrels.

          Anything under a 30 gallon barrel isn't really effective. The few spirits that are commercially aged in smaller barrels (five to ten gallon) are made specifically for this, and few are actually any good. I won't go into the details about distilling "cuts", "heads", "hearts" and "tails", "angels share", and the science behind these colloquial terms as it pertains to removal of toxins, breakdown of volatiles, oxidation, maturation, etc.

          As for buying a actual, real barrel, and aging it yourself, it's illegal unless you are a distillery; and would cost you around $6,000-$10,000+ if you could source it.

          Now if you want to get one of those tiny, little, micro barrels you linked to, for the fun of it, go ahead. But don't expect it to make a good whiskey. You can put a inexpensive whiskey (or vodka, unaged "white" whiskey, etc.)bought from the store in it, and get some added flavor, if you only do it for a few weeks. Otherwise it over extracts flavor and gets pretty bad tasting. The rule of thumb is 2-4 weeks for any barrel under 1 gallon size. And 4-8 weeks for 2-3 gallon barrels. I do like using small barrels to "age" a good, boozy, cocktail like a manhattan or negroni, that doesn't have citrus or other non-booze ingredients. Same aging times as above.

          http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/201...

          10 Replies
          1. re: JMF

            JMF - this is super helpful! sounds like i'd be paying for just the novelty aspect, which is fine, but good to know. i did learn about angel's share, cuts, heads, etc. while in scotland, which is why i was so skeptical that something like this could work.

            you mention something interesting to me… my husband LOVES negronis. i didn't know you could age cocktails like this. after 2-4 weeks in a small barrel, would you just take the leftover negroni out and store in a bottle so it doesn't overage? and then would it last indefinitely? thanks for your help!

            1. re: jen223

              Yes, re-bottle it and it lasts forever. It will still continue to change slightly over time since the proof is lowered and lots of complex flavors have been brought together. The cocktail becomes less "bright" and more subtle. Some people really like aged cocktails, some don't. I've had some that were over 12 years old, when I got a grant to travel and work for a short while at Drink Factory, a cocktail lab in London owned by Tony Conigliaro who also owns 69 Colebrook Row. He sells his vintage aged cocktails there. An amazing bar. Very small, but considered one of the best in the world, winning that award a few years ago.

            2. re: JMF

              Hi JMF,

              "As for buying a actual, real barrel, and aging it yourself, it's illegal unless you are a distillery; and would cost you around $6,000-$10,000+ if you could source it."

              Can you explain this a bit more? A quick Google search seems to indicate something a bit different. (Not illegal; why would it be? And under $300 for a barrel.)

              Here's one of the sites that came up:

              http://www.kentuckybarrels.com/wholeb...

              I'm especially interested in this because some friends are planning to go to a place in KY this summer to distill their own barrel of rye. They were quoted around $1400 for the whole thing, including grain, fermentation, distillation, barreling, four years of aging, and bottling. Surely the barrel can't cost $6,000 in this equation!

              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                I was talking about getting a full size 53 gallon barrel of good stuff, a "honey barrel." I've never heard of full size barrels of whiskey selling for anything like $1400. A barrel of 4 yr old whiskey would have around 235-245 750 ml. bottles in it.That's based on a 2-2.5% angels share a year. Let's do the math with an assumed 240 bottles.

                Bottles run around $0.85-$1.50 each when you buy a pallet load minimum. Labels cost $0.25-0.50 each. with two per bottle. Let's say the bottles are $1 each and labels $0.50 each, for 240 bottles that would be $360. Several folks needed to do the work of several hours, bottling and labeling, but we won't include that. Just the whiskey would be $4.30 a bottle, with label and bottle and bottling it would be $5.83. No way does that compute unless its rotgut. That $5.83 would be around $9.85 retail. 30% profit for the distributor and 30% profit for the retailer.

                A distillery did a special barrel deal for a group of 25-30 bartenders and it was coming out to $30 a bottle, for excellent stuff. One of those honey barrels that usually sell for $100 a bottle. That price came out to around $6-7000 a barrel. There was more angels share due to much longer aging.

                1. re: JMF

                  Okay, I didn't realize you meant a full barrel. Thought you were referring to just the barrel, empty.

                  I'll have to double-check that price with my friends. The setup they described is that they'll go to KY (Louisville), and on Monday they'll go to the place, crack the grain, and mash. Then they'll hang out for a few days and tour some distilleries or whatever. Later in the week they'll go back and run the pot still, put the result into a barrel in a warehouse. Four years later they'll come back and bottle the result.

                  How much do you think that should cost? I was thinking of joining them :-)

                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                    I'd be interested to hear which distillery it is, and the barrel size, and the cost.

                    1. re: JMF

                      I realize this is DIFFERENT, but -- being in California -- the only program I'm familiar with is that of Germain-Robin (see http://caddellwilliams.com/catDetail....)

                      / / / / /
                      INDIVIDUAL 9-LITER CASK. Tonnellerie Vicard in Cognac hand-crafts these 12-bottle casks, using wood from old cognac barrels. These are serious items, and will last for decades. A cask holds one case of brandy, and it bears a numbered brass nameplate.

                      These casks actually work — the brandy continues to age, becoming richer and more harmonious (at a much faster rate than in a standard 350-liter cognac barrel). After just 6 weeks, the brandy inside becomes noticeably deeper. Many customers create an individual blend by combining two or more brandies in the cask.

                      It’s best to have a reasonably cool and not too dry a place to keep the cask, so as to minimize the significantly increased evaporation that occurs when you age brandy in a small cask. It’s $250 for the empty cask, plus the cost of the brandy you choose to put in it. The casks make a striking and impressive gift. Talk to Germain-Robin about what you want on the nameplate and about which brandies to fill it with: (707) 468-7896. Casks must be filled within 24 hours of receipt.

                      call Germain-Robin to arrange $250.00
                      / / / / /

                      1. re: zin1953

                        I'll have to chat with my friend Joe about that. He's the Director Of Production/Distiller at Alambic, Inc/Germain-Robin Distillery.

                      2. re: davis_sq_pro

                        Sounds like a great way for a beginning distillery to make money and get their name out.