Aging Barrel Care FAQ

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

How to cure wood barrel

Curing your aging barrel is a necessary process to preserve the oak, keep bacteria away, keep odors out and maintain freshness. Upon purchase, you must cure wood barrel. Curing completes two functions:

  • It allows the barrel to swell to prevent leaking. You do not want your barrel to dry out as this is a primary cause of leaking.
  • It limits the amount of alcohol absorbed by the barrel. This is especially important for wine making as repeated use for different spirits in different years is not affected by flavors potentially absorbed by the wood.

Begin by placing the appropriate number of storing tablets (see below) in the barrel and fill the barrel half way with boiling or very hot water. Allow it to soak for 6-12 hours. Water may leak from between the staves or at the barrel head seam. This is normal and should stop within 24 hours as the wood swells. You may repeat this process 3-4 times.

Sometimes, when a wooden window is in a larger barrelhead, barrel wax (see below) must be used to seal the frame. Barrels that do not leak should STILL be cured for 3 days. This will minimize the amount of alcohol absorbed by the barrel staves and is necessary to keep the wood hygienic. After curing the barrel (there is no leaking at all), empty the solution and rinse with cold water 3 times.

If your barrel is big, use a hose to rinse your barrel thoroughly and remove any residue and odors, the cold water will refresh your barrel. Allow your barrel to air out a few hours. It is best to air out your barrel on a clear, dry day, not rainy. Now fill the barrel with your spirit and place the bung in tightly. …Enjoy!

Sealing Process

Usually sealing needs for the end parts of rivets (here the capillaries of oak are completely opened because the rivet is cut off as it has to correspond to standard length); joint of rivets and bottom; a few inches of the bottom in a circle on both sides of the barrel.

Sealing is more often done with oil paint or varnish. This is a preventive measure that is always performed for reliable long-term storage of wine and reduction of beverage losses due to possible capillary impregnation (because over time the drink penetrates deep into the rivet, gets to the capillary bundles that are open on both sides of the rivet) and excessive evaporation of the liquid (it is through the protruding end part of the rivet that the greatest losses of the beverage occur).

Storing your Barrel

When storing your barrel between uses, always keep the barrel filled with a sterilized water solution. This will keep the barrel from drying out and keep bacteria from growing in the barrel. We suggest using Swish Barrel Storing Tablets.

Swish Barrel Storing Tablets are pre-measured doses of sulfites formulated to kill bacteria and inhibit the growth of wild yeast and microbes in the barrel. When storing or cleaning your barrel between uses, dissolve the appropriate quantity of tablets in a container of water. Pour this mixture in the barrel and fill the barrel completely with additional water. Store in cool damp conditions if possible. Rinse your barrel 3 times prior to use.

Barrel Wax

This product may be useful if you are re- using a barrel that may have dried out. Of course, you should follow the instructions for curing a barrel. If your barrel still leaks at the head or stave seams or even through the wood, you may need Barrel Wax. This can happen to any barrel and is a normal part of the barrel aging process. To stop leaks (when you’ve cured 3-4 times without complete success), apply a small amount of Barrel Wax to the leaking area. Sometimes spigots may leak around the fitting to the oak barrel itself, barrel wax solves this problem easily.

How to clean a aging barrel

Wooden Barrels should be cleaned after every use; from fermentation to aging, and when changing to a different spirit. There are several options to cleaning your aging barrel. In this process, you are looking to get rid of anything that would contaminate your spirite. Remember, a barrel is the same thing as a secondary fermentor.

Sanitize like a fermentor

You can put a typical no rinse sanitizer into a barrel like what you would do with a fermentor and let it sit for awhile. This will kill most things on the surface of the barrel and if your leave it sit for long enough, it will absorb into the wood killing things that are deeper. It will not get rid of anything, nor will any of these methods.

Campden Tablets

Campden tablets are usually used in wine making. They kill pretty much everything that they come in contact with.

Potassium Metabisulfite Powder

This is the active ingredient in campden tablets and I did not pick it for the same reasons.

Hot Water

Heate 15 gallons of water up to 170 degrees and then poured it into the barrel with the help of a funnel. Then seale the barrel up and left it sit there for 30 minutes. You will neutralize anything on the surface and to also check for leaks. The hot water allows the wood to swell quickly, ensuring that any leak would be plugged more quickly.

To clean the barrel, you can also use a Swish Barrel Cleaning Kit and follow the directions below…

Barrel Cleaning Instructions

1) Dissolve the Barrel-Kleen into 1-2 gallons of warm water. Fill the barrel with this cleaning solution and soak for 24 hours, rolling the barrel or swishing it in your hands so the Barrel-Kleen comes in contact with the entire interior of the barrel. Empty and rinse 3 times with hot water.

2) Dissolve the Neutralizing Acid into 1-2 gallons of warm water. Fill the barrel with this neutralizing solution and soak for 15 minutes. Again, rolling the barrel or swishing it so the liquid comes in contact with the entire interior of the barrel. Empty and rinse 3 times with hot water.

3) When storing the barrel or prior to re-use, dissolve the 2 sterilizing tablets in 1 -2 gallons of cool water. Fill the barrel with the solution. Roll or swish the barrel around for a few minutes and rinse 3 times with hot water. To prevent the barrel from drying out and to minimize the possibility of contamination, barrels should always be stored full with wine, spirits or sterilizing solution.

Barrel Spigot Brush

Barrel spigots may collect sediment from your spirit. This can add unwanted flavors to spirit poured through the spigot. To keep your spigot clean, remove the spigot from the barrel. Insert your spigot cleaning brush through the spigot barrel and twist it around a couple of turns. Remove the nozzle and do the same.

For best results, use a storing tablet cleaning solution. This will insure that no soap residue will remain in the spigot.

Our customer’s real cases

  1. We received the order a week ago. I really liked everything: good woodwork, fast shipping. The oak barrel was unpacked, placed in the kitchen, not filled with anything, as it was planned to prepare it and pour the drink later. A week later, cracks appeared in the barrel between the rivets. Why?
    During the conversation with the client, we learned that the temperature in the room where the barrel was stored was higher than 26°C, and the relative humidity was very low. The barrel for drinks is not furniture, it is a specific vessel that requires proper storage conditions.
    The oak item your order at our store is packed in a polyethylene film. Before the first filling with liquid store cooperage products, keep it carefully wrapped in polyethylene. The film will protect the empty oak container from drying out if you have insufficient humidity (less than 75%) and high temperature (above +16°C).
  2. We bought an oak barrel for alcohol storage. Prepared it according to the instructions (steamed, soaked for 3 weeks with water). When alcohol was poured, the drink eventually began to flow at the ends of the rivets.
    Later we learned during a conversation that the client left the end parts of the rivets without processing. Sealing the end parts of the rivets is mandatory. It is performed before the process of steaming the barrel while it is dry.

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