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May 4, 2013
Last updated

How to Make Your Own Aged Whiskey

Owner of Clawhammer Supply

Barrel Aged Whiskey

How to Age Whiskey

Barrel aging offers many benefits. It is responsible for much of the flavor found in aged spirits. It also makes spirits much more palatable by removing some of the chemicals that make whiskey taste "hot" or "harsh."

To spot aged whiskey, all you need to do is evaluate the color of the spirit, which is easy to do since almost all whiskey bottles are clear. Aged whiskey can be golden colored to caramel, to dark brown.

The color of whiskey is confusing to a lot of people. You see, most folks think that "white whiskeys" are clear because they're made with a different process than colored spirits. That's only partially true. Yes, the typical recipes for all types of spirits vary, but the actual production process and ingredients are very similar, and in some cases, exactly the same.

Brown whiskey (everything from Jim Beam Bourbon to Jameson Irish Whiskey) comes off the still as clear as mountain spring water when it's initially produced. That's right, initially, all whiskeys look exactly like a white whiskey right out of the still. It isn't until whiskey is aged in wooden barrels that it takes on darker colors. 

Before we move on, a reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits. Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.

Why is Whiskey Aged?

Why is whiskey aged? Well, similarly to many other longstanding traditions, the practice of barrel aging grew out of necessity. Early producers and transporters of wine used wooden barrels to ferment and then ship their products. Though, the practice has withstood the test of time because, coincidentally, long term storage in barrels has a positive effect on the character and smoothness of most alcoholic beverages. Early consumers of these beverages noticed that (typically) the longer the beverages had been stored in barrels, the better they tasted. Thus, the demand for barrel aged wine and spirits was born.

What Happens During Aging?

During the storage period changes in temperature and humidity cause alcohol to be pushed into and sometime sucked out of out of the wooden walls of aging barrels. As this natural ebb and flow occurs the alcohol is gently filtered by the wood. Some of the whiskey (typically lighter and more volatile compounds) actually evaporate through the wooden container walls (which is called the angels share). At the same time, vanillins and tannins are extracted from the wood and impart their unique flavor and color to the whiskey. The cumulative effect of the intricate process of barrel aging is a final product that has more character and less bite than the clear, fiery spirit that went into it.

How to Age Whiskey

There are two ways to age whiskey at home. The most traditional method of DIY whiskey aging is to purchase or build a charred white oak barrel. To prep a barrel to be used for aging, make sure to first fill it with warm water and leave it sit until the wood swells enough to prevent leaking between the staves. The hydration process could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. It's very important that you do this to prevent your spirits from leaking out of the barrel when you initially fill it. Once hydrated, drain the water then fill it with clear, un-aged store-bought whiskey and leave it sit for a couple of weeks. Remember, it's illegal to distill your own alcohol for consumption without a distilled spirits permit. But no need to fret, there are plenty of un-aged whiskey options to be found at any liquor store.

oak aging stickThe easiest way to accomplish aging is to add charred American white oak sticks or shavings to a jar or bottle of spirits (such as the product picture to the right). The charred wood will naturally absorb and release spirits contained within the vessel, allowing the wood to impart its flavors to the spirit. However, this method will not allow the volatile compounds to escape by forcing their way through the container walls (as happens during traditional barrel aging). Accordingly, one must regularly open and close the vessel in order to allow trapped alcohol vapor to escape and be replaced by air. 

How Long Does Oak Aging Take?

Fantastic results can be achieved in a relatively short amount of time with home aging. This is because the surface to liquid ratio of DIY aging kits is much higher than that of barrels. The commercial whiskey industry ages their product in 53 gallon barrels to achieve a better economy of scale. In small batch aging using oak sticks in a small container there is more wooden surface area in contact with the whiskey. It's less efficient from a materials standpoint (which is why commercial distilleries age in 50+ gallon barrels) but much more efficient from a time and aging standpoint. All of that extra surface area rapidly accelerates aging of the spirits. Aged perfection that takes years to achieve in 53 gallon barrels can be accomplished in a matter of days/weeks with charred oak sticks.

The benefits of aging can be negated if too much of the wood flavor is imparted to the whiskey. "Over oaking" your spirit is a definite possibility. Every few days or weeks, a small sample should be drawn from the vessel to ascertain quality of aging. Once the whiskey has achieved the color and smoothness of your liking, transfer it to a glass bottle or jar for long term storage.

Kyle Brown is the owner of Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company which he founded in 2009. His passion is teaching people about the many uses of distillation equipment as well as how to make beer at home. When he isn't brewing beer or writing about it, you can find him at his local gym or on the running trail.

  • An excellent way to rapid age spirits is to add wood staves to 750 ml bottles or 1.5 l bottles and leave them in the trunk of your car (assuming most of us drive a lot). the movement of the car and the vibrations assists in the aging process and the temperature differences from night to day, depending on time of year, also helps a lot.

    Posted by TwelvevltMAN on April 14, 2023
  • Good content. I just started aging bourbon in 2 liter charred oak barrels. I beefed up the 80 proof ten high sour mash to 90 and 100 proof. Also used toasted and lightly charred seasoned oak with 110 and 120 proof in mason jars. I used everclear grain alchohol. Anyone have any tips would be appreciated

    Posted by on January 30, 2023
  • if you are lucky enough to have a boat one can place the bottle of whiskey containing the oak chips ( or if you’re cheap you can use corks) in the boat for a few months. the constant rocking seems to help the aging process and makes the whiskey (Bourbon in my case) smoother.

    Posted by Al on November 13, 2021
  • Missouri has To Be The Best State For Home Distillers. We’re allowed to make 200 Gallons of Shine per Calendar year for a household of 2 and 100 Gallons per Calendar year for a household of 1.
    That’s an Aggregate of Beer, Wine, and Shine or 200 Gallons of just one of the 3.
    I rapid age with White Oak Chips that I get from a Coopering close to my House. They actually cut it into 2" inch wide by 1/4" Thick by 6’ long pieces and I cut them down the middle, and then across into 1" inch Squares and Toast them to my liking. I like a couple of Lightly Toasted, a Couple of Medium Toasted, and at least One Heavily Toasted Per jar.
    Turns out a Great Bourbon EVERYTIME.

    Posted by Mike on March 16, 2021
  • Get toasted staves for wine making they are used in old barrels and work like a new barrel. They even have various levels of char and listed flavor profiles with recommendations of how many to add to a large barrel so you can figure and reduce nimber as needed

    Posted by Greg on December 31, 2020
  • my son in law is from kentucky, the wiskey capitol of the world.. most wiskey co’s,,are in kentucky,… and some in tennesee… he wants to make a still and make some goood ol moonshine, where can a person do that legally? Anybody know ? he wants to do it legally or illegally whatever comes first. he knows what to do,,and low to do it. if we make a batch, i will be glad to send all the information i can…

    Posted by on June 08, 2020
  • Love the ease you describe the manufacturing. I have had tremendous fun putting a system together. we do not have all the odds and ends so i do a lot of improvisation, hopefully to work soon.

    Posted by johan on June 01, 2020
  • How much white oak sticks/ chips should I use in five gallons?

    Posted by on January 22, 2020
  • Loved all the info just exactly what i needed being a pensioner, now i can enjoy my wee dram the way i like thanks, cheers Sam, please keep up the goodwork.

    Posted by Try on January 08, 2020
  • Good day it is a pleasure to chart to you .MY YOU PLEASE SEND ME NOTES THAT WILL TEACH ME HOW TO MAKE HOME MADE WHISKEY.

    Posted by blessing on November 07, 2019
  • Is chard Elm wood safe to age moonshine ?

    Posted by Jon on September 03, 2019
  • Got a 1l white oak barrel I cured and added some buffalo trace white dog how long should I age it for?

    Posted by Juan on June 20, 2019
  • White oak pieces charred slightly to open the wood to allow the exchange of the necessary properties to blend with the alcohol. Heavy charring is not necessary,actually leaves that charcoal effect. Age at high alcohol level,126proof is ideal ( moonshine). Hide it for ninety days before testing.

    Posted by rg mittelstadt on November 19, 2018
  • I was also wondering about the effects of using other types of wood in conjunction with the white oak. Woods such as Maple, birch, apple, hickory, or Walnut? Has any done any experiments?

    Posted by Mike on July 09, 2018
  • Interesting site. I understand the possibility of legal issues.
    But every thing I have read has been very interesting.

    Posted by NIck on March 01, 2018
  • Hi could you please give some examples of Unaged whiskey that would be easily found at the liquor store? Thanks!

    Posted by Maria on December 09, 2017
  • I’m at or near 20 batches and according to my friends the end product is really good…I agree of course. My two runs per batch start as 10 gallons of wash (I have a 5 gallon still) and produce about a gallon of finished product. I fill a quart jar half full with the full strength 145-155 proof shine and add a 1/4" cup of readily available Dark charred oak chips and one vanilla bean to each jar. After (2) weeks it’s strained and cut to 90 proof with distilled water and ready to go.

    Posted by brian hale on December 04, 2017
  • Looking at building my own barrel, anyone know where I could purchase white oak? I have a local Home Depot and Lowes

    Posted by matt on November 23, 2017
  • Hi there!.. lots of great info on here that I’m learning so first of all thank you.. my questing is: I want to age whiskey in a 6 gallon glass carboy with wood chips..but I know a standard 53 gallon whiskey barrel has approximately 35 square inches… How do I convert that using wood chips in order to figure out surface area to volume?

    Posted by Matt on November 04, 2017
  • Have been looking for a 5 gal. white olk carcole barrel .

    Posted by Vernon on July 04, 2017

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