Bourbon Barrels: Does Size Matter?
Barrels in which bourbon is aged, can make or break the flavor of the final product. The color and flavor of the bourbon are immensely affected by it. So, it is important to understand a thing or two about these barrels. A number of factors such as the wood, the process of charring it, and its very size, have a great influence on how barrels affect the flavor. We have quite a thorough knowledge of how the ageing process works, and how the barrel size can affect it. Here, we will share them with you.
In smaller barrels, more of the barrel is in contact with the bourbon. Thus, the liquid can extract more of the flavor from the wood. The flip side of this is that bourbon can actually taste too much of the wood, if not monitored regularly. While the small barrel bourbons produce the same kind of dark color and charred taste, the difference in taste is quite significant. At times, true connoisseurs may actually be underwhelmed by the lack of character and depth.
Since the liquid takes on the flavor of the smaller charred small barrels quickly, it requires much less time to steep. In other words, the whiskeys are produced much quicker. This reduction in time is quite significant. While whiskeys in a big barrel can take up to a decade to age, small barrels can churn them out in a year or two. This can result in huge cost savings for businesses. However, not all distilleries prefer to use small barrels and they must have good reason for that. It is about the change in flavor.
Better for small businesses
Small barrels are undoubtedly good news for smaller distilleries. They can make more of their product without having to go through a long gestation period. Neither do they have to spend thousands of dollars in maintaining the facilities. From our experience, it appears that it is good news for consumers too. But it is important to choose the right distillery to get a good product. These will monitor their barrels regularly to check for the change in flavor. It will not be wrong to say that small barrel whiskeys are still in the experimentation stage. There are products out there that taste absolutely horrible, while some of the results are delightful. The hit and trial method does not always work.
So, which is better?
This is a difficult one for sure. On one hand, we have the traditional bourbon that follows the age old practice of aging the liquor in big barrels and then there is this new found trend of using small barrels. All we can say for now is that it is really a personal choice, depending on whether you wish to find a textbook bourbon or just a good whiskey. If you are looking for the traditional bourbon taste, small barrel may not be for you. It is a big barrel thing. You see, it is not only about the looks or the charred taste. The long aging process in big barrels also introduces wood sugars and a much deeper flavor to its contents. On the other hand, some of the small barrel whiskeys are known to taste great too. They are not exactly the same, but have quite a distinct taste that feels good to some. Take your pick.