Age Your Own Whisky: Before the First Batch

This year I was given a brand new, toasted, 1 litre American Oak barrel for my birthday! While it’s possible to buy new make spirit and mature it from scratch, I intend to use this cask to give a special finish to some of my favourite whiskies. Excited to get started, I got right down to business. Upon taking the cask out of the plastic, the smell of freshly toasted wood immediately filled the room. The bung and tap still had to be inserted, and although this required some force, it was otherwise easy enough.

Cask 01

The cask is ready for use after inserting the bung and tap.

In order to make sure that the cask is watertight, Master of Malt (where the cask was bought) recommends to first fill it up with warm water for a day. This allows the wood to expand slightly, closing any small gaps there might have been. Although the barrel has a stated capacity of 1 litre, 1.2 litres of water actually went in. There was no visible leakage, although the wood did become damp in certain areas (mainly next to the tap). When I drained the cask the following day, the water came out looking like this:

Water 01

After spending just a single day in the cask, the water had changed colour completely.

 

Over the course of a single day, the water had taken on a distinctly blackish, brown colour from the toasted wood, and even had a few charred wood splinters floating around in it. The smell was somewhat reminiscent of bourbon, and the taste of vanilla and wood was definitely present in the water. Although 1.2 litres of water went into the cask, only 1.1 litre came out. This means that 100ml was lost, either absorbed into the wood or through minor leakage.

As you can probably see from the pictures, the cask has never been used previously. This means that the wood is still packed full of flavours, and will easily overwhelm any liquid that is first placed inside it. As such, it is advisable to fill up the cask with another liquor for a first batch, before putting in your precious whisky. For this I chose Bols Corenwyn, a Dutch jenever that approximates new make whisky spirit rather closely. More on that in about a month’s time!

Bols 01

The first batch is ready to go!

 

Interested to try it out for yourself? You can buy the cask here at Master of Malt. 

 

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