The Geek’s Guide To Ageing Your Own Homemade Whisky

2 years old whisky aged using sherry oak chips © Going Postal

This is the final missive of my guide on home distillation using the Still Spirits equipment.  The previous post is here:

The Geek’s Guide To Distilling Commercial Grade Whisky For £8 A Litre Bottle

In 2019, I bought some 10 litre oak barrels to mature my whisky.  These were purchased from the Czech Republic and aged the whisky quite wonderfully, but I found that the evaporation rate of the whisky inside was higher than expected and meant I had to top up the barrel a few times a week.  This is more pronounced in small 10 litre barrels than it is for 200 to 650 litre casks in the commercial industry due to the higher surface area of the oak compared with the whisky inside.  Also the barrels need to be charred on the inside to impart sugars and phenols to the whisky that’s not found in raw oak.  More often than not these oak casks were not properly toasted on the inside, resulting in little colouring and depth of flavour.

The loss is due to transpiration in the casks – evaporation of the 65% ABV “cask strength” whisky, commonly referred to as the Angel’s Share whereby early practitioners believed the loss was the portion that nature gave to the guardian angels, the protectors who watched over people’s lives and work.

There’s also the loss due to the whisky being absorbed by the wood, charmingly referred to as the Devil’s Cut.  In this case, since it is not evaporation, the Devil’s Cut does not affect the alcohol content of the whisky but depends solely on the porosity of the wood used.

As a low volume producer myself, typically 20 litres cask strength in one batch, this loss was quite significant to the total yield so I switched to the demijohn/oak chip method.

I bought some oak chips from a cask previously used to age sherry and some oak chips that were from French Oak casks that were used to age brandy.  The first thing you need to do with the oak chips is to add them to a pan of water and boil for 10-15 minutes to sterilise and remove the fine wood powder that would taint your whisky.

Add about 30-50g of oak chips to the 5 litre demijohn containing whisky.  You should see a colour change in the whisky within a few days.  After about 3 months your whisky will start to develop vanilla overtones and some complex flavours and will be less harsh to the taste.  Every week or so you should swirl the whisky around and agitate the chips and take the bung off to allow the more volatile compounds to be released to the air.  This simulates the evaporation of the harsher alcohols in the whisky while in the barrel.

I’ve had about 15 litres of whisky aging here for almost two years, and as far as I can taste, the whisky I have made is comparable to commercial.  Many of my friends have tasted this too and they cannot believe I have made this – it really is fantastic.  There is such a difference between the sherry oak (rich and creamy) and the slightly drier and softer French oak batches.

I’m about to make another 15 litres of single grained malt whisky, but this time using an unpeated malt.  I will be aging this using sherry oak and French oak batches as before.

“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” – Homer Simpson

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