When home brewing became legal in 1978, do-it-yourself aficionados everywhere discovered the joy of a hands-on approach to beer—and became enamored with the ability to refine and season their favorite brews as they liked. Now drinkers of fine spirits are getting a taste of the same. Mini-barrels for aging your own spirits have become the trademark of the up-and-coming micro distillery, with whiskey being the beverage of choice. And while opinions on the quality of home-aged spirits may vary, there is no denying that it’s a fun process that also gives imbibers an opportunity to learn about the origins of their drink of choice.
The barrels range from 1-liter and up and often bear the insignia of the distillery. For use, they must first be primed by soaking the wood, which can be accomplished by continuously filling the barrels with water until they no longer leak, or, as Scott Maitland of Top of the Hill Brewery in Chapel Hill, NC recommends, submerging the entire barrel for a day. This allows the wood to soak and expand, making the barrels airtight. Next the barrels can be filled with the spirits along with any extra ingredients you may chose to add. Spices, honey, ginger and fruits are popular options. Then, all that is left to do is wait!
Depending on the size of the barrel, the aging process can take anywhere from three weeks to several months. Maitland also suggests checking on the barrels (and maybe sneaking a little sip from that mini spout) every couple days. After all, you’ll want to monitor the development of your product. The alcohol will naturally evaporate a bit, and since air in the barrel can dry out the wood, you may have to add spirits as you sip. “The key is to always keep the barrel full whether its water or booze,” he explains.
Mini-barrels are a great gift idea for the holiday season, and have become a boozy alternative to the monogrammed flask as groomsmen gifts. They can be reused from 3-5 times, so it’s a gift with a bit of a life span. What to do when they can no longer be used to infuse? These rustic little barrels make for great kitchen décor.
Here’s a roundup of five Southern Distilleries that offer the mini-barrels:
Rock Town Distillery in Little Rock, AK offers a kit that contains two 750 ml bottles of Arkansas Lightning, a 2-liter new charred oak barrel, a funnel to help pour the spirits into the barrel and step-by-step instructions. $125. Available at the distillery.
Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, VA offers a Wasmunds Barrel Kit with a two-liter charred American White Oak mini-barrel and two 750ml bottles of your choice of either: Wasmund’s Single Malt Spirit or Wasmund’s Rye Spirit. $95.35. Available at the distillery.
Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY offers a 5-liter charred mini barrel $78 each. Available in the distillery gift shop.
Striped Pig Distillery in Charleston, SC offers charred, American-oak barrels in either 1-liter, 2-liters, or 3-liters for sale for $47, $55, and $62 respectively. Available at the distillery.