I Bought a Small Barrel - Now What?

I Bought a Small Barrel - Now What?

Published : 07-02-2020 - Categories : Home Distilling , Miscellaneous , Spirit Enhancement


You are now a proud owner of a fine barrel, hand-made from French Oak, and most probably it has a bit of history attached to it.

Most of our barrels started off their lives as Wine Barrels.

Then they were used for Fortified Wines like Sherry or Port,

And now they are finally ready to receive your spirits.

But, like all beautiful things, your barrel needs a little care and attention from time to time.


Please read the following simple instructions to ensure that you get the most out of your barrel.


How do I care for my Barrel?

  1. The oak from which the barrel is made may have shrunk slightly while standing empty. Before you put anything in it, fill the barrel with COLD WATER and allow it to stand for 24 – 48 hours before use. This will allow the oak to absorb water and swell up, sealing it. 
  2. PLEASE NOTE: The 24 to 48 hours is only a guideline. The Barrel may leak for as much as 20 days, especially in the Northern Regions of South Africa, where the low Humidity, High Temperatures and Low Air Pressure places the barrel under strain. Rotate the barrel regularly (i.e at east once a day) to ensure all staves of the barrel swells out evenly. If the barrel keeps on leaking, drain it and steam it for about 30 minutes to allow the staves to swell evenly.
  3. Don’t worry - it will seal itself up eventually, and you will have a leak free barrel.
  4. Always rinse the barrel out with COLD WATER before filling with liquor of any sort and again as soon as the keg is empty. Do not allow it to stand for any length of time with “dregs” in it.
  5. The ideal water to use for sealing and rinsing is distilled water or Reverse Osmosis Water. This ensures that no Chlorine or Mineral Salts stay behind in the barrel, which could negatively impact the spirits.
  6. If a Barrel is not currently in use, it should not stand empty, as the wood could dry out and crack, causing a leaking Barrel.
  7. If the Barrel is kept with water for an extended period of time, the water should be replace from time to time to avoid it growing stagnant in the barrel - this could lead to bacterial formation, mold, off flavors, and other problems.
  8. Barrels should be kept in a cool place – away from direct sunlight.
  9. Barrels should never be immersed in water.
  10. Although Black Hoop Barrels are aesthetically pleasing and hence popular, be aware that the coloring of the hoops may transfer into the wood during the sealing process with water.
  11. Although Brass Barrel Taps are aesthetically pleasing and hence popular, be aware that the metallurgical makeup of the brass taps may sometimes lead to minerals or metals being dissolved into the spirits, causing sediment - wooden or stainless steel taps are preferred.
  12. Barrels should never be half-filled. Too much exposed surface area in the barrel leads to increased Angle's Share and losses.
  13. The barrel must be washed thoroughly in COLD WATER before and after use - never use detergent, unless it is a food safe sanitizing agent.
  14. Hot water must NEVER be used under any circumstances as this will damage your barrel.


What can I use my Barrel for?

  • Sweet wine, sherry or spirits may be kept in the Barrel for any length of time.
  • Dry white wine or red wine may be served from the barrel, but should not be stored in it for more than 24 hours as the wine will lose its flavor.
  • Fruit juices can be served from the barrel, but it should be emptied out and rinsed immediately after use - the same day. Rinse well to wash out all sugar residue.


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