Small Barrel Whiskey Aging Explained

Have you ever wondered why many craft distillers seem to be fond of diminutive barrels? It’s not because they haven’t learned how to lift with their knees. According to Mark McDavid, co-founder of Ranger Creek Distilling in San Antonio, their smaller 5-gallon and 25-gallon barrels yield a very different whiskey from their standard 53-gallon. “The way I describe them is oak forward, punchy, and compact bourbons,” says McDavid. The difference arises from the greater surface area of oak exposed to each bottle, which increases dramatically as barrels get smaller; a law first described by Galileo in 1638. Some promote this as small barrels aging faster. While McDavid says whiskey from small barrels will become over-oaked more quickly, “age” is a different matter. “Oxidation and other things happen that only time can induce, so we want people to taste from large and small barrels and make their own conclusions.”

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