fbpx

Does Age Really Matter in Bourbon and Whiskey?

How to Use Bourbon and Whiskey for Cooking
May 29, 2024

Does Age Really Matter in Bourbon and Whiskey?

Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey is a truly American spirit that has existed since the late 1700s. However, in the nearly three centuries since its inception, bourbon has evolved quite a bit.

One thing that hasn’t changed much, is the aging process.

Aging transforms the raw distillate into a masterpiece of taste and character. Aging is not merely a tradition; it’s a science that involves time, temperature, and the unique properties of the barrels used.

This article delves into the intricacies of how aging affects bourbon whiskey and offers insights into the age statement you often see on its bottles.

The Aging Process

The journey of bourbon from distillation to your glass is a meticulous process. After distillation, the clear spirit, often referred to as “white dog,” is transferred into charred oak barrels. Here, the magic begins.

The aging process can be broken down into several key factors:

Time

Not surprisingly, the biggest factor in the aging process is time. American law requires bourbon to be aged for at least two years, but most bourbon makers age their bourbon for at least four years. During this period, the whiskey interacts with the wood, absorbing its compounds, evolving in complexity, and developing its flavor profile.

Temperature

Temperature plays a critical role in the aging process. Seasonal variations cause the bourbon to expand and contract within the barrel, allowing it to extract flavors from the wood. Distilleries located in different regions often take on varying complexities. Kentucky is often touted as an ideal climate for creating some of the world’s best bourbon.

Wood

The type of wood and the level of charring inside the barrel significantly influence the final product. American white oak is the preferred choice for bourbon barrels due to its unique ability to impart flavors and aromas. The char level, typically between levels 1 and 4, determines how much interaction occurs between the spirit and the wood’s surface.

Effects of Aging on Flavor

The aging process imparts distinctive characteristics to bourbon, altering its taste, aroma, intensity, and color. Here’s a closer look at these transformative effects:

Taste

As bourbon ages, it develops a smoother, more rounded profile. Young bourbon tends to be harsh and sharp, but extended aging mellows these qualities, replacing them with rich, complex flavors such as caramel, vanilla, and spice. The interaction with the charred oak introduces smoky notes and enhances the overall depth of the spirit.

Of course, bourbon can be aged too long, which is why a master distiller’s job is never done. They must test the product regularly and ensure that the spirit inside the barrel evolves correctly over time.

Aroma

The aging process also enhances bourbon’s aromatic profile. The initial harshness of the distillate gives way to nuanced scents of dried fruit, toffee, and oak. These aromas are essential in creating a well-balanced drinking experience, as they prepare the palate for the flavors to come.

Color

One of the most visually striking changes that occurs during aging is the transformation from a clear to a rich amber hue. This color change results from the bourbon’s interaction with the wood, particularly the caramelization of sugars within the charred oak.

Innovations in Aging

While traditional aging methods remain highly respected, the bourbon industry is full of innovation. Recent advancements and unconventional techniques have been introduced to accelerate or enhance the aging process.

Accelerated Aging

Technologies such as ultrasound and rapid oxidation have been explored to speed up the aging process. These methods aim to replicate the effects of long-term aging in a fraction of the time, making it possible to produce mature-tasting bourbon more quickly.

Experimental Barrels

Distilleries are experimenting with barrels made from different types of wood or using various treatments, such as toasting and unique charring techniques. These experimental approaches aim to create new flavor profiles and offer consumers novel bourbon experiences.

Finishing

Another trend in the industry is finishing, where bourbon is transferred to a secondary barrel for additional aging. The second barrel could be anything, but sherry casks and port wine barrels are some of the common finishing barrels used in whiskey-making. Finishing imparts unique flavors and complexity to the final product.

Our annual release of Blood Oath is often finished in a unique barrel every year.

The Influence of Aging on Price and Collectability

Aged bourbon is often seen as a premium product, commanding higher prices and greater collectability. The extended aging process adds to the cost, as distilleries must invest in storage and lose a larger portion of the spirit to evaporation, known as the “angel’s share.”

Typically, longer-aged bourbons are more sought after by bourbon lovers, though there is no guarantee that longer aging means a better product. A lot of care and skill goes into crafting aged bourbons and bourbon drinkers shouldn’t be swayed just because an age statement is higher.

Conclusion

The aging process is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating aspects of bourbon whiskey production. It’s a delicate balance of time, temperature, and wood interaction that transforms a simple distillate into a complex and sophisticated spirit. As you enjoy your next glass of bourbon, take a moment to appreciate the journey it has undergone and the craftsmanship behind every sip.

If you’re interested in trying a well-crafted, aged bourbon, consider picking up some well-aged and carefully crafted bourbons and whiskeys from Lux Row Distillers.

Our current aged lineup includes:

Look for Lux Row Distillers products near you or visit the distillery to learn more about the distillation process.

Sign Up
close slider

    Sign up for our Newsletter

    Get exclusive updates about events, products, and offers sent right to your inbox.

    First Name

    Last Name

    Email

    Zip Code

    Date of Birth

    *By signing up, you agree to receive email and marketing communication from Luxco and its brands.