The Angel's Share & More
There's an old saying - "If the angels don't take their share ... the rest just isn't worth taking!"
All oak barrels have one thing in common - they are relatively porous, they breathe and ... that is good! As the barrels breathe, the liquor, wine or ale ages and flavors develop and ... that is very good! Small oak barrels hasten the process, intensify the flavors and ... that is very, very good!
An oak barrel is almost magical. It removes unpleasant compounds from its contents while at the same time shares some of its distinct flavor. As legend has it, this 'boozy' vaporous elixir rises to the heavens where the angels claim it as their toll for watching over the spirits and making sure they turn out properly.
The breathing plays another part in the aging factor - oxidation. This very gradual micro-oxidation results in decreased astringency, increased color, stability and the formation of complex fragrances. In the case of liquor aging in standard sized large 53-59 gallon barrels, somewhere between eight to ten percent of the alcohol volume will be lost to evaporation in the first year.
A good whiskey is likely to lose approximately thirty to forty percent of its original volume by the time it is ready for bottling years later. Using a smaller sized barrel changes the amount of surface area or the amount of wood barrel in contact with the contents. This larger ratio of liquor has a direct impact on the flavor and length of the aging process and is the very reason that aging in a smaller barrel is much faster. For example, liquor can be aged out in four to six months when aged inside of a 20 L barrel instead of years and years using the standard large 53-59 gallon barrel.
The rule of thumb for aging in smaller barrels:
20 L Oak Barrel - four to six months
10 L Oak Barrel - two to four months
5 L Oak Barrel - four to six weeks
2 L Oak Barrel - two to four weeks
1 L Oak Barrel - one to two weeks
Enjoy your small oak barrel - and remember ... you'll get the best results and have the most fun by frequently checking, tasting, sharing and don't forget - topping it off!