Most alcoholic beverages become increasingly delicious and valuable as they age. Wine is the perfect example, which becomes more desirable the longer it’s left to age in the bottle. But is bourbon the same as wine? Is older bourbon better than newer bourbon? Even if aged bourbon is better, it doesn’t mean that bourbon kept in glass bottle even counts as a legitimate aging process, right? Let’s find out…
Will Bourbon Age in a Bottle?
No, you cannot age bourbon in a bottle. You may think that bourbon, much like wine, gets better the longer it is left on your shelf, but this isn’t the case. Bourbon needs to be aged in oak barrels before it is bottled.
Although it won’t age in the bottle, you can still keep an unopened bottle of bourbon for years if kept in the correct conditions. Most importantly, the bourbon should be kept at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. Opened whiskey can only be kept for so long. You see, the degradation process starts from the very first glass. It is commonly accepted that opened bourbon will last for a few years if kept out of sunlight and in a cool place. You need to take a few more precautions if you want to keep your bourbon for over five years.
You should start by utilizing a second layer of protection, which will ensure that no contaminants get inside the bottle. The next tactic is to store the bottle upright, not on its side, otherwise the alcohol content can start damaging and working its way out of the seal.
Bourbon Age Labelling
In order to understand the age of bourbon on the shop shelf, we must be able to read the labelling. In short, the stated age on the label highlights the youngest ingredient in the bourbon, which guarantees every ingredient is older than what the label shows.
This is done to avoid any legal issues. In fact, your bourbon most likely contains other, higher-aged bourbon blended in to the bottle.
Aging officially ends when the bourbon liquid loses contact with the charred oak barrels, which means your five year old bourbon will always be five years old.
Storing Aged Bourbon
Like most food and drink, bourbon should be stored in a cool and dark environment. The kitchen cupboard is more than fine.
Now, those glass whiskey decanters look amazing, but they aren’t the best vessels for storing bourbon. They are usually made from nothing but glass, which doesn’t provide a good seal. Whiskey decanters are fine if you take less than a few months to finish your bottle, but if you plan on keeping the bourbon for over a year, then a bottle with a fixed/rubber seal is preferred.
Once your bourbon is inside an appropriate vessel, ensure it isn’t positioned in direct sunlight. Keep it in a dark place, like your kitchen cupboard.
Lastly, limit the amount of oxygen in the bottle, as this can affect the taste. Transfer the bourbon into a smaller bottle when you have consumed half of it. This will keep the bourbon tasty for a longer time.
The Future of Bourbon Aging
From generation to generation, distillers have been trying to find a shortcut to reduce the aging process timescale. They want the same oak flavor, but don’t want to wait years and years for their product to be ready.
Some attempts to shorten the process include holding the bourbon in different sized barrels, adding wood chips, or frequently shaking the barrels. None of these attempts have worked.
One method that has some promise is to control the temperature. This method involves distillers “heat cycling” their warehouses, which keeps the warehouse warm and allows for additional cycles during the winter conditions.
What is the Best Age of Bourbon?
It is generally accepted that bourbons of five to fifteen years old are the best when it comes to taste and aroma. However, this will come down to personal taste, and all ages of bourbon are good in their own unique ways.
Under 2 years old, and the bourbon is way too fiery and blunt. But it is possible to age it for too long, as 15 year old bourbon can be overpowered by oak.
How Long to Age Bourbon for?
We know that aging bourbon is a vital part of the manufacturing process, but did you know that the aging process should actually be seen as an ingredient that improves the smell, appearance, and taste of bourbon.
Bourbon that hasn’t been aged is fiery and not pleasant to drink. The oak barrels are critical for creating the famous bourbon we all know and love. The longer the bourbon is left inside the barrels, the stronger the rich, spicy flavor develops thats why you feel like it burns.
However, there comes a point where longer isn’t always better. Too much time left aging can result in too much flavor coming from the oak, which means that we lose the classic fruitiness of bourbon whiskey. Basically, the grain flavor is replaced with the flavor of wood.
Distillers have a sweet spot where the flavor is at its best, which is generally between 6 and 12 years. This gives the perfect balance between grain and oak.
So, you should now know that bourbon can’t be aged in a bottle. However, bourbon can still be kept for years when kept in the correct conditions. We have also learnt about the importance of the aging process, which should actually be seen as an ingredient that improves the smell, appearance, and taste of bourbon.
In regards to the bourbon labelling, the stated age on the bottle is the age of the youngest ingredient in the bottle, when it was bottled. These ingredients don’t age while sitting inside the bottle.