Oxford: Why Is Aging Spirits important?

Oxford: Why Is Aging Spirits important?

Aging Spirits

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When it comes to spirits, age matters. It’s not unusual at all for purveyors take pride in offering 15 year rye whiskey, 18 year scotch, or a 22 year brandy. Far from being considered old and outdated in their advanced years, spirits can actually become more desirable with age.

But have you ever wondered why spirits are aged, and why? And truthfully, is a rye whiskey aged for 15 years truly and appreciably different than one aged for 15 days? Here, we’ll offer a brief education on why we age spirits, including the benefits, what types of spirits are most frequently aged, and–perhaps most importantly–how aging affects the finished flavor of your favorite spirits. You’ll have a lot to think about when ordering your next drink at the Oxford Social Club!

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Why do we age spirits? In a nutshell, aging spirits is done to give them a superior flavor and drinking quality. Aging allows specific chemical reactions to occur, as well as simply allowing the spirits to “steep” and develop flavor over time. Ultimately, aging spirits makes for a more enjoyable drinking experience.

What type of spirits should be aged? If you’ve ever wondered why you frequently see spirits like whiskey declaring an advanced age but not, say, vodka or gin, there’s a reason for that. Not all spirits will benefit from aging. There are two key aspects which will affect whether or not a spirit will benefit from aging: what composes the base spirit, and how it is distilled.

There are two key types of distillation: pot or column distilling. Pot distilling takes place in huge kettles, the contents of which are heated and boiled. The vapors are collected in a narrow tube toward the top of the vessel, and then condensed back into liquid form. Since the art of this style of distilling can leave the liquid with distinct flavors from the base of the alcohol, it can benefit from aging to let the flavors develop and soften.

Column distilling takes place in a unit which is stacked high, almost like a skyscraper with many different floors. The still is heated from the bottom, and as it reaches every different level, the alcohol is forced up and the water and grain solids fall back down. As the mixture rises, it sheds more and more that isn’t the distilled alcohol. You’re left with a much more pure substance which doesn’t require aging to level out the flavor.

However, the type of distilling doesn’t always guarantee whether or not a spirit is aged. There are exceptions: for instance, some spirits will be column-distilled and then aged for a more developed flavor.

Does it matter how spirits are stored for aging? Yes! The vessel in which a particular spirit is aged will affect the flavor. Many spirits, for instance, are aged in a type of wooden barrel or cask. The wood (often oak) imparts a flavor on the finished spirit, but it takes time; this is part of why we age spirits. For instance, bourbon might be aged in a charred oak container, which will make the flavor gain specific characteristics.

Whether or not the aging container has been used before will also affect the finished flavor. For instance, let’s use the example of bourbon again. Usually, it will be aged in a charred oak container which has not been used before. However, scotch may be aged in a barrel previously used to make bourbon. Over time, different spirits producers have figured out their own ways of attaining specific flavors in their finished product, and they typically take great pride in their methods.

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How long do you need to age spirits? Well, that depends on what type of alcohol it is and where it’s being aged.

The weather will play a huge role in aging spirits. For instance, spirits such as rum or tequila, which are typically distilled and aged in warmer and more humid southern climates, will require less aging time than a whiskey which is aged in the colder and drier climates of the north. In general, the higher north the distillery, the longer the aging process will take.

So, to give some examples, an average aging period for tequila might be one to three years; rum might be aged up to 8 years; but it’s not unusual to see whiskey aged for 10 or more years.

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Do they really get better with age? The age of a spirit can have a profound effect on its finished flavor. For connoisseurs, this is part of the fun and fascination that goes into tasting. Savoring a 12 year Chivas Regal 12 year scotch will offer a distinctly different experience than tasting an 18 year Glenmorangie. It’s not to say that one is better than the other. The more aged spirits tend to cost more because more has gone into producing them on the part of the distiller; to sample a spirit aged for, say, 25 years offers you, as a drinker, a truly inimitable experience.

Want to taste the effects of aging spirits for yourself? At Oxford Social Club, we offer a number of different spirits which are aged, including tequilas, rums, scotch, bourbon, and whiskey. You can enjoy them by ordering our bottle service, or many options are also available to order directly from the bar.

Have you ever sampled an aged spirit?

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