View Full Version : Aging in Oak

02-03-2004, 01:31 AM
Has anyone used oak barrels for aging mead? How did it turn out?

02-03-2004, 02:16 AM
lol, I haven't but are you actually making enough to age in a barrel? If so I am jealous. But I have read a bunch of sites on making cider and they recommend avoiding aging in oak for small batches 5-10 gallons I think... because the surface area of the wood is so much larger in proportion to the amount of wine than in 40gallon batches. All wood breathes and the chance of ending up with vinegar is larger.

But I am not sure how accurate this is... just what I have seen. I would love to know how much you are making and how it turns out.

02-03-2004, 05:14 AM
Small oak barrels.

The induction of oak taste into the mead is much faster because of the ratio of surface area to Vollume. This makes it very easy to OVER OAK the batch.

Since the oak flavor is imparted so much faster, the mead spends less time in the barrel, therefore the Barrel is more likely to sit empty for extended times between batchs. The biggest danger for vinegar bacteria infection is when the cask is empty. Before the cask holds it's first wine this isn't a problem, Afterwards there is wine soaked into the wood even when empty.. this is where the vinegar starts, and remains forever more. Once the cask is infected, every wine put into it will be infected as well. Useful for vinegar makers, dead cask for wine.

Oxidation... most people who talk about Casks top off often to prevent it. One wine maker posts on the web that he tops off every week. 10-12 oz per 55 gallon barrel.

02-03-2004, 05:16 AM
Oh I had great Cyser at my mead tasting from a guy who barrel ages in used Jack Daniels Barrels. Hint of Whiskey flavor, Oak, Apple, Honey ... was Great.

02-03-2004, 06:39 PM
No, I'm not making quite enough to fill a 55 gallon barrel. Yet. ;) I was talking about using a 5-10 gallon barrel.

Your comments are noted, ThirstyViking. A few more questions:

I understand that wine aging in a 55 gallon barrel can age for years, and that aging mead in a smaller barrel is likely to take far less time. How long? Are we talking weeks? Months? Worst case scenario is to just break down and try it, tasting it regularly to avoid over-oaking. I'm not just looking for oak flavor though, I can do that with chips. I'm looking for the other benefits that barrel aging gives, like slight oxygen permeability affecting the aging process.

Has anyone found that aging in barrels speeds the aging process compared to carboys?

Is the sulfur treatment not sufficient to prevent vinegar bug contamination? The research I've done gave me the impression that it is easy to contaminate a barrel, but if you are diligent in taking care of it when empty you will be fine. True?

Isn't light oxidation part of the point of aging in barrels? I got the impression that you want to age in barrels because the slight oxygen permeability of the wood increases the complexity of the wine. Is the topping off you mention only an issue in smaller barrels?


02-03-2004, 11:59 PM
The topping off i mentioned was an issue in 55 gallon barrels at a winery in California


A great page for what winery workers do btw.... The pertinent quote is

Around this time I also have to go climbing through the stacks to refill each barrel, a process called topping off. Oak is a semipermeable material that allow a small amount of the wine to slowly evaporate away. In Cognac France they call this "The Angels Share" (although it sound cooler in French). In America it just means that I have to climb like a trained monkey through the stacks of barrels once or twice a month to refill every barrel to the top so that air isn't able to get in and oxidize the wine. On the average every barrel will loose about 2 bottles of wine per month. For our production that's roughly about 1 barrel per month lost in evaporation. Those angels drink well.

Ok I remembered it incorrectly, 1-2 times a month. they don't talk about the effects of limited oxidation but it would occur, Some oxidation occurs every time you rack unless you take great efforts to avoid it... so racking with some splashing could accomplish similar goals... Again evaporation and oxygen occur quicker through a small barrel because of surface to volume ratio.

hmmm Further Reading indicates that after the malolactic fermentation in the barrels they fight oxidation with sulfur

While all of our stacking and mapping is going on the wines continue to go through Malo-Lactic Fermentation (or simply ML) inside to the barrels. This process usually takes 2-3 weeks from start to finish with the genetically engineered bacteria that we use. Once ML is complete I go from barrel to barrel and add 75 ml of a 6% solution of Sulfur to each barrel to protect the wine from oxidation and infection by unwanted bacteria. This job also REALLY sucks because the sulfur smells and I have to climb up the 23 stacks of barrels in order to reach each barrel.

They seem to Age thier Wine about 3-5 months in barrels. This of course would Vary from Winery to Winery and Wine to Wine. They also Bottle age a couple months, before they allow the wine to be picked up. Some Sherys that i have read about have interesting methods that wine goes several years before bottling. IIRC some have 3-5 barrels in an aging set. Bottling 1/2 barrel, racking 1/2 barrel from the next youngest barrel, repeat till 1/2 of oldest youngest is racked. Then top off with new wine. Propper level of Oxidation in sherry is very important, noone wants to drink nail polish remover.

For the rest of your questions you need someone who has had more experience than me.