Whiskey aging, also commonly known as mellowing, removes that raw edge in order to impart a smooth whiskey taste on the palette. That is the short answer but the whiskey aging process is a little more involved.
Oak Casks in Whiskey Aging
Whiskey ages in oak casks and cannot legally be aged less than three years. While the number of years for aging is dependent on the type of whiskey (single malts are aged a minimum of eight years) all distilled whiskey goes through the whiskey aging process.
Charred Oak Barrels
While the whiskey is aging in charred oak barrels, it is undergoing a process of garnering flavor, color, and a distinct aroma. Even though the whiskey aging takes place inside the barrel, there is still a small percent of alcohol evaporation, anywhere from 0.5 to 2%. This evaporation during the whiskey aging process is called “The Angels Share.”
Is Aged Whiskey Better?
The age-old question of whiskey aging time has whiskey drinkers, distillers, and distributors on both sides of the fence. Some feel that the older, the better, yet others claim the best whiskey depends more on the distillery. Since whiskey aged for many years is scarcer, some whiskey experts say the price is higher due to the supply and demand. Many consumers balk at that theory and judge strictly by taste and not number of whiskey aging years.
According to a study on whiskey aging commissioned by Chivas Brothers, most people do not understand what the age statement means on a bottle of whiskey. Not all whiskey has this information on their bottle labels, but Chivas’ researchers found that when the age statement is present most consumers misinterpret it.
The researchers found that 94 percent of consumers believe the age statement is an indication of quality with 93 percent believing older whiskey is better. However, researchers also found that most people do not realize that the “age statement” means the youngest whiskey in a bottle. In consumers questioned, many thought it meant the average age of whiskey in a bottle, and still others thought it meant the oldest age of whiskey in a bottle.
Distillers and consumers cannot seem to agree on whether age matters in the whiskey aging process. When it comes to preference or quality, however, most do agree on the fact that one of the biggest influences on the flavor of whiskey comes from aging. Most experts agree that the longer the whiskey is in the barrel, the more complex the whiskey tastes.
When all is said and done, it still comes down to the personal preference and taste of the individual consumer regardless of the role of experts, distiller surveys, or label statements.
Complex could mean great to one whiskey drinker and too complicated to another. One whiskey drinker and bar owner from Florida has his own take on the whiskey aging question, “Is older whiskey better?” “Older doesn’t always mean better, if you are aging whiskey for a long time in bad wood or a bad cask, you end up with bad whiskey.”