How to Clean an Oak Aging Barrel
Deep South Barrels' oak aging barrels should be cleaned only when you want to change the flavor of the barrel, and only once or twice during the lifespan of the barrel and by using our proprietary cleaning kits which consist of a cleaning solution, sterilizer and neutralizing acid. Here’s what you need to know to do it right.
How Often Should I Clean My Barrel?
Knowing how often to clean a wooden barrel depends on a number of factors. If you are using your barrels to age wine, we recommend sterilizing after each use to prevent mold, no longer than every other use. If you are aging spirits, in most cases cleaning is not required, so long as you continue using the same type of liquor.
We do, however, recommend cleaning when switching between dramatically different types of spirits — for instance, the high sugar content of rum can adversely affect the flavor of whiskey when it is cured in the same barrel without cleaning. We do not recommend this often, the best course is to use a different barrel for each liquor you are wanting to age. Cleaning the barrel will shorten the lifespan of your barrel and is not a guaranteed solution to switching flavors.
The Cleaning Process
Our cleaning kits contain everything you need to properly clean an oak aging barrel. To prevent contamination, follow this simple process:
- Dissolve 1oz Barrel-Kleen cleaning product into a gallon of warm water. Fill the barrel with this solution and let sit for 24 hours. Any remaining fluid can be used again within 4 months, make sure to mark the date on the bottle.
- After 24 hours, empty the barrel and rinse it out a minimum of three times.
- Dissolve 1oz citric (neutralizing) acid into 1 gallon of warm water. Fill the barrel with this solution and let it sit for 15 minutes. Any remaining fluid can be used again within 4 months, make sure to mark the date on the bottle.
- Once again, empty the barrel and rinse it out three times.
Re-Charring Your Barrel
The last step in cleaning a wooden oak barrel is to re-char it. Charring creates the flavor compounds that improve the aging process, so it's important to do this each time you clean your barrel. Start by draining the barrel for a minimum of three hours, so it dries out. Then, place a butane torch with a flex head in the barrel's bunghole, light the torch and slowly rotate the barrel one full turn.
After re-charring, rinse out the barrel, then dissolve two sterilizing tablets into a gallon of cold water. Fill the barrel with this solution, let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse it out three times. Any remaining fluid can be used again within 4 months, make sure to mark the date on the bottle.
Find more barrel maintenance tips on our FAQs page and in our article about properly curing wooden oak barrels. Remember, barrels should be stored full at all times — if you're not aging something at the moment, use a dissolved sterilizing solution to prevent the barrel from drying out.
What happens if my barrel has mold in it after storage?
Remember that water is not a sterile substance so when storing a barrel it can grow mold inside and along the edges and in the spigot. This is not cause for alarm! You can use our sterlizing tablets or a neutral grain spirit to shock the barrel and kill the germs inside it. Use a rag dampened with a neutral spirit to kill any germs on the outside of the barrel.