Get in Touch With Your Scottish Side: Aging Barrel History Pt. 1


Barrel aging spirits is a very old tradition, but many don’t realize exactly how old. In fact, ancient civilizations were using barrels as we know them to store and ferment wine as early as 350 BC – though the Ancient Egyptians were using ship’s planks to create storage vessels even earlier than that. Cooper’s tools and barrel-making equipment has been found by archaeologists dating as early as 100 BC. The next time you sip on your barrel-aged cocktail or wine, remember these facts and gain new appreciation for the very first man (or woman) who poured spirits into a wooden vessel.

The First Fermenters

With such old customs and traditions, exact facts and dates are shaky, but it has been determined by historians that the first wooden aging barrel especially designed for wine was produced around 92 AD. From there it was all uphill so to speak – barrels slowly lost their importance to the world of shipping goods and became strongly associated with maturing wine.

Alcohol Distillation

Italy was the site of the first recorded distilled alcohol, in the 13th century. It was distilled from wine, and was largely used for medicinal purposes. The transition to drinking distilled alcohol from barrels for enjoyment however, began when the practice spread to Scotland around the 15th century. The taste of this early whisky was very different to what we enjoy today – raw and potent, since the whisky itself was not allowed to mature.

In 1707, the taxes on whisky rose dramatically, and by 1725 many of Scotland’s distilleries were shut down or forced to go into hiding. This production of illegal booze in Scotland, often made at night, is the birth of the term “moonshine.” By the time of the Revolutionary War in America, whisky was used as a form of currency, and even George Washington operated a distillery in Mount Vernon. “Stills” were and still are the main tool used to make whisky, but for a smoother, richer taste, moonshiners would let the liquor sit in a barrel or cask for a period of time. It’s a common misconception that liquor ages in a bottle – the simple fact is that while longevity in a bottle adds to the rarity of the bottle, it adds little to the actual flavor, especially when matched against a beverage that has aged in an oak barrel.

From ancient times to modern distilleries, barrel-aged beverages are the perfect way to connect with history. Check back next week for more history and fun facts about aging barrels in history. Added by Christina on Feb. 4, 2015.