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Used Wine Barrels, sulfur, acetic acid and more fun questions


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Hello again,

So today's question is about barrels: I was thinking about purchasing some used wine barrels to age liqueurs in-- the thought is (besides the obvious savings) is that the particular wines would impart some interesting characteristics into the liqueurs.

My question is raised by an article in Artisan Spirit: It warns of leftover sulfur, acetic acid and TCA possibly spoiling whatever is in there. Has anyone had any experience in this? I know a couple of local guys use them for gin and aquavit, so it's not an unrealistic expectation.

As always, thanks in advance for your help!


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I think the issue of sulfur from barrels is overblown; the sulfur produced by improper fermentation is a bigger issue if your distillate doesn't have thorough copper contact. It will produce some fairly strange tastes, think roast-chesnut, matchstick and meatiness like turkey. You can remove much of the SO2 from barrels just by blowing warm air into the empty barrel as soon as you get it. Just ask your winemakers these questions...

-Do you use sorbates?

-Were sulfites used? If so, how much?

-How many uses has the barrel had?

If you're doing small barrels, knowing the sugar content of the final wine is important too, since too much sweetness can throw off any balance (In my opinion though, sweet fortified wine barrels produce really excellent Whisky. I have tried one from a barrel that contained blackberry fortified which blew me away).

What is important is that you arrange to be contacted as soon as a barrel is being emptied; you will have no risk of acetic acid issues if you pick up the barrel immediately.

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