When it comes to aged alcohol, it is sometimes hard to understand what all the fuss is about. You have probably heard that older alcohol equals better taste, and this is typically reflected in the price, but is aged whiskey actually better?
Aged whiskey has a more complex taste than young whiskey. Whether it is better or not will depend on your tastes, but most people agree that aged whiskey does taste better.
Continue reading below to learn more about aged whiskey, including what happens during the aging process, how long whiskey is good for, and if whiskey does, in fact, taste better when it is aged.
What Does Aged Mean?
When it comes to whiskey, age is typically used to mark the quality of a spirit. Although most of us understand what the word “aged” means, there is more to whiskey age than one might first assume.
To be called whiskey, the spirit must be stored in wooden barrels for a specific number of years. How long will depend on the type of spirit being produced and where it is being made. For example, straight whiskey must be aged two years and have no additives to be labeled straight whiskey.
How Does Aging Work?
Once in the barrel, the liquid will penetrate the wood, breaking down and absorbing the different components. These are then mixed with the spirit, which contributes to both the flavor and color of the whiskey that is produced.
This process is temperature dependent as warmer temperatures allow liquid to penetrate the wood while cooler temperatures cause the liquid to be forced out of the wood when it contracts. This means that the aging process may be faster in warmer areas and slower in cooler areas.
Does Whiskey Age in The Bottle?
It is important to understand that aging does not occur after the spirit is bottled. So, for example, if whiskey was made in 1988, it is not technically 34 years old today. Rather, its age would reflect how long it had spent in a barrel before being bottled. If the 1988 whiskey had been in a barrel for twelve years, it would be a twelve-year-old whiskey, even though it has technically been around for 34 years. Confusing, right?
Is Age Cumulative?
Additionally, you should know that the age of a whiskey only represents the youngest whiskey in the mixture. For example, if a three-year-old whiskey is mixed with a new whiskey and then barreled, it would not become a six-year-old whiskey after three more years—it would still only be a three-year-old whiskey.
Is Aged Whiskey Better?
Most people have heard the saying that the older an alcoholic is, the better it is. This is often reflected in movies when the dashing main character confidently orders a restaurant’s “oldest bottle of wine,” but does age actually make whiskey taste better?
Although taste is a matter of preference (some people may prefer young whiskey over aged whiskey), most whiskey lovers will agree that aged whiskey does taste better.
Why Does Aged Whiskey Often Taste Better?
After being distilled, whiskey is a clear liquid that tastes like the ingredients it is made from. Over time, the color will change from clear to golden, which will continue to darken as the year progresses. While in the barrels, the liquid will start to take on the flavors of the wood and this gives aged whiskey its rich, smooth taste. People often prefer aged whiskey because it is not as rough and has a more complex flavor profile.
Is Older Better?
Again, it is a matter of preference, but most experts will agree that whiskey tastes best when it is aged between 5 and 10 years. However, this also depends on the aging process, the temperature where it was made, and the type of barrels it was aged in.
During aging, some of the liquid is evaporated, and if the mixture is not correct, it is possible to overage a whiskey. This can result in some significant problems with the batch, including an overly oaky taste and a complete breakdown of the whiskey’s structure.
Will The Taste Change While in the Bottle?
Generally, if the bottle is stored in the proper conditions and left unopened, the flavor profile will not change, and it will taste like it did when it was bottled. However, once it is open, it should be consumed quickly, as exposure to oxygen will change the flavor profile. It is worth noting that some evaporation may occur through the cork, so even if the bottle was never opened, the volume of the liquid might reduce.
Why Is Aged Whiskey More Expensive?
There are a few reasons why aged whiskey is more expensive than younger whiskies.
For starters, a lot of liquid is lost through evaporation while the spirit is being aged. In other words, what the distillery ends up bottling is not as much as it started out with. This, combined with the fact that aging takes time, makes an older whiskey rarer than younger whiskey, which increases the price.
Additionally, distilleries must pay taxes on the whiskey that is aging. The amount that is paid will depend on where the distillery is located, but these taxes are paid each year and may add up considerably for older batches of whiskey.
For example, in Kentucky, barrels are considered property, and owners must pay property taxes on them every year. So, if whiskey is aged 13 years, that is 13 years that the owner had to pay property taxes without any income from the whiskey itself.
Is aged whiskey better? In theory, yes. Aged whiskey is better because it takes on the flavors of the barrel in which it is aged and results in a smoother spirit. This makes it better suited for sipping and enjoying. However, as with anything, the taste is a matter of preference, and whether aged whiskey is better for you personally will depend on your tastes and preferences.
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