Maturation

Just as wines generally benefit from storage and aging in wooden barrels, so do spirits, especially when we desire the flavor of the original fermented product, as in rum, whiskey and brandy. Wooden barrels allow small and controlled amounts of oxygen to reach the contents. This oxygen, along with substances extracted from the wood, allow many complex chemical reactions to occur. Acids, alcohols, tannins and other substances react together over time to produce a wide variety of new compounds. The long-chain alcohols present in the fusel alcohols are transformed to complex esters and other compounds that add flavor and are not as hard on the body.

These processes take time. The actual amount of time is partly a function of the size of the barrels used - larger barrels take longer, because there is less surface area per volume contained. This means it takes longer to extract enough compounds from the wood and for enough oxygen to get through the walls of the barrel.

This maturing process has nothing to do with some strange ability of congeners to 'seep' through the wood and disappear from their confinement. Some people in the past have seriously claimed that fusels can do this because they are 'slippery oils'! This misunderstanding highlights the need for caution when reading old manuals for the production of beverages - often the authors did not understand the nature of the processes they used.

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