Should I Cure My Barrel Before Using It?
Yes. When you first receive your barrel, you need to cure it. This soaking process will cause the wood to swell which will make for a barrel with a tighter seal. Curing your barrel by soaking it will also help it last longer.
How Should I Soak My Barrel?
There are several methods for curing a barrel. You can use hot water, cold water, or steam. All techniques are effective if used properly, though using a steam generator is the fastest method. All of the methods tell you to leave water in the barrel to seal any remaining leaks. Don’t leave the same water in the barrel for more than two days to prevent any bacterial or microbial growth.
Hot Water Method
Fill the barrel with a tenth of its volume in hot water around 180° Fahrenheit. Insert the bung, then roll the barrel back a forth. Make sure the water comes in contact with all interior surfaces. Stand the barrel on its end, and fill the head area (i.e., the area on the outside of the barrel) with hot water. Allow it to stand for around 15 minutes and do the same for the other end of the barrel. You can then drain the barrel and allow to cool. Fill the barrel with cool water to test for a proper seal. Leave the water in the barrel to continue the curing process if the barrel seeps slightly.
Cold Water Method
Fill the barrel a third of the way full of cold water, and let it stand for three to four hours. Next, fill the barrel to two-thirds full, and allow it to stand for another three to four hours. After this, fill the barrel and leave it until all leaks have been sealed by the expanding wood. Keep in mind that this process can take up to two to five days. Release the bung and allow to drain entirely once all the leaks sealed.
Fill the barrel a third of the way full of cold water, and let stand on one head for 12 hours. Flip the barrel to the opposite side, and let stand for an additional 12 hours. Empty the barrel. Then rinse it out with fresh water, and drain it completely.
Fill the barrel with steam at approximately 212° Fahrenheit using a steam generator for about 10 minutes or until hoops and staves are tight. Allow the barrel to cool. Test the barrel for leaks by filling it with cold water. Leave the water in the barrel until any leaks are sealed.
How Long Will My Barrel Last?
With proper care, your barrel should last for 8-10 years. Differences in the various aging processes will affect longevity.
How Often Should I Clean My Barrel?
You should clean your barrel after every other use when making wine. For other spirits, you shouldn't have to clean the barrel if you're making another batch of the same spirit. You can find barrel cleaning kits online that will include dissolvable cleaning tablets, neutralizing acid and sterilizing tablets. Keep in mind that cleaning barrel will affect its longevity.