Storing and transporting your empty barrels

used barrels

We supply our new and used barrels all round the world and there are a few precautions that need to be taken when transporting and storing them before filling. Here we are going to look at how best to look after your barrels to prevent leaks and damaging the flavour profile.

Perhaps the most important thing to note about wooden barrels is that they must not be allowed to dry out – if the wood becomes too dry, it will shrink, which will open up cracks between the staves and creating leaks. If this does happen, you should fill the barrel with water and let it rehydrate for a few days which should naturally close up the leaks, but you really want to avoid this it at all possible.

Unless barrels are due for immediate filling, they should not be left dry; however, there is an important issue here, which is that if they are left with water in them, there is a real risk that the water will go stagnant creating bad smells and ruining the natural flavours of the wood. The solution generally is to use some kind of alcohol (just a few litres is enough) in the barrel – you can use brandy, but given that much of the barrels that we supply are used port barrels and used madeira barrels this is not appropriate for us, so we always leave a few litres in the barrel of whatever the original product was. So a used tawny barrel will be supplied to you with a few litres of tawny port in it or a used madeira barrel with a few litres of madeira. We also wrap all our barrels for transport to further prevent any drying out of the staves.

Some cooperages use sulphur to disinfect barrels, but we never use it because we do not want to risk any kind of foreign substance affecting the flavour of the barrels – there are all sorts of delicate flavours that a new or used barrel will have to impart on whatever is aged within them, that we would never want to pollute them with sulphur and risk damaging the flavour profile (although of course sulphur would do a great job of eliminating any bacteria and is a much cheaper option than the original alcohol products we use to sterilize and hydrate our barrels). 

We supply barrels for a whole range of producers, so this can determine what we use to keep the barrels hydrated; so for example when we supply new barrels to age balsamic vinegar, we will leave a few litres of balsamic vinegar in the barrels (as the vinegar will work like alcohol in preventing any bacterial growth and turning the inside stagnant).

If once you receive our barrels, if you are not going to fill them relatively quickly, then it is important that you roll them once every couple of weeks to make sure that all of the staves are kept hydrated (not just the bottom of the barrel where the liquid is). You can also wet the outside of the barrels using fresh water from a hose if necessary. Of course, you should never store barrels in direct sunlight or in a warm warehouse and having decent ventilation around the barrels is also important.

If you need any advice about looking after your new or used barrels, please contact us at here at Luso Barrel where you can tap into our multiple generations worth of expertise!

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