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Does Bourbon Get Better With Age, or Can it Age Too Long? 2022

Last Updated on August 22, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Bourbons must be aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years, but does it get better with age, say ten or twelve years? Will the years of maturity affect its taste, and can it be aged too long?

If you have a bottle of bourbon sitting on your counter for a longer period, will it get better as it ages? Scroll down to find out. 

Bourbon: Does It Get Better With Age?

A glass of bourbon on desk

Bourbon gets better with age in barrels because the longer it matures, the more complex the taste will be; however, it would be a different case for bottled bourbons.

Bourbon is an American native spirit, and aging it for at least two years is one of the strict regulations needed to be labeled as one [1]. 

If bourbon is aged longer than two years in new charred oak barrels, the distilled spirit will absorb the flavors from the charred oak barrel, improving its flavor, and making it more enjoyable to drink. 

Does It Get Better As It Ages? 

In Oak Barrels

Wooden Oak Barrels on table with glass

Bourbon gets better as it ages in the oak barrels. Aside from complying with the strict regulation of bourbon production, oak barrels give a distinct taste to the matured distilled spirit.

Oak barrels affect the taste and coloring of the bourbon, and as it ages longer, it will create a deeper color and flavor. 

Maturation in new charred oak barrels gives the bourbon hints of vanilla, caramel, and oak. It helps improve the bourbon quality because maturation affects aromatic complexity, color stabilization, flavor, and astringency modulation. 

When Bottled

Bourbon does not get better after it is bottled. Unlike wines, distilled spirits like bourbon do not get better once bottled because the aging process stops.

Moreso, as long as the bottles are sealed, the taste will stay the same and no longer improve or get better.

Can Bourbon Age Too Long? 

Can Bourbon Age Too Long? 

Bourbon cannot be aged for too long because it might lose its rich and complex taste. Too much exposure to oak can ruin the taste of the liquor, especially in a warm climate.

Remember, maturation happens more quickly in a warm climate. Hot climates accelerate whiskey’s aging process and the angel’s share (the term for when the alcohol evaporates from the barrels) [2].

If bourbon is aged for longer than 15 years in a barrel, it may turn bitter and sour, and its flavor will lose its complexity. 

Bourbon’s Aging Process & Its Effect

The aging process of bourbon helps mellow the harshness of the alcohol and gives the spirit its distinct flavor. 

Maturation in oak barrels gives the distilled spirit its flavor and color, so if it is too young, it will taste rough and unfinished. However, the bourbon will taste lifeless, over-oaked, and dusty if it is too old. 

With this, most distilleries release bourbons over six to twelve years for a great flavor profile. 

FAQs

Does bourbon go bad?

Yes, bourbon can go bad, but it only happens when you open the bottle. An unopened bourbon bottle does not expire as long as the cork is intact.

Oxidation and temperature may ruin its taste, so an unopened bottle may go bad when not stored properly.

What happens when bourbons are overaged?

The bourbon will have a bitter and sour taste when it is overaged. The oak will overpower the bourbon taste and may taste lifeless and dusty when it is overaged in barrels. 

Key Takeaways

Bourbon gets better with age when stored in barrels. However, do remember that bourbons will not get better once bottled because the aging process stops after bottling. 

The aging process gives identity and complexity to the bourbon whiskey. However, the rule “older is always better” does not apply to this distilled spirit because overaging may ruin the taste of the American spirit.

The best bourbons are aged between six to twelve years in barrels where the spirit can mellow and absorb the flavor. 

References:

  1. https://blog.liebherr.com/appliances/us/bourbon-americas-native-spirit/
  2. https://www.eater.com/drinks/2015/5/29/8677117/other-world-whisky-hot-climate-whisky

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