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Does Bourbon Get Better With Age, or Can it Age Too Long? 2024

does bourbon get better with age

Does bourbon get better with age? 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?

Old Grand Dad 114

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

Oak Barrel

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? 

New Riff Single Barrel

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 Related to Does Bourbon Get Better With Age

Does bourbon go bad?

Unlike some perishable food items, bourbon does not spoil or go bad in the traditional sense if stored properly. However, bourbon can experience changes in flavor and quality over time, especially if exposed to unfavorable storage conditions such as excessive heat, light, or air.

Properly sealed and stored bottles of bourbon can maintain their quality for many years, but it’s essential to monitor the storage conditions and consume the bourbon within a reasonable timeframe to enjoy it at its best.

What happens when bourbons are overaged?

When bourbons are overaged, meaning they spend too much time in the barrel, they can develop excessively woody or bitter flavors that overpower the spirit’s natural sweetness and complexity. Overaged bourbon may lose some of its balance and become unbalanced, with the oak characteristics dominating the flavor profile.

Additionally, prolonged aging can lead to a decrease in the spirit’s proof, as some alcohol evaporates through the barrel over time, resulting in a lower alcohol content.

While some enthusiasts may appreciate the intense flavors and depth of well-aged bourbons, overaged bourbon can be an acquired taste and may not appeal to all palates.

What Happens to Bourbon as It Ages?

As bourbon ages in charred oak barrels, it undergoes a transformation process known as maturation, during which it absorbs flavors and characteristics from the wood. Initially, the bourbon extracts vanillin, caramel, and other compounds from the charred oak, contributing to its sweetness and richness.

Over time, the bourbon interacts with the wood, extracting additional flavors such as oak, spice, and nuttiness, while the harsher elements of the spirit mellow and integrate. This maturation process leads to a smoother, more complex bourbon with a well-rounded flavor profile and lingering finish.

Additionally, as the bourbon ages, it may undergo subtle color changes, gradually deepening in hue from pale gold to amber or mahogany, depending on the length of aging and the characteristics of the oak barrels used. Overall, aging is a critical aspect of bourbon production, shaping its flavor, aroma, and character over time and contributing to its distinctiveness and appeal.

Is Older Bourbon Always Better?

While aging can enhance the flavor and complexity of bourbon, older does not always mean better. The optimal aging period for bourbon depends on various factors, including the quality of the ingredients, the characteristics of the barrels, and the distillation process.

While some bourbon aficionados appreciate the depth and richness that prolonged aging can impart, others prefer the vibrant and robust flavors of younger expressions. Additionally, overaging can lead to excessive wood influence and diminishing returns in terms of flavor balance.

Ultimately, the best bourbon is subjective and varies based on individual preferences, with some younger expressions offering exceptional quality and character alongside their older counterparts.

Are There Exceptions to the Rule That Bourbon Improves with Age?

Yes, there are exceptions to the notion that bourbon uniformly improves with age. While aging typically enhances the flavor and complexity of bourbon, certain factors can influence the aging process and yield different results.

For example, the quality of the barrels used for aging, the environmental conditions of the aging warehouse, and the specific mash bill and distillation techniques employed can all impact the final product.

Additionally, some bourbon enthusiasts prefer the bold and vibrant flavors of younger expressions, which may showcase the spirit’s natural sweetness and intensity without being overshadowed by excessive oak influence.

Ultimately, the quality and character of bourbon are determined by a combination of factors, and aging is just one aspect of the equation.
What Factors Influence the Aging Proce

What Factors Influence the Aging Process of Bourbon?

Several factors influence the aging process of bourbon, contributing to its flavor, aroma, and overall character:

Barrel Type and Condition: The type of oak used for barrels (typically American white oak) and the condition of the barrels (char level, previous use) play a significant role in bourbon aging. Fresh, charred oak barrels impart flavors such as vanilla, caramel, and spice to the bourbon, while the wood’s porous nature allows for oxygen exchange that influences maturation.

Warehouse Environment: The location and conditions of the aging warehouse, including temperature fluctuations, humidity levels, and barrel placement, affect the rate and manner of bourbon aging. Variations in temperature and airflow within the warehouse can result in unique flavor profiles and aging characteristics.

Mash Bill: The combination of grains used in the bourbon’s mash bill (typically corn, rye, and barley) influences its flavor profile and aging potential. Different mash bills produce bourbons with varying levels of sweetness, spiciness, and complexity, which evolve over time in the barrel.

Distillation Process: Factors such as distillation technique, proof at distillation, and barrel entry proof impact the concentration of flavor compounds in the new spirit and its aging trajectory. Careful distillation practices contribute to a well-balanced bourbon that ages gracefully and develops desirable flavors over time.

Duration of Aging: The length of time bourbon spends in the barrel affects its flavor, aroma, and overall character. While aging allows the bourbon to develop complexity and depth, there is a point of diminishing returns where excessive aging can lead to over-oaked flavors and imbalances in the spirit.

Does All Bourbon Need to Be Aged for a Long Time to Be Enjoyable?

No, some bourbons are enjoyable even at younger ages. Factors such as mash bill, distillation techniques, and barrel selection can yield flavorful and well-balanced bourbons without extensive aging.

How Can I Determine if a Bourbon Is Well-Aged?

Bourbon labels typically indicate the age of the spirit, providing insight into its maturation period. Additionally, tasting notes and expert reviews can help assess the quality and maturity of a bourbon.

Do Environmental Conditions Affect Bourbon Aging?

Yes, environmental conditions such as temperature fluctuations and humidity levels can influence how bourbon interacts with the barrel, affecting its flavor profile and overall maturation process.

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. 


  1. Bourbon – America’s Native Spirit
  2. Beyond Scotland: Hot Climate Whiskies to Know
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