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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?

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. 

What Happens to Bourbon as It Ages?

During aging, bourbon absorbs flavors from the barrel, such as vanilla, caramel, and oak. This process mellows harsher notes, allowing for a smoother and more balanced taste profile.

Is Older Bourbon Always Better?

While older bourbon often commands higher prices due to extended aging, preference for younger or older bourbon varies among drinkers. Some enjoy the boldness of younger expressions, while others appreciate the nuanced flavors of older ones.

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

Yes, not all bourbons benefit from prolonged aging. Over time, excessive exposure to oak can overpower delicate flavors, resulting in an unbalanced or overly woody profile.

What Factors Influence the Aging Process of Bourbon?

Factors such as barrel type, warehouse location, temperature fluctuations, and the distillation process all play roles in bourbon aging. Each contributes unique characteristics to the final product.

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. 

References:

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