How Aging Affects Whiskey, Beer, and Wine


Nothing escapes Father Time—not even booze. Whiskey, wine, and beer all change with age, but the way each changes depends on if the aging is done before or after bottling.

Typically, the process of aging beer, wine, or a spirit before bottling is referred to as “maturation.” It usually involves the liquid spending time in a wooden barrel. Although the wood’s specific effects vary by type of alcohol, what comes out generally has more vanilla, toasty, and oaky flavors. Unfortunately, very little peer-reviewed research has been done on the effects of barrel aging on spirits or beer. Though more work has been done on wine, there are still a lot of unknown factors.

The other type of aging is called “cellaring.” When you cellar a bottle, you’re storing it to age and drink later, typically in a couple months or a year. As with barrel aging, cellaring affects each product differently. Storage is a big factor—exposure to temperature, light, and oxygen can lead to negative changes.

As with all aging, the exact results can be difficult to predict. Here’s what we know about each type of alcohol.


Out of the three, whiskey's aging process is the most straightforward. In almost every country, whiskey must be aged in barrels. Though the exact regulations vary, maturation provides all of the color and a lot of the flavor for the spirit. However, when it’s bottled, it doesn’t change much unless it’s improperly stored.

Keep in mind, it’s easy to improperly store your whiskey. If possible, it should be kept away from light and heat sources, and should be moved to a smaller bottle once about 1/3 or 1/2 of it is gone. All of these factors create a bump in oxidation, which, according to a study done by Bacardi, causes whiskey to “[lose] creamy fatty acids [and gain] fruity but then rancid and nail polish remover flavors."

Luckily, these changes take a significant amount of time to occur, unlike wine or beer, where the changes happen much more quickly.


Most beer is not barrel-aged. However, like wine, most beer is intended to be drunk immediately. With that said, every brewery (and every beer geek) has their own philosophy about cellaring. Until recently, some experts touted the benefits of aging hoppy beers, but the flavor compounds from the hops are very delicate and degrade over time.

Maltier, more complex beers that are higher in alcohol content are thought to be the best to withstand cellaring, but there are no set rules when it comes to aging. If you’re curious, experiment: buy a six-pack, drink one (or two), and store the rest in a cool, dark place. After a couple months, try it again. If you like it more, you can leave the rest to keep mellowing and discover the perfect age. And if you like it less, you can always drink it all then. (But remember to do so responsibly.)


Wine is probably the best-studied category of aged booze (refer to this U.S. Forest Service guide [PDF]). Before it’s released, most fine wines are aged to help smooth out the rough, “green” aspects by being allowed to settle over time. Though some wine is aged in neutral containers like stainless steel or cement-lined vats, it’s often aged in smaller oak barrels to change parts of the taste profile.

Once it’s bottled, most wine that’s produced is ready to drink, and should be drunk within about a year. With proper aging both in barrel and bottle, “the wine becomes mellower and smoother, and acquires a richer mouth feel,” according to a paper by Dr. Murli Dharmadhikari, director of the Midwest Grape & Wine Industry Institute. But aging affects every type of wine differently, and should be approached as such. Ask for help at your local wine shop (or restaurant), as a sommelier will know the ins and outs of the specific wines available.

What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?

If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.


Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.


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