Commercial Barrel-Aging

I can't fill my barrel right away

By Midwest Barrel Co.

June 1st, 2021

Filling barrel

Barrels have a shelf life. Or should we call it a rack life? No matter what you want to call it, it’s true. You can’t just get a used barrel, let it sit in the corner and expect it to be ready for barrel-aging whenever you need it.

In a perfect world, you’d order a few freshly dumped whiskey or wine barrels, we’d ship them out and you’d fill them immediately once they are delivered. But we don’t live in a perfect world. You probably don’t, either. We completely understand that life gets in the way, schedules change and – before you know it, you can’t fill and start aging right away.

So, what now? Well, luckily for you all is not lost. There are a few tips and tricks that can help you extend the life of your barrel and preserve the flavor of the spirit, wine or liquid it previously aged.

No matter the size, all are made from American white oak and are charred on the inside.


Before we get too deep into storage and other preservation tips, we do need to mention that it is always recommended that you fill your barrel as soon as possible, no matter the type. We receive barrels from distilleries and wineries that have been freshly emptied. That means there’s still a ton of liquid locked away in the staves – even if you can’t see it – especially in bourbon and whiskey barrels.

But barrels that sit around too long will dry out. The dryer it is, the less flavor you’ll be able to pull from it during aging. You could also start to notice leaks as the staves and rings loosen up as it continues to dry.

Our barrels are backed by a 30-day, leak-free guarantee, which means they have been inspected by our team and won’t leak as long as you fill them up within 30 days of purchase


If you’re going to wait those 30 days, then you’ll need to know the best strategies for keeping your barrels as fresh as possible.


Barrels that can’t be filled ASAP need to be stored properly if they’re going to stay in fillable condition. We recommend storing in a cool, humid environment, sort of similar to a dank basement or a cellar. The cool air combined with the humidity will help keep everything fresh for those additional days.

However, please remember that this is not a long-term solution. Even in the right conditions, a barrel will start to dry out, especially after the 30-day period.

Barrel storage


If you do have to store for more than 30 days, then you’ll likely want to look up a few swelling methods. Swelling is simply using water (or in some cases steam) to help the barrel tighten up as it soaks up the moisture.

There are a few different ways you can go about swelling – and wine barrels are more likely to need swelling than those that aged bourbon, whiskey or another type of spirit. But it’s probably best to assume any barrel that hasn’t been filled within 30 days of purchase is going to need at least some swelling.

This doesn’t mean you will have to fill the entire barrel with hot water – the most common way to swell. That should be your last option for bourbon/whiskey barrels, by the way, because it could strip away flavor.

Your go-to swelling method should be head swelling. With this option, you stand the barrel vertically and fill the head with water to the top of the first ring. Let the water sit overnight, add a little more water in the morning and look to see if there are any bubbles.

Don’t see any bubbles? That’s a good sign. Move on to the next head and do it all again.

Hopefully, the results will be the same. No bubbles means the barrel should be liquid tight.

But if you do see bubbles, then you’ll either have to let the water sit in the barrel heads longer to let more moisture swell the staves or try a different swelling method.

Barrel swelling


Not sure when you’ll be able to fill? Our recommendation for you is pretty simple in this case: Don’t buy yet.

That’s right. Don’t purchase the barrels just yet. This is probably one of the only times we’ll ever tell a customer not to buy, but it’s what is best for your planned brew.

See, barrel-aging any type of beverage takes a ton of planning ahead. You’ve got to have the right amount of space, the right equipment, the right beer and the right barrel (duh!).

But the timing has to be right, too! Take beer for example. A good barrel-aged brew can take anywhere from a few months to over a year. It’s best to map out the entire process before committing.

In short, buy the barrels when you know the beer is ready. That’s the best way to make sure you can fill ‘em as soon as you get ‘em.

Man shopping online

Talk to our experts

Got more questions or want to talk about planning and other details? Get in touch by calling (402) 704-8226 or send us an email. We have in-house experts who can guide you through what it takes to barrel-age or help you troubleshoot.

Cheers! 🍻

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Midwest Barrel Company

Just your resident barrel slingers delivering some damn good content

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