“Help! My barrel seems to be leaking. Is this normal??”
Wood is a naturally porous material. And that’s a good thing since you want your spirit to breathe and pull in all those extra flavours. That also means that small leaks can be a normal occurrence with any barrel aging—after all, liquids have a knack for finding any tiny opening.
But not all barrels leak. And there are ways to prevent it.
First off, our barrels are made from American White Oak (Quercus alba). It’s the industry standard for bourbon, meaning it has a proven track record. The closed-grain hardwood also boasts a closed cellular structure that makes its wood more leak-resistant than other types. So the type of wood alone provides you with a solid starting point.
But if your barrel is leaking, here’s the likely “cure”: Since our barrels aren’t glued or nailed together, you definitely need to cure your barrel beforehand in order to get a watertight seal. We can’t stress this enough. If you skipped this part, your spirit has just become an expensive substitute for the water that gets absorbed and makes the wood fibres swell to give you a proper—and natural—seal. If you didn’t fill it completely or let the water stand, your barrel will probably have a weak spot (or two). And if you emptied your barrel and stored it dry for a while, the wood fibres have shrunk so you’ll need to cure it again (and there’s a risk it might be too dry to salvage).
Is the leak coming from the spigot? It might not be in far enough. Use a rubber mallet to drive it in during setup. You shouldn’t be able to pull it out easily just using your bare hands.
Did you follow all these steps but still have a leak? Wood is constantly expanding and contracting depending on humidity, not just inside the barrel but also its storage conditions. So don’t place it in a hot, dry room.
There might be a tiny opening where the saturated wood fibres couldn’t close tightly (again, this is normal). In that case, grab a container of barrel wax. Using your fingers, apply a small amount of wax to where the barrel is leaking and push it into any gaps to seal.
That should take care of the leak and you’ll be able to go back to thinking about what’s going on inside your barrel.