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Spirits: Why are barrels used to age spirits?

Spirits: Why are barrels used to age spirits?

Spirits: Why are barrels used to age spirits?

The spirits market has been changing rapidly over the past few years. There are more and more people discovering a taste for whisky, rum, and cognac all around the world. 


Spirits: H&A is here to help manage your barrels

Every year, we collect between 100,000 and 150,000 barrels, which are then sold on. Out of these, around 30% of our barrels will go into the spirits market to barrel-age products. The remaining 70% return to the wine production market, or the home decoration market for barrels which are no longer suitable for containing liquid. 


Our company’s spirits activities are run by two teams. One of these manages the whole European market while the other focuses on the United States. Of course, these teams will occasionally be called on to work together. 


Spirits: What are the standards in place for barrel-aged spirits?

Barrel-ageing spirits is a fully regulated practice. In order to guarantee the highest possible quality of alcohol, these products must be aged in oak barrels. Whisky, for example, must be aged for at least 3 years in oak barrels. Cognac, on the other hand, must be aged for just two. 


The barrel-aged spirits market has been growing constantly over the past few years. In France, we sell around 1000 barrels per year for spirits production. In terms of whisky, we move around 8 to 9 times more barrels than other spirits. 


Spirits: How are H&A barrels used?

The barrels we offer our clients can be used in one of four different ways: 


  • Wine production: Our barrels are used by wine estates to produce their wine. 
  • Fortified or finishing barrels: These barrels are primarily shipped to Spain and Portugal. They are used in the production of fortified wines, which have a higher sugar and alcohol content than traditional wines.
  • Ageing barrels: Distilleries use our oak barrels to age spirits such as cognac, whisky, bourbon, rum, and others.
  • Recycled barrels: Barrels which have already been used by our clients are collected in our logistics warehouses. They are then recycled for use in barrel-ageing spirits. Each time a barrel is recycled, we remove 3 to 4mm of wood from the inside surface of the barrel, which is then toasted in order to reform the barrel into a product ready for use. For quality reasons, we only recycle a barrel once. Over time, the quality of a barrel may deteriorate. 


We all care about the environment, so barrels are constantly reused for as long as possible. This is also the case when barrel-ageing spirits. There is no reason that a whisky, rum, and cognac cannot be aged consecutively in the same barrel. Here, the products contained previously will provide a unique aromatic profile. 


Spirits: What are the advantages in using used barrels?

Oak barrels offer huge advantages for your spirits. 

These can be used as many times as possible for both wine and spirits production. For as long as a barrel is viable and can contain liquid, there is no reason to stop using it.  It is entirely up to the master distiller to choose how many times he or she uses their barrels. However, as the barrel is used, more and more of the tannins will be removed from the wood inside it. 

The aromatic profile provided by each barrel is a key factor, and a key priority for distilleries and brewers. Some of our clients request barrels from Bordeaux specifically, in particular ones used to age wines made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

White wine barrels are in demand too, in particular barrels used for Chardonnay and Sauvignon

In short, here is a quick summary of the three key advantages of using pre-used barrels to age spirits: 


  • A unique aromatic profile: as you already know, used barrels are unique and are defined by their own specific aromatic profile. This profile is a key priority for distilleries and breweries. This is what will provide a high-quality spirit.
  • Guaranteed traceability: at H&A, we make it our business to supply our clients with high-quality barrels. As such, we maintain constant and specific traceability for each of our used barrels.
  • Quality control and guaranteed provenance: this reinforces our commitment to traceability. Here, we can provide detailed information about the barrel’s entire life cycle to our clients. The objective is to ensure that each client has the precise and transparent information they need 


In conclusion, used barrels are a major asset to age your spirits. If you have any questions about our used barrels or our services, please contact us.