Maturation and Aging

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Fresh from the still, distilled liquors are as colorless as water, or “white.” They’re also rough and harsh, so all are matured for weeks or months to allow the various components to react with each other, form new combinations, and become less irritating. From this point, the spirits are handled differently according to the kind of product they’re meant to become. “White” spirits, including vodka and eaux de vie made from fruits, are not aged; they may be flavored, then adjusted to the proper alcohol content by the addition of water, and bottled. “Brown” spirits, including brandies and whiskies, are so called because they’re aged in wood barrels, from which they derive a characteristic tawny color and complexity of flavor. (Some brown spirits may be colored with caramel instead.) Spirits may be barrel-aged for anything from a few months to decades, during which their flavor changes considerably.